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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 6, January 30, 2010

Happy New Year? For Whom?

Monday 8 February 2010, by T J S George


There’s a brand new addition to our National Register of Shame. The law has been amended to allow free air travel, business class, to “any number of companions and relatives” of Ministers. MPs were already enjoying this obscene privilege, but not Ministers. The latest amendment is “to remove this discrepancy”.

Of course, there was a more decent way to end that discrepancy—by scrapping the undeserved charity given to MPs. But such thoughts do not occur to netas and babus who love living off others. Notice the important detail: the amending bill was passed in an instant. No debate, no dissent, no disruption from the well of the House. Jai Hind!

And just who are these people whose privileges We the People are forced to finance? Of the 545 MPs, perhaps 50 may be considered legitimate parliamentarians. As many as 153 are criminally tainted, 75 of them by “serious cases” involving murder and gang-wars. Many who are not on the certified criminal list are routinely involved in lucrative contract/promotion/lobbying rackets.

Then there are the famously shameless. Remember the MP who was arrested in 2008 for using his official passport to smuggle people to Canada? Four other MPs were involved in that scurrilous abuse of privilege. And remember the eleven MPs who were caught on camera accepting bribes for raising questions in Parliament? Even if we set aside these headline-making criminalities, MPs as a collective still loom as a blot on democracy, blocking proceedings and shouting one another down as a matter of policy. In 2008 a frustrated Speaker Somnath Chatterjee referred 32 MPs to the Privileges Committee for disorderly behaviour. He was persuaded to drop the matter, but he did make the point that Parliament had been reduced to a House of Disorder.

Are these the people who should get everything virtually free—free accommodation, free laundry, free phone calls, free electricity, free water, free travel and now free travel for any number of companions and relatives?

This parasitic culture, sanctified by successive governments and all political parties, is what has made the political class as a whole an object of loathing across the country. Official defenders of the system, especially righteous-looking spokesmen like Jayanti Natarajan and Manish Tiwari, blame critics for criticising the political class as a whole. But that is precisely what the public does. They do not accept the professional defenders’ argument that the few black sheep are exceptions. In fact, the few white ones are the exceptions; delinquents are the rule.

What is it, if not the class character of our politicians, that makes the indefensible defensible? What explains a popular hero whom adoring masses called “Guruji” turning into a personification of corruption the moment he gets power? The hero-turned-convicted-murderer has again become Jharkhand’s Chief Minister. What explains Madhu Koda, Karnataka’s Bellary Brothers, Communist rulers with capitalist tastes? For that matter, what explains the sex maniac former police chief of Haryana and the rapist police chief of Rajasthan absconding for a decade? They all think that power gives them the right to plunder and rape and kill. What makes it a “class act” is their absolute conviction that they do nothing wrong. Koda said people were attacking him because they were jealous of his success. The Haryana police molester talked about constitutional rights.

Against the background of offenders posing as patriots with constitutional rights, perhaps free air travel for ministerial companions may look like a non-issue. But it is a pointer to the wide spectrum of iniquities we live with. (For every N.D. Tiwari who retires, there will be another requiring half an aircraft to take his companions along.) We have developed a system where Good subsidises Evil. Unhappy thoughts for a New Year. But not unrealistic ones.

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