That Was the Year That Was – I
Perpetually immersed in the imperial dream, the prestigious British weekly, Economist tried in its year-end issue to look back with angst on those glorious days when the Britannia ruled the waves and the Brits plundered the planet. Those days, alas, are gone. Thank God, irretrievably. However, old habits die hard. And sometimes they just refuse to go away. One of the lasting remnants of the legacy is the luxury to look back in angst, which is a nagging feeling of anxiety about your present situation, which is bleak indeed.
In our case it isn’t just angst; it is plain anguish. How on earth we sat back in pathetic helplessness and let a decade roll by – the disastrous decade that started 2004 when Sonia Gandhi’s Catholic conscience persuaded her to adopt, in matters of governance, that age-old art and craft of wielding power without any accountability whatsoever. It has been a rule of the mother-son cabal and group of hand-picked sycophants while a troupe of puppets performed with the notional head puppet dancing to the tune of the master puppeteer. That decade will end in a few months hence. Thank the Good Lord for his small mercies.
Main Developments of 2013
Yes, 2014 – the New Year we are awaiting to run its course in another few days, will mark the end of this sordid drama.
What have been the main developments during the year 2013? You must have made your list of deeds and misdeeds of the last year of the accursed decade wasted by appalling governance. Selections don’t tally. Mine consists of the following nine items:
Another year of scams.
The Fall and Fall of the Rupee.
First trumpet call of transparency and accountability in governance represented by the AAP in Delhi elections.
The Indian polity learns the elementary lessons of realpolitik – only six and a half decades too late.
Fulfillment of Anna Hazare’s dream of a Lok Pal.
Merry continuation of barbaric treatment of women in India which the existing legal system cannot cope with.
Chinese designs to dismember our polity coming out in the open.
The souring of Indo-American relations and “l’affaire Khobragade and
The Rise and Rise of Narendra Modi
Let’s begin with the first, i.e., what is referred to as ghotalla by the man in the street and what the Lutyens Delhi liberals call – another four-letter word! – scam, or rather a whole series of them. The UPA’s two-terms will go down in our history as the most inglorious Decade of Scams. Here are two compilations culled from that treasure trove of information called Wikipedia:
Tripura ‘Bed of Cash’ controversy
Gurgaon Toll plaza scam-operated by DSC Ltd
EPFO (Employee Provident Fund) scam
Haryana seed scam-5 crore
Directorate General of Civil Aviation-DGCA ‘free ticket’ scam
LTC (Leave Travel Concession) Scam
PMO (Prime Minister's Office) Code of Conduct violation - All Union Cabinet Minister's assets/liabilities are supposed to uploaded on PMO's website by 31 August each year. But 35 out of 77 Union cabinet minister have not disclosed their wealth
Radia tapes controversy
National Spot Exchange Limited Scam – 5500 crores
Railway iron ore freight scam – 17000 crores
‘Rajya Sabha seat for 100 crore’ controversy
Munde’s poll expenditure controversy
Uttar Pradesh illegal sand mining
Vodafone tax Scandal – involves Rs 11,000 crore tax dispute case in India. There were corruption charges on Kapil Sibal because of Law ministry’s U-turn to agree to conciliation in Vodafone tax case
Railway promotion scam – CBI booked Union railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s nephew for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 90 lakh from a Railway Board member.
2013 Indian Premier League spot-fixing and betting case
2013 Kerala solar panel scam
Odisha Land allotment Scam
Odisha Mining scandal
Saradha Group financial scandal-Chit fund scam (Odisha and W.B)
Shouldn’t we be ashamed to stand as mute witnesses to this state of affairs? Nearly two scams a month wherein hundreds of thousands of rupees collected from the tax-payers are swindled away. And don’t you forget the above list is a continuation of its illustrious – or notorious? – predecessors which are in various stages of investigations, which will – haven’t we seen it before? – never be conclusive.
Great UPA Scams
Scandals that Shame India
2012 Indian Coal Mining Controversy
Year Reported: 2012
Scope INR Crore: 185,591.34
Key Players: Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Coal Ministry, many Electricity boards and private companies.
Summary: Coal Blocks allotted, not auctioned, leading to estimate losses as per the Comptroller and Auditor General of India
Karnataka Wakf Board Land Scam
Year Reported: 2012
Scope INR Crore: 200,000
Uttar Pradesh NRHM Scam
Year Reported: 2012
Scope INR Crore: 10,000
Location: Uttar Pradesh
Key Players: Mayawati
2G Spectrum Scam
Year Reported 2010
Scope INR Crore: 176,000
Key Players: Nira Radia, A. Raja, M.K. Kanimozhi, many telecommunications companies.
Summary: Communication bandwidth auctioned for lower than market value.
Uttar Pradesh Food Grain Scam
Year Reported 2003
Scope INR Crore: 35,000
Location: Uttar Pradesh
Key Players: Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati
Summary: Food which the government purchased to give to the poor was instead sold in the open market.
Woe betide a nation that learns to live with such rampant loot of taxpayers’ money!
Fall and Fall of the Rupee
Here is a dire warning – or a gem of wisdom? – depending on how you look at it:
“Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security but [also] at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth.
Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become “profiteers,” who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.
Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency.
Guess who wrote the above? Our economist Prime Minister will tell you after hearing the a few words of the very first sentence, that the author was not a dyed-in-the-wool Communist but that respectable doyen among economists, Lord Keynes. And the passage is an extract from The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes written in 1919.
And that’s what happened in our society in the last ten years, namely, the downslide of the economy. The Indian Rupee was – If you have tears, prepare to shed them now – among the worst performing currencies in the year drawing to a close. It hit a record low of 68.85 against the dollar due to the weak domestic economy and speculation over scaling back of stimulus – another name for extra printing of notes – by the US Treasury.
The rupee lost 27% of its value between June and August largely due to a pull-out of money by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) after the US Federal Reserve said it will consider reducing its $85 billion monthly bond-buying program, introduced after the 2008 global economic crisis to pump prime the economy. FIIs are, by all reckonings, the world’s best known fair-weather friends like their masters, the Americans. Even the sign of clouds in the sky they flee to in search of all-blue skies.
The rupee hit a record low of 68.85 against a dollar on Aug 28, just over three months after the US Federal Reserve’s May 17 announcement of possible scaling down on the stimulus program.
A New Dawn
In my estimation, the momentous political development of the year – with possible profound impact on our future – has been the emergence from nowhere of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) led by anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal. It poses a formidable challenge to India's mainstream parties and explodes many a myth we have smugly lived with over the years.
AAP emerged in the recent Delhi Assembly poll, as the second largest party winning 28 seats out of a total 70. BJP is just three more at 31 and the Indian National Congress trailed behind all after a pitiable performance. It could manage to win just eight. The AAP, thereby swept aside by its broom – the Party symbol - the 15 years of Indian Congress Party rule in the Delhi State government.
The AAP, formed about a year ago, is the byproduct of the anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare and activists like Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. While Hazare wanted the movement to remain politically unaligned, Kejriwal opted for a direct political confrontation. That difference of opinion brought AAP into being.
Many A Myth Exploded
Most importantly, the AAP victory has smashed to smithereens many political myths (and lies) we have lived with for decades. Here are a few.
Election-Black Money Nexus. We believed over the years that black money and elections are absolutely inseparable. You just cannot contest in an election unless you have bags of black money. And after winning you have to muster enough of it to replenish what you had spent and accumulate double the amount for the next round. And that set in the proverbial vicious circle in which black money became the sole determinant of everything in the polity.
The AAP victory demonstrated that black money is not needed in elections. It’s a plain simple myth. You don’t have to spend several crores to win an election. AAP’s success demonstrates what we had hitherto believed in was a myth – a make-belief made real by relentless propaganda of self-seekers. It is, moreover, possible to adhere to the Election Commission’s stipulated expense limits and still win elections. This is bound to encourage many young men and women, who shunned politics because of the stigma of black money and fears about the lack of funds, to henceforth step forward, contest elections and venture to clean the dirtied stream of politics.
People will fund right candidates. If you have a clean past and your intentions are to serve people and not rule over them, people at large will come forward to fund the campaigns of right candidates. This is the second encouraging fall-out. So the myth that big money wins elections stands exposed.
No Need of Elaborate Party Machine. That elaborate party machine and support of an elaborate army of party workers (both volunteers and hired) are required to fight an election, is another myth that stands exposed.
Decades of preparations not needed to kick-start the change. That we need to change things needs no reiteration. You don’t have to spend years and decades to usher the change process. It can be kick-started. The fuel of popular discount is aplenty.
The Choice Isn’t Any More Between Tweedledum and Tweedkedee. Remember your nursery rhyme and Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, which dwelt on choosing between practically indistinguishable entities.
What choices in real terms did we have so far in our polity? Congress is steeped in corruption and BJP is trying fast to catch up unless the NaMo wave can clean it up. UP is the best example where people have been choosing after 1967 between two rogues: BSP and SP. Fed up with one the people turned to the other and after five years fed up with the other one they again opted for one they had got rid of earlier. Most probably, it won’t happen now.
Take, Tamil Nadu where disillusioned with Karunanidhi people turn to Jayalalitha and when she fails, back to DMK. Won’t the set electoral pattern now change? Delhi set an example by offering the electorate a real choice and you know the result. The politics of repeated substitution may henceforth be replaced by the politics of the alternative in the true sense of the term.
Talk shows are unaware of reality. After the recent poll, Lutyens Delhi’s intellectuals have been analyzing political trends in the country – existing as well as emerging. Their analysis has all gone awry. The reason? The world they live in is a world of make-belief – divorced from reality, almost completely out of touch with how the man in the street feels and what his priorities in life are. The latter determine the mindset of the electorate.
Validation of universal franchise. And last, but certainly not the least, the Founding Fathers of the Republic have been validated. They had unbounded faith in the common sense and the intrinsic goodness of the common Indian – today, called Aam Aadmi – whom they bestowed with the right to vote to choose who governs them. After many a mistake they’ve learnt their lesson. Who will fault their choice this time?
After Agonizing Wait
For sixty-five years we had been awaiting to see politics in its pristine purity that Gandhi had dreamed of. We desperately looked forward to accountability and transparency in politics. All that we were, instead, witnesses to, was the replay of the morbid goings-on of the worst spin-off of democratic practices of Tammany Hall politicking.
Hitherto we lived with it – grudgingly since there was no alternative. By taking over the reins of office AAP hold out a hope that its broom can start cleaning up the mess of decades. I have no illusions that it will succeed. The upholders of the status quo with deep stakes and deeper pockets may sooner or later – probably sooner than later – bring about its downfall.
My generation can at least be content to say that it was a distinct possibility as Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP has promised to have transparency in politics and adhere to norms of accountability.
I’m not starry-eyed youth. Not anymore. I know AAP’s broom isn’t a magical broom that will clean things instantly. It won’t work on its own. It will work only if all of us contribute our mites for the common good.
I have, in my life time, seen many a false dawn and many a god that failed. I know how formidably difficult it is to change things and sustain the momentum once it has started. There are plenty of vested interests at work who’ll work overtime to derail the process that AAP is starting. I’m almost certain within a year the other political formations will force another election in Delhi.
Whatever the future might unfold, something most unusual has happened in our country to which thousands and thousands who braving the cold of late December in Delhi gathered in Ramlila Grond to witness which they will remember and tell their children, recalling the soul-stirring, haunting words of Majaz
Kuch nahin to kam se kam, khawab-e-sehar dekha to hai
Jis taraf dekha na tha ab tak, udhar dekha to hai.....
Continued to “Coming to Terms with Realpolitik”