Feb 22, 2009

Corporate take over of democracy

This is where dangerous liaisons happen. This is where money power sways public decisions in favour of big business. And still worse, it happens right under our own eyes, and in a perfectly legitimate way. Yes, I am talking about the political system of the country.

Why talk about the political system in a blog on food, agriculture and hunger you might ask. The answer is simple. It is here that the national policies are framed that impact the masses, the environment, the food you eat, and the way you farm. You must therefore keep a watch on what happens in the corridors of political power. You will then ask that there is nothing new in this, it has been happening for long now. Well, you are right in a way. Agreed, there was a time when big business would back up selected candidates for Lok Sabha or State Assemblies. Even the Bollywood had been talking about it. Haven't we seen in several Bollywood movies how the villains thrash the poor politician when he fails to deliver (what the businessman wants).

That was the time when big business didn't want to be seen in politics.

They have thrown away that overcoat, are now openly into politics. They realise it is no use sending some stupid fellow when they can do the job much better themselves. Instead of sending surrogate representatives through the electorate, they now get themselves directly elected to Parliament and State Assemblies, or get nominated. The Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament, has a number of businessmen and corporate heads as members now. And the tribe is growing. In the coming elections, you will see a large number of millionaires contesting, and of course many of them will sail through.

While millionaires get into Parliament, slumdogs remain in the street.

Once they are in saddle they infuence all decision making. The environmental laws, the biodiversity law, forestry and tribal rights, biotechnology and genetic engineering, food processing etc etc all are framed keeping in mind the commercial interests of the corporates. Civil society therefore has also to focus on governance issues, not in the manner in which it is doing now, but in a more aggressive, in a more investigative way. It has to draw out the nexus that operates in decision-making. Otherwise, we would be left to count only the alms under Corporate Social Responsibility.

At times when Corporates are slowing taking over control of democratic institutions, it is heartening to see at least one senior politician having the courage to stand up and be counted."The political system of the country is being vitiated and increasingly coming under the direct influence and power of the "big capitals", CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat had told PTI in New Delhi this week. My admiration for Mr Karat has gone up tremendously. I have always respected him for his fearlessness, and his courage and determination to say it loudly.

"If you make an analysis of the professions or the occupations of the elected representatives starting from the state legislatures to parliament, you (will) find people who are directly in big business, who are direct executives, CEOs of corporates, are occupying the benches in the parliament," he said.

"And they are sitting on committees of Parliament which decides policies regarding their own sector, regarding their own industries," he said. What Karat means is that they manipulate and design the policies in such a way that it brings profit to business. While we go on struggling at the grassroots to influence public policies in favour of the poor and the marginalised, with the struggles turning bloody at many a places, the decision-making machinery is simply ignores the ground realities.

Karat said that it is the Parliamentary democratic system alone which has protected the country so far from much of the dangers which visited upon other countries and society. "But the political system we have is increasingly being vitiated. Earlier we used to attack, criticise the fact that you have elected representatives in the legislature, in the parliament, who are acting at the behest of the big business, corporate interests. But today you can't say that any more because those corporate interests or the big business have got themselves elected into parliament and into the legislatures," Karat said.

"The path which the present government and the previous governments have gone into in the country particularly in last two decades, goes against every thing which was set out originally by the founders of our constitution," he added.

Shouldn't other senior politicians also stand up? Irrespective of the political parties they come from, shouldn't they call for reforming the Great Indian Democracy to ensure that it remains in people's domain? Shouldn't the nation be debating the Corporate take over of democracy before we allow Parliament to be turned into a Corporate Club?

We have allowed the Corporates to take over the media, both print and electronic, and now they are eying the Parliament.

And this reminds me of what Nobel laureate Amratya Sen had written sometimes back. Lauding democracies, he had said famines do not happen in countries, which are democratic. Most of the famines, he had detailed out, were happening or had happened in autocratic regimes, and in countries under military dictatorships and so on. I wonder whether Amratya Sen would have the political courage to analyse how the natural resources are being usurped, how the environment is being destroyed, and how the have-nots are being marginalised by big business interests, and that too in world's best known democracies.

Why paint the military dictators only as villains. Given a choice, we all love to be like one of them. Democracy or no democracy, the urge to exploit the community resources for private profit has always dominated human intention.

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