Apr 6, 2009

Dress rehearsal for new Corporate Democracy -- Elections, Money and Poverty

Sometimes I wonder whether we even realise that the days of the Great Indian democracy are almost over. We are being told day in and day out to come and vote, but vote for whom? The only choice we have is between the stinkingly rich and not-so-rich. I wonder whether we even have time to pause and think, think why and how a poverty-stricken nation where 77 per cent of the population does not spend more than Rs 20 a day, cannot now elect a leader who comes from the masses, who truly represents the masses.

It is no longer the kind of democracy that you and me have lived with all these years. It wasn't perfect, I agree. But still we could elect people who were mass leaders, who worked tirelessly with people. But now, the times have changed. Not only have the configurations changed, the contours too have changed. So have the goal posts. Money is the essential qualification for an aspiring leader. If you have the money, you can think of becoming a leader, a people's representative. If you don't have money, forget it. You are only meant to vote.

Indian democracy has now become a big money game.

I see it as a dress rehearsal for a new emerging corporate democracy, call it Corpocracy. Indian Parliament is fast becoming a rich men's club. This is not only the story of the Lok Sabha, the lower House. The Rajya Sabha, the upper House, is already being corporatised. Corporate heads are getting themselves nominated (and elected) to Rajya Sabha in droves.

We are treading on a dangerous path. The architects of the Indian Constitution had failed to visualise the degeneration, the decline and fall of the electoral system in the years to come. They had failed, and failed miserably to protect Indian democracy from the greedy hawks in the system. I don't blame them, for we all are in reality short-sighted. But we can surely rectify the mistake. If we care for democracy -- a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people -- than we have little choice. We must act fast, and act in a manner that can protect the democractic norms we want to cherish.

All we need to do is to force the political parties to demand that in the candidate's list that is given to us when we go to vote, after all the names of the candidates mentioned in the list, there should be an option that says: none of these. People should have the right to say no if they feel none of the candidates deserve his/her vote.

This is the only way to protect the Great Indian democracy from going the corporate way.

Otherwise, look at how nauseating it can be to see the kind of people seeking representation from the suicide belt of Vidharbha in Maharashtra. The news report I am pasting below is from the pages of The Economic Times (April 6, 2009). And this is not only true for Vidharbha, you see the same trend all over the country. The 2009 general elections marks a watershed in the election scenario. This is the stage when the switch-over to corpocracy is taking place. The next time it will completely be a corporate game. The end of people's democracy is in sight.

Mera bharat mahaan, didn't you hear that?

No cash crunch for leaders in Vidharbha and Solapur
But Woes of Drough-hit Voters Seems Unending

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/4363607.cms

MUMBAI: In many constituencies in Maharashtra, the word ‘drought’ depends on which side of the political landscape you’re on. Voters in Vidarbha or Solapur, for instance, have lived with deprivation for decades. The scene changes dramatically for their political masters, who have declared property and assets worth crores in their affidavits before the Election Commission.

The Bhandara-Gondia constituency in Vidarbha, for instance, is a dust bowl, plagued by extreme poverty and underdevelopment. The candidate from here: Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel, who owns assets worth Rs 67.36 crore, bank deposits of Rs 3.2 lakh and bonds, debentures and shares worth Rs 4.61 crore. The book value of his shares is Rs 2.81 crore. He also owns 1.83 kg gold, 24 kg silver and precious stones worth Rs 6.8 lakh. His wife Varshaben has bank deposits of Rs 3.6 lakh and owns 2.89 kg gold and 59 kg silver, worth Rs 1.33 crore. Their son Prajay has 6.78 kg gold and jewellery worth Rs 1.33 crore. Varshaben owns non-agricultural land worth Rs 2.76 crore in Anand (Gujarat), along with residential premises valued at Rs 27.94 lakh.

Next on the wealth chart from Vidarbha is Congress candidate from Wardha, Datta Meghe, who was once a close associate of NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Mr Meghe has assets worth over Rs 22 crore and owns property worth a little over the amount. He has a flat in Worli (Mumbai) worth Rs 1.93 crore in his name and another in his wife Shalinitai’s name in the area, valued at Rs 1.01 crore. Mr Meghe also runs a chain of educational institutions—from schools to medical and engineering colleges—in Nagpur and Wardha, and owns a health club and poultry farms. But unlike Mr Patel, Mr Meghe owns a car worth Rs 3.29 lakh. His wife has 2.292 kg gold and 72.16 kg silver, together worth Rs 43.33 lakh.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar is ‘poorer’ than Praful Patel and Dutta Meghe. Mr Pawar has declared movable and immovable assets, shares and bank deposits worth Rs 8.82 crore in his and his wife Pratibha’s name. Mr Pawar has assets worth over Rs 3.92 crore in his name and Rs 3.31 crore in his wife’s name. About Rs 1.5 crore of assets, is shown as HUF holdings. Mr Pawar has gold (808.4 gm) and silver (15,171 gm) worth over Rs 15.08 lakh. Pratibha owns jewellery worth over Rs 5.99 lakh as part of the Rs 2.69-crore movable assets shown in her name. Jewellery worth over Rs 6.25 lakh is shown as part of the HUF holdings worth over Rs 64 lakh. Mr Pawar has a 2,850 sq ft office property in Pune Camp in his name, valued at Rs 2.10 crore.

Another big gun contesting from the drought-prone Solapur is Union energy minister Sushilkumar Shinde. He has declared assets worth over Rs 8.6 crore in his and his wife Ujwala’s name. The Shindes own immovable property worth Rs 5.25 crore and movable assets of over Rs 3.34 crore. Mr Shinde has just about Rs 21,000 cash in hand while his wife has Rs 18,000. Together, they have about Rs 3.2 crore deposits in 13 banks spread across Solapur, Mumbai and New Delhi. Unlike Mr Pawar and Praful Patel, Mr Shinde owns a vehicle, even if it just a Fiat, which, according to him, is worth Rs 7,680 and a tractor valued at Rs 2 lakh.

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