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Friday, November 16, 2012

Corruption in the political system in the 70s and now

Some industrialists visited Chandrashekhar at his Bhondsi Ashram when he was no longer the Prime Minister. After paying respects to the leader, one man carrying a bag said, uttered in hushed tone, "Sir, this is twenty-five." " Theek hai, rakh dijiye," Chandrashekhar said. The man placed the bag on a side table and left after a few minutes, with folded hands. There were dozen-odd people around Adhyakshji, as Chandrashekhar was called ever since he became the first president of the Janata Party in 1977. About half an hour later, leaders of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) came tomeet Chandrashekhar. Assam was going to the polls. The AGP leaders briefed him about poll prospects and sought some 'help'. Without blinking, he pointed his finger towards the bag and told them to take it - Rs 25 lakh was stuffed in the bag.
How is one is to interpret this transaction? Corruption and bribe or something else?
When Indira Gandhi was at the helms of affairs, she would get hundreds of new jeeps as part of funding of the Congress party by the industry for elections and it was known to everyone, including the Opposition. She did not leave behind any 'fortune' for her son when she died, nor did Indira Gandhi inherit any wealth and real estate after she lost her father Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister in 1964. It is said about Nehru that he would hesitate to entertain guests at his official residence, Teen Murti Bhavan, in the last week of the month, since he would run out of cash by month-end. Lal Bahadur Shastri, long-time Union minister and prime minister for a short while, did not leave behind any material assets for his sons.
The longest-serving treasurer of the All-India Congress Committee, Sitaram Kesri, was a much-maligned politician; known for raising funds for his party and amassing huge wealth for himself. Regulars who visited 5, Purana Quila Road, Kesri's official residence, would see stacks of note bundles in his room and he would not mind opening the cupboard in the presence of visitors. Bundles of notes would come tumbling out. He would pick up a couple of them and give them to political workers, small-time Congress leaders and even to some journalists who were in his good books.
In the late 1980s, a journalist expressed his liking for the expensive woollen carpet that had just then been laid in Kesri's room. The wily Congress treasurer immediately ordered his staff to get a similar carpet for the journalist and had it delivered at his residence. The journalist in question rose to become a minister.
But Kesri proved everyone wrong when he died. No assets, no bank deposits for his son. Whatever he collected or received from business and industry, he distributed among the people or deposited into the accounts of the AICC.

In contrast, there are some ministers, and not only ministers of the Congress or UPA government but even former ministers of the NDA and the United Front government, who are known to have made fortunes for themselves and their families. The situation is far worse in the states, be it Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab or Chhattisgarh.
A senior BJP leader and former minister in the NDA government did not hesitate to admit at a party that some senior BJP leaders, including a general secretary and a vice-president, visited Ranchi and returned with "briefcase or briefcases". It was during the first tenure of Arjun Munda as Jharkhand chief minister after replacing Babulal Marandi. But the senior BJP leader asked this author, "would you not like to know how many briefcases the then-Maharashtra chief minister of the Congress used to send or bring to New Delhi every month for the leaders who matter"?
The short point is this: in India, mobilisation of political funding has always been an informal affair, which leaves no imprint on the publicly-available accounts of either the giver or the recipient. But the recipient used the money for political purposes, almost exclusively. Over time, this ethic eroded. The money continued to flow informally but its use was first to enrich individual politicians and then to finance political activity. Clearly, the recent scams bring to light the extent to which the system has deteriorated.
Outfits like India Against Corruption render a service to the nation by making people aware of the extent of corruption that plagues the entire system today. So much so that even the captains of industry are now calling for some transparency in political funding. And this is the crux of the matter. The informal flow of funds to politics has to give way to formal, open and transparent flow of funds. The way to achieve that is to first focus on expenditure. Let the Election Commission make it mandatory for every party to declare its expenditure every month. Let the commission then finalise the actual expenditure after factoring in challenges to the claimed figure, for which the party should then have to show source of funding. This appears the only way to combat entrenched corruption.
By  Mohan Sahay in The Economic Times, Nov. 16, 2012

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