August 3, 2008 2:00:49 am
If there is a hung Parliament next time and a coalition government whose survival hangs by a thread, do not be surprised if New Delhi becomes a bigger bazaar of horses than it was when Dr Manmohan Singh won the vote of confidence on July 22. The price of the horses will be far higher than the unbelievable benchmark set by the managers of the UPA’s victory last week. CPI leader A B Bardhan had disclosed that Rs 25 crore was the “ongoing rate” for each opposition MP being purchased by the UPA. Getting moneybags to provide Rs 1,000-2,000 crore for buying MPs is no longer beyond the realm of possibility. Corporate houses wanting to protect or promote their business interests will open up their war chests to be used by their paaltu (kept) politicians. There will be wheeler-dealers galore, from small-time fixers to big-time racketeers, some with dubious international connections. In short, the mandate of the people at the time of polling will have no bearing on the kind of government that might come into being with the help of defections, both wholesale and retail.
In other words, Indian Parliament will be on sale from now onwards.
Those who disbelieve should see what happened in Parliament on July 22. Three BJP MPs — Ashok Argal, Mahavir Baghora and Faggan Singh Kulaste — displayed inside the House wads of currency notes, allegedly paid to them by Amar Singh, general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, as a token amount of Rs one crore for abstaining from the trust vote. In a petition submitted to the Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, they have claimed that they acted as whistle-blowers to expose the ‘votes-for-notes’ conspiracy to save Dr Manmohan Singh’s Government. They have also claimed that CNN-IBN, a TV news channel, conducted a sting operation to record their whistle-blowing operation and also promised to telecast the recorded tape “soon” after the display of currency notes inside Parliament. The channel has not telecast the tape till today. Instead, it has chosen to hand over the tape to the Speaker, who has constituted a committee to probe the MPs’ complaint against Amar Singh, Ahmed Patel, political secretary to the Congress president, and one more MP.
Who is telling the truth? The three BJP MPs or Amar Singh, who has denied the allegations? This columnist seeks the indulgence of this newspaper to make an important disclosure: as a political activist determined to fight corruption in public life, I assisted the three BJP MPs in their whistle-blowing operation. I was a witness to most of what they have stated in their petition to the Speaker and vouch for its authenticity. I was with the CNN-IBN team almost from the beginning to the end of its sting operation and have witnessed its recording of the operation. I have no hesitation in affirming that the channel has double-crossed the whistle-blowers by flouting its own solemn assurance to telecast the tape before the trust vote was taken on July 22. I am willing to depose before the inquiry committee and ready to face any punishment if found guilty.
However, the probe of the specific complaint by the three BJP MPs is a side issue. The real issue is that the outcome of July 22 has convinced ordinary people in India that horse-trading was responsible for saving the UPA Government, and that it could well become a permanent feature of politics at the Centre. What could be the consequences of this mass perception? Won’t it make more and more people cynical about politics and politicians? Won’t it make even those political parties, such as the BJP, which speaks of probity in public life, susceptible to thinking that the only way to beat the wheeler-dealers of a rival party is to have smarter and more resourceful wheeler-dealers of their own? What will happen to our democracy if most political parties come under the vice-like grip of wheeler-dealers and corrupt leaders, who, in turn, function as per the scripts prepared by their masters?
Last week’s developments have forewarned us about an even more ominous portent — the possibility of Naxalism coming to our towns and cities. As an extremist political opinion, it openly rejects the system of parliamentary democracy, calls it a sham and has pledged to overthrow it by violent means. About 100-odd districts in India are already said to be under considerable Naxal influence. Is there any wonder if, in the aftermath of the “cash-for-votes” scandal in New Delhi, Naxal groups increase their influence to 200-odd districts, including our main urban centres? Once the institutions of democracy lose their sanctity and legitimacy in the eyes of the people, the descent to anarchy can be very quick. Make no mistake about what Naxal groups will tell our angry and frustrated youth: “Look at the dirty games these political parties play in the name of democracy. How can you trust them to work for you? What is the value of your ballot when those who get elected with your votes are up for sale to the highest bidder? Therefore, shun the path of the ballot and join our path of the bullet.”
Difficult days are ahead for Indian democracy. Therefore, the time to act for you, me and all democracy-loving people, is NOW.
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