Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A modern day cash-for-votes scam unfolding in the Presidential elections….

Unfortunately, I cannot claim to be the one who thought of this rather interesting concept. This was actually mentioned by a former minister of the Government and a member of an ally of the Congress at a recent interaction he had with a select few members of the financial world and the corporate sector in Mumbai. The context was the Presidential elections and the factors that were going to decide who became President. After yesterday’s “googly” by Mulayam and Mamata, his words ring even more true!

Why cash for votes? Because at least as far as Mamata’s game is concerned, it looks simple. Give me the financial package I am “demanding” for Bengal and you can have your Presidential candidate. I don’t care how you find the funds, but you find them. If it creates a bad precedence, that’s your problem. If it means giving similar packages to other states, that’s your problem too. The trade-off is clear and specific and monetary. The cash demanded is some Rs 20000 crores (in the form of aninterest waiver and a moratorium for payment of interest for a further period of time). The seats offered are some 4% of the Electoral College. Isn’t this cash for votes?!

The story with Mulayam is no different. He is a willing “friend” of the UPA from time to time. He’s found the right excuse to support the UPA – he wants to keep the communal forces out it seems! Now that he owes no one any explanation for supporting the UPA, he also wants his pound of flesh. News reports indicate that he is willing to come on-board a plan to support the Congress’s candidate if the Congress Government promises him cash for his 6% votes.

There is of course a difference with the original cash for votes scam. Both Mulayam and Mamata appear to be asking for the cash for their states, not for themselves personally. While in the actual cash for votes scam, the allegation was that three members of the BJP were offered cash in their personal capacity to vote for the Congress (supposedly by the Congress since they benefitted – don’t try to think about evidence or logic – this is politics. Here any accusation sticks without need for any evidence!). There is one other difference. If the original was to ensure the support of just three votes, this one is to ensure a far larger number. If the cash paid then were a few suit-cases full, this time it is in the tens of thousands of crores of rupees. This is surely one measure of economic progress that the country has made!

This MP has been a Parliamentarian since 1990. When asked if this was the worst period and type of politics he had seen since that year, he strongly agreed. And he is right. The difference between all the politics of the past and the present is that now there is not even a pretence of ideology left in opposing a candidate or proposing another one. Now its openly and brazenly self serving interests which determine such decisions. Mamata’s opposition of Pranab Mukherjee is not because he is eligible or uncapable; but simply because he isn’t yielding to her on the financial package. Her support for Somnath Chaterjee is simply because he revolted against the Left. Mulayam owes no one any explanation for his flip-flops. Both Ansari and Kalam were “bureaucrats” as he had called them earlier in explaining why he wouldn’t back them. Now he is ok to support them.

But you have to give it to Mamata and Mulayam for playing some real smart politics. For both of them, the other was the handicap. Mamata wasn’t able to exert herself strongly enough (in her reckoning!) because the Congress could always count on Mulayam for support. And vice-versa. By coming together, both of them have together taken the wind out of the Congress’s sails. If both work together even for a limited period of time, they can easily get the Congress to do anything they want. At the very minimum, they can get the government to stop moving even at the minute, barely visible, microscopic speed that it is moving at.

I asked the MP the question if he saw things improving in 2014. Even assuming the NDA came to power, would the situation of the BJP be any different than it is of the Congress at present. Not surprisingly, the MP agreed with my views. He too believes that the situation would become worse after 2014. The only hope he offered from his experience was that when things became really bad (a few years and several PMs later….after 2014), people would vote back a single party to power. That’s when India will be back on its tracks. In his view, in the long journey a country undertakes, a set-back of a few years doesn’t mean much. For us mortals of course, we would like every year to count.

I doubt if this Mulayam-Mamata partnership will last too long. They are not natural allies. They don’t think of the Congress as a huge enemy in their home states. They consider some one else (the BSP and the Left) as their real enemies and the support of the Congress would be welcome, even if not essential. The two parties also have ideological differences. For Mamata, Somnath Chatterjee is acceptable because that would really hurt the Left. For Mulayam, no matter what he says now, the Left is an ally he wants to cultivate. So at some point in time, their paths have to become tangled. This is an opportunistic alliance meant only to last till the Presidential elections end.

The real truth is that while everyone in the country seems to be enjoying an interesting and intriguing ringside view of the drama that’s being enacted in Delhi, it’s a really sad moment for the country. A weak center – supported by a multiple “allies” – is an untenable political structure. It may survive but it cannot function. The NDA faces its own alliance problems. The JD (U) has become an irritant. Even if they do patch up, no one knows how long the patch up will last. That’s why we need electoral reforms that ensure a degree of stability. How to get those, I don’t know at this point…..but maybe we should start a debate.

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