Of all the recent scams emanating from Delhi that are slowly but surely destroying the original idea of India - the cash for votes scam – relating to alleged bribes and inducements to MPs during the 2008 Confidence vote in Parliament – strikes at the heart of our democracy! It lays bare the real influence of money on our Governance and democracy. It has exposed how vulnerable our republic really is to the increasing influence of money and how far we have drifted from the idealistic vision of a democratic republic that our founding fathers envisioned and many thousands of men of our armed forces have given up their lives to defend. While we always knew money was being used to capture public and government policy – that it is also now being openly used to blatantly capture democracy and therefore the government, is alarming!
That there is a need to reform our Parliamentary system is now becoming obvious. If majorities can be bought or manufactured, then the very premise of democracy – i.e., that it is representative of a popular mandate - gets turned on its head. This decline is not just about Parliamentary Values or Probity; it marks a structural shift in the dynamics of our Politics and current model of our Parliamentary democracy. The concentration of Political power and unfettered discretion and its liberal misuse is creating crony capitalists and a politics that lives of this in a mutually beneficial symbiosis of exploiting the nation. Delhi is now being definied by this. As Raghuram Rajan, the Chief Economist of IMF and Advisor to the Prime Minister says “If we let the nexus between Politician and Businessmen get too strong, we could shut down competition. That could slow us down tremendously and maybe create questions eventually for our democracy”. He said this in July 2010 and this is eerily prescient of the recently surfaced evidence about cash for votes in Parliament.
While the post wikileaks debate in Parliament morphed into a sophisticated legal argument between two lawyers (Chidambaram and Jaitley), the most common sense points were made by Sitaram Yechury and Sushma Swaraj – which goes to the core of this issue. How can the Prime Minister with all the intelligence and Policing machinery at his disposal use ignorance as his defence at every evidence of this horrible crime? Sitaram Yechury made an even simpler point about the Prime Minister’s claim that no crime was committed during vote of confidence – “If so, why did the Parliamentary committee ask for further investigation?”
So even the most hardcore and cynical of politicians in Delhi or any state capital will tell you, recent incidents mark a low point in our 60-year old democracy. And while there is renewed focus and spotlight on the Political system, a debate has started and needs to be vigorously followed - on the role of the Media around this cash for votes debate. Does the active participation of a channel with a political party in a sting constitute watchdog journalism or something else? Or is breaking a story (as an exclusive investigative story) by a magazine that essentially represents the Government’s version of what happened – represent independent investigative journalism or something else? The Media or the fourth estate – having a role as a watchdog of democracy – is clearly showing signs of having abdicated the role of watchdog and replaced that, in many instances, to that of tamed, defanged or domesticated versions.
Our capital Delhi was once a fountain head of idealism, national service and commitment to the Idea of India. The concentration of political power and discretion has caused Delhi to morph into a gathering ground of special interests like vultures and hyenas circling around prey. The concentration of media power in and around New Delhi is as much a cause of concern as the concentration of Political power and special interests in Delhi. Just as there needs to be alternate political discourse that’s focused on reforming our Political and Parliamentary system, there needs to be debate on reforming our Democractic watchdog – media.
In short, if we in the rest of India want to preserve and protect the original Idea of India –we need better oversight of Delhi.
This article appeared in Sunday Standard, dated April 03rd, 2011