September 23, 2013

The Talented Mr. Kejriwal

While I see no reason at all why Mr. Kejriwal should not get a chance to be the CM of Delhi if he wishes to, in India's Westminster-style democracy, AAP will have to win in enough MLA constituencies to form the next government.

The challenge lies in finding 30 or 35 honest and capable candidates. I can think of Mr. Kejriwal, Mr. Sisodia, Ms. Shazia Ilmi, Mr. Yogendra Yadav, and Mr. Prashant Bhusan. I am not sure if all of them are candidates. At any rate, who are the other 20 or 30 candidates? Are they as honest and purposeful as Mr. Kejriwal or just moneybags?

The other challenge for honest people to make an entry into politics is campaign financing. On the one hand, the legal limit is said to be laughably low and everyone is supposed to be spending up to 20 or 40 times the artificially low limit.

Even otherwise, I think a really honest person may find it tough to be able to 'splurge' 10 lakhs on an election. Do the candidates pay that out of their own pockets or does the AAP provide financial support to the candidates? And if the party does help, where does the party get the money from?

The tussle about bringing political parties under the RTI has thrown up figures of 1,000s of crores that the Congress /BJP/SP/BSP and others get in anonymous contributions. There is no accounting of who are these dedicated patriots who are so generous with their hard-earned money to so freely contribute it to our 'oh-so-honest' politicians such as everyone from Kamal Nath to Sharad Pawar to Mulayam and Laloo to Mayawati and so on.

More likely, unscrupulous businessmen make cash donations to their favorite political parties (or indeed to all the political parties) expecting various favors in return. To take a random example, a leather tannery owner in Kanpur might make donations to the SP and the BSP and the quid pro quo may be that he gets to evade a few crores in various taxes or that his tannery gets preferential electrical power during times of shortage, say during the summer months.
This process, this unholy nexus, between the corrupt businessmen and politicians, is going to be a really tough problem to solve.

Are middle-class Indians willing to put their money where their mouth is? Can Mr. Kejriwal mount an online funding drive like Obama did in 2008? I suspect, many millions of Indians who are outraged about headline corruption cases such as 2G, Coalgate, Adarsh, Vadragate and so on may hesitate to donate thousands of rupees to any political formation; whether it's the AAP or anyone else.

At any rate, the hotshot 20-something voter typically tends to be a blind supporter of Mr. Modi. On the money front, after the usual 'priority' expenditures for youth such as alcohol and may be installments on that four-wheeler (or flat screen TV), I doubt if very many folks have any 'spare' money left to 'donate' to that honest politician or political party.

People are somehow always strapped for money. As middle class folks grow older, they take on traditional responsibilities which can be captured in one word: family.

Once you got a spouse to feed plus a kid or two and their schooling and that home loan and may be those old parents too, man, it gets really, REALLY tough, you see.

That salary of 1,00,000 rupees per month does not go as far now as it used to earlier.
Not to mention the government which keeps whining and pestering for its 'fair share' in the form of ever increasing taxes which are sadly deducted at source from the salaried folks and hence no scope for egregious evading.

And the wife keeps nagging about that long-promised 'honeymoon' trip to Thailand ...

So, all in all, sorry Mr. Kejriwal: you are on your own.

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