The Democracy Paradox

The incentives of a party fighting elections are straightforward: they want to win the elections. The spoils of power are tempting, and everyone works hard. But once they come to power, their incentives are not quite so straightforward.

Consider the two things they needed to come to power: money and votes. Let’s start with money. All democratic politics is about the interplay between power and money. You need humungous amounts of money to win elections. Special interest groups or wealthy individuals provide this money. They do it as an investment, not out of benevolence. And when their horse wins, they want an RoI. They used money to buy power; now they want the power to be used to make them money.

Amit Varma looks at the symbiotic relationship between money and political power in an exploration of why ‘democracy’ is of the special interests, by the special interests, for the special interests.

Bonus, Amit’s review of the Prashant Jha book How the BJP Wins Elections. (Which I read earlier this week, and will recommend as a primer on the Indian political process and how the BJP plays it to brilliant effect).

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The domination game plan

This dates back to 2000 but is incredibly prescient and hence worth re-surfacing in the present context.

In a January 22, 2000 article, a soi dissant maverick wrote an explainer about the RSS gameplan for a total takeover of the country. He spoke of how an aging right-wing leadership, feeling that time was running out on them, planned to up the ante, to implement what the writer called the Final Solution.

The writer broke the plan down into a series of sequential steps. I’ll quote, extensively, with an apology to the publishers — the only reason I am doing this is because this piece, and the points it makes, needs to be brought back to the center of public consciousness at this point in time. Here it is, emphasis added where required:

THE first component of the game plan is to discredit the RSS’ opponents but protect its converts. The First Information Report in the Bofors case is a classic instance of this strategem. In that FIR, Rajiv Gandhi’s name figures in the list of accused (n ever mind the column). But those Cabinet Ministers who vetted and signed the deal, or had even held secret negotiations on the “financial parameters” with the Bofors company as representatives of Rajiv Gandhi, are prosecution witnesses. Naturally we can guess what they will say in the witness box….  The motto is: “Join us and be free. Resist us and see you in court.” By a series of such sham prosecutions and managed associate media leaks, the RSS expects to undermine the democratic Opposition in India.

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So hey, let’s talk about Kerala

Last night (Sunday, September 10) produced a remarkable display of histrionics by Arnab Goswami of Republic TV. In what was billed as a debate on whether the left or the right was more intolerant, Arnab focused his considerable energies on the ongoing cycle of political killings in Kerala. He referred to recent attacks that had led to the death of RSS workers, and segued into an attack on the “liberals”. Where was Sagarika (Ghose), where was Barkha (Dutt), where was Rana (Ayyub), he demanded.

He banged the table as he brought his peroration to a close. “Where were the Not In My Name people?”, he thundered as he flicked back an errant lock of hair.

It was an awe-inspiring performance that I watched with all the morbid fascination of a spectator at a train wreck.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is not given to such infantile histrionics. Speaking recently to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, the minister was calm and reasonable as he condemned the killing and segued smoothly into an attack on “liberals”.

“Why is it that all my liberal friends who speak so eloquently and so strongly against the killing of a journalist, perfectly so entitled to, or even maoists and naxalites, maintain a conspicuous silence when so many RSS workers are killed in Karnataka or BJP workers in Kerala?” the minister asked.

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The Swamy strategery

Subramanian Swamy has been accused of many things, but ‘grace’ has never made that list, so his valedictory post (and related snark that peppers his timeline, sandwiched between humble-brag retweets of laudatory messages from his fan club, and of news reports crediting him with having added ‘another scalp’ to his bag, is only par for his course.

Here’s what comes next: Continue reading

From the dept of ‘Hamam mein sab…’

The story, in brief: In 2014 the Delhi High Court ruled that both the BJP and the Congress were in violation of the FCRA when the parties accepted contributions from Vedanta, the London-based MNC.

The government appealed; the case is now in the Supreme Court. And meanwhile, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley slipped a clause into the latest Finance Bill by which he — with retrospective effect — changed the definition of ‘foreign companies’, so that Vedanta is now an ‘Indian company’. In other words, he changed legal definitions in order to make kosher what the court said is a criminal act.

The full details here, as reported in The Wire.

Keep this story and the implications in mind when you next wonder why the BJP, having made the many scams of the Congress its main election issue, is now dragging its collective feet on every single one of them.

History, reimagined

Politicians on the stump are a source of endless joy. Here, Amit Shah in Assam:

“We all know that Assam is the land of the brave. It is the land where Sukapha (Ahom king) had defeated the Mughals 17 times and drove them away. The same land is now being allowed to become the abode of illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators by the Congress government.

It’s a nice story. But, as I was pointing out on my Facebook page last night, some inconvenient facts get in the way of it. Sukhapaa, founder of the Ahom kingdom, died in 1268. Babar defeated Ibrahim Lodi and established the Mughal dynasty in 1526. Quite a feat, then, for the Ahom king to have defeated unnamed Mughals three centuries after his death.

PS: A meeting over lunch (which hopefully will be long, and liquid) and *the* game this evening, so am off blog for the duration. Have a happy Sunday, folks.

 

 

Talent spotting

But of course, makes perfect sense. Sreesanth was found guilty of spot-fixing by a disciplinary committee headed by Shri Arun Jaitley. Less than a year ago, BCCI general secretary (and ABVP national head) Anurag Thakur confirmed the life banafter the Delhi court found it not feasible to pursue charges under MCOCA. You could say Sreesanth’s candidature has been vetted at the highest levels.

Seriously — is the party so poor in talent that it has to rely on the illusory appeal of a cheat?

Earlier today, while trawling through my archives, I came across this column by Pritish Nandy. This section resonates:

While these are a few stray examples, the point I am making is simple. Why do our achievements in every area of life and endeavour get outshone by our single most prominent area of shame — our politics? Why does our politics grab the media, grab our mindshare, our reluctant attention day after day? Loathsome leaders; corrupt MPs; thieving ministers; ugly, despicable louts and historysheeters masquerading as netas; blackmailers; extortionists; thugs. Why do these people hijack our attention again and again and again? Always for the wrong reasons.

This is what institutionalises crime. Legitimises it. This is what attracts the worst among us to politics. The fact that they get their one shining moment of glory when they enter politics. Arun Gawli leapt from page 5 to page 1 the moment he entered politics. So did Raja Bhaiya in UP. Rabri Devi went from her kitchen into the national headlines. Phoolan Devi, from her cell in Tihar jail. Chandra Swami painted all his crimes with different political colours.

It is the Lennon syndrome at work. Do something utterly despicable — kill someone famous, loot a bank, cheat the nation, set fire to a Harijan village, badmouth another politician — and you can bask in the glory of national headlines. You are the flavour of the day, the week, the season. Newspapers will frontpage you. television news bulletins will chase you. Your chamchas will fete you. And, if you are lucky, weak and feeble governments will reach out to you for your support.

No wonder the scum of the world is in politics today.

I’ll leave you with this thought: The column was written in 1999.