Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lessons from UP’s Louis XIV

To most of India Mayawati may look like a vulgarian with no sense of propriety. Boorish statues, garish diamonds and garlands with 18 crores (or is it 20?) worth of currency notes – this is the ultimate theatre of the absurd.

But she won’t change because she won’t understand her critics. She is absolutely convinced that she is doing the right thing for the empowerment of Dalits. For the same reason, she sees everything proper in her followers giving her gifts including cash. The system itself was not invented by her. Many parties have taken this road. Even communist leaders received garlands of 2- and 5-rupee notes in the old days, though it has now grown to big bucket collections. Karunanidhi once travelled by foot from Rameswaram to Madurai in an emotion-packed political show and there were cash collections all along the route. Chandrasekhar’s famous padayatra also featured collections.

But these leaders were not in power when collections were conducted in their name. Mayawati is in power and therefore, inevitably, there are reports of coercion being used. Not only party offices but also government servants are given targets to meet. In the worst instance that hit the headlines last year, a BSP MLA in Auriya was arrested in connection with the murder of a state PWD engineer. The report was that the engineer had not contributed to the fund collection ahead of Mayawati’s birthday.

Add to this the personal treasure she has amassed during her years in power. According to the June 2008 issue of “g-files”, a New Delhi magazine that focuses on the civil service and allied politics, Mayawati “owns 5000 silver coins, 10,000 gold coins and 787 diamond crowns…... Between 1995 and 2003, she was supposed to pay Rs 90 lakhs as income tax. Her account in the Union Bank, Delhi has deposits amounting to 2 crore 27 lakh rupees. Another account in the State Bank, Parliament Street, has a balance of 23 crore 45,000 rupees. Various banks in Greater Noida and Bulandshahr have fixed deposits in the names of her brother, father and other relatives worth 2 crore 50 lakh rupees. Owing income tax amounting to 12 crore 50 lakh rupees, she has deposited 14 crore 70 lakh rupees in two instalments. Appropriately, she is the leader of poor Dalits in UP”.

Income Tax authorities are likely to inquire into the latest garland collection of 18 crores (or is it 20?). Has any tax investigation into her affairs been taken to its logical conclusion so far? Several cases have been registered, and in some instances the courts have passed strictures against her. But even court orders on the statue spree have only caused a temporary slow-down. She conducts herself like the monarch of all she surveys, beyond legislative or judicial checks and balances. She is the modern Louis XIV proclaiming: “I am the state”.

The larger issue here is how our democracy has come to this pass. Our violators are immune to the law, that’s how. In September last year, in Israel, former President Moshe Katsav went on trial in a sexual assault case, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmer was indicted in three separate corruption cases and two former ministers began jail terms for corruption. Barring a few exceptions, our Katsavs and Olmers continue in Raj Bhavans and ministerial bungalows.

The kind of evil Mayawati practises with pride can be easily stopped by tightening income tax and electoral rules. But to change the laws, we need majority backing by legislators. And who are these legislators? Partners in brazenness who show unity only when bills are introduced to increase their allowances. Mayawati may be louder and cruder than the others. But the others are also made of the same feather. They fatten themselves and we suffer the shame.