Monday, February 20, 2012

Did Bharata build Bharat Varsha in vain? Elections raise a legitimacy question

India is a model to the world in the management of free and fair elections. But in terms of what comes out of this massive exercise, India is an argument against adult franchise. Many of those who get elected are so unworthy that the legitimacy of democracy itself becomes questionable.

As many as 103 candidates in UP (35 percent of the total) have criminal cases against them. Some 30 candidates are contesting from jail. These include notorious mafia bosses. One candidate is housed in a Gujarat jail, another in an Orissa jail. Vijay Kumar Mishra is in Meerut jail for his involvement in at least 25 criminal cases. He goes out often, helped by constables, jail officials and court functionaries. Jail term is no obstacle for him to visit places, contact his foot soldiers and spread his messages among voters. Jail birds who contest elections in UP and Bihar almost always win. Or else....

The law that allows imprisoned criminals to contest elections mocks at democracy. Such laws get passed because criminals, dons and sundry undesirables sit in the chairs of law-makers alongside a few honourable members. The honourable members too are subject to the dictats of their party high commands. Thus, the deliberations and debates that must precede the enactment of laws are absent in the experience of post-Emergency India. What we have is a set of loopholed laws that promote the two C's that rule India – Corruption and Criminality.

There is also a D in the ruling dispensation – Dynasty. This round of elections will be remembered for the blatancy with which dynastic defiance asserted itself. Forget the way the Badal family overwhelmed Punjab and the way an army of sons, daughters and wives established their superiority in several areas. The attitudes verbally expressed by two rooted dynasties are enough to show that a return to democratic normalcy is nowhere in sight.

For Bal Thackeray it was a ceremonial occasion: the last campaign rally for the Mumbai Corporation elections. He was on stage in ceremonial regalia with rudraksha malas and a saffron pottu. Standing beside him, with saffron Shiv Sena shawls draped around their necks were crowned successor, son Uddhav Thackeray, and grandson Aditya Thackeray who was crowned with a ceremonial presentation of a sword not long ago. Against such a line-up, Bal Thackeray declared solemnly: “I will never let dynastic politics enter the Shiv Sena”.

That's the sign of a true Indian politician – the ability to deny what everyone can see, and to do it with absolute conviction. The wonder is that Thackeray made his declaration in the course of attacking “the way dynastic rule is manifesting itself in the Gandhi family”. He was no doubt provoked by that family's son-in-law, Robert Vadra, staking his claim to a political role.

Thackeray was right in one detail: Vadra's entry has “opened a can of worms in the Congress”. Vadra is described as a businessman. There is very little information on what business he is engaged in. The little that is known, such as his interest in real estate, is steeped in controversy. But, as he said frankly, politics is the family business. Even more frankly he said this was Rahul Gandhi's time, then would come the time of Priyanka Gandhi and himself, not to mention his children who, he said proudly, had the ability to mix freely with servants. Wow, the future of India is in safe hands.

All this in a country the greatest ruler of which, Bharata, had set a different example. King Bharata was not satisfied with any of the sons his three wives bore him. In his old age, worried about the Kingdom's future, he approached the gods who gave him a son, Vitatha, a person of extraordinary competence. Bharata crowned him king, holding up the principle that kingship was decided by ability, not bloodline.

That was then. Today, the country is no longer Bharat Varsha. To many dynasts like Robert, the Mahabharata must be alien.