Postcard from a private club

When you make a career out of expressing your opinion, as political columnists do, you expect people to disagree with you and often disagree with you angrily. It happens to me on a weekly basis. But, in more than twenty years of writing this column, I have never been reviled as a government lackey. That is until last week. It intrigued me because one of my proud accomplishments is that I have been in the bad books of every government that has taken power in Delhi since I first became a political columnist. I believe relations between government and the press are healthy only when adversarial.

So the attack by an auditorium filled with Anna Hazare's fans flabbergasted me. It was based on the assumption that because I oppose Anna Hazare's movement, I support 'this very corrupt government' and corrupt politics in general. They exhibited the violent rage and abusive language of a street mob so there was no point in engaging them in debate. Or in trying to tell them that if they had read this column even once, they would know that I was not a government agent. No point in explaining that their anger about corruption was right but their solutions wrong. We do not need another law. We need a justice system that implements our existing laws speedily and effectively. If the Lokpal can have the power to fast track justice, why not our judges?

Afterwards, I thought about the things that self-appointed representatives of civil society have been saying and tried to analyse what inspires such ferocious, widespread public anger. I concluded that what inspires it is that political life in India has become a private club to which only very privileged members have entry. Almost all our political parties have colluded to create a uniquely Indian form of electoral feudalism. Simply put, if you happen to be the son, daughter, widow or wife of an important politician, you have the best chances of getting a ticket at election time. Your next best chance is if you are a skilled courtier or rich, powerful or famous in your own right. Ordinary Indians have been eliminated totally from any say in political life and this makes them so angry that they are ready to support anyone who is ready to fight the 'system'. If Parliament is the system, let us begin by admitting that it has become an exclusive private club.

Anna Hazare and his 'team' seem not to have noticed this. Nor have they noticed the real sources of corruption. They never mention the ministerial discretionary powers that made A Raja possible. Or the gigantic, impractical and very leaky government programmes that are supposed to 'alleviate' poverty. Nor do they mention the constituency funds that MPs and MLAs get which have become an acknowledged source of loot. My differences with Anna and his team are irreconcilable and I believe Baba Ramdev should stick to yoga but I share the general rage about the private club that Indian politics has become.

It is through a democratic deviation of serious dimensions that nearly all our younger MPs are political heirs. These heirs collude, across party lines, in strengthening hereditary democracy because they know that they have got into Parliament on false pretences and would not have made it in the normal course of politics. They have neither political ideas nor economic understanding nor care whether their constituencies improve or not as long as they get elected. Political life for most of them is a means of improving their own lives. Taxpayers' money pays for them to live in luxury and enjoy a life of power and privilege. Ordinary Indians see this and it gets on their nerves. I am a relatively privileged Indian and I admit that it gets on my nerves.

These political princes and princesses flaunt their corruption shamelessly. All that Baba Ramdev's black money sleuths need to do is park themselves in the porch of Parliament House and calculate the cost of the handbags, shoes and jewels that our lady MPs wear and they will come upon a huge cache of black money.

The problem is colossal and cannot be solved by a Lokpal. What is needed is a sweeping reduction of ministerial discretionary powers, vastly improved governance and mandatory inner party elections. Only when political parties start infusing new life into their crumbling edifices by bringing in better people through a process of elections, will things improve.

As long as we continue to tolerate heirs, their cohorts and their sycophants, we will continue to have democratic feudalism with corruption built into its foundations. If Anna and his team want something to chew on during his next fast unto death, let them think about why the unemployable progeny of our political leaders always find employment in politics. Money, money, money?

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter at tavleen_singh

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