Rent-seeking in politics or why Kejriwal's barbs hurt our MPs

In the ruling party and the opposition, there are many who enjoy power without any accountability


Ajay Singh | March 29, 2012

Sensibilities of our public representatives have become increasingly fragile. Parliament passes resolutions at the slightest provocation. Take the case of activist Arvind Kejriwal who merely mentioned about criminal antecedents of 162 MPs and this enraged parliamentarians no end. A resolution was passed censuring Kejriwal and Team Anna.

Did Kejriwal say something wrong? Pause and reflect for a moment and you would realise that even the government-appointed high-powered committee under former home secretary NN Vohra stated the same in unambiguous terms in the 1990s. This report is now the property of parliament. The Vohra committee traced the genesis of criminalisation of the politics and suggested certain radical measures, which, of course, were ignored by the political leaders.

Kejriwal has said nothing new. Then what is the reason for fragile sensibilities and this manifestation of injured innocence? The rare unanimity of the political class in censuring Team Anna is clearly an index of the rising fear of people’s awakening. This is certainly not our case that Team Anna is the sole harbinger of this awakening. But this movement has certainly contributed in raising people’s consciousness against the corrupt and criminals. And this small contribution even with the accompanying hiccups is no mean achievement.

Kejriwal’s barbs seem even more piercing to our political class which of late has devised a brilliant mechanism for ducking accountability — the rent-seeking, which became the norm of politics and governance in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France. The French emperor had devised this new method of enjoying power without responsibility by assigning his job on rent to brokers. The king had no responsibility while his coffers used to get replenished on account of extortion from the masses. Is the situation any different in India? Perhaps all genuine political leaders in their heart of hearts understand the distortion that has slithered around India’s body politic and is choking its vital organs. But they seem to be beholden to a strange kind of political omerta — a conspiracy of silence.  

This is the reason why union ministers have been consistent in ignoring the prime minister. A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran used to derive their strength from DMK chief K Karunanidhi, so they cared two hoots about the PM. But Shriprakash Jaiswal is a traditional Congress leader. Then why did he choose to give a go-by to the PM’s advice on auctioning coal mines? The reason is not far to seek. Jaiswal owes his status not to the prime minister but to the hangers-on who cling to 10 Janpath, the official residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Jaiswal’s conduct is not an aberration but a norm in the Manmohan singh government. Rent-seekers are enjoying power and discharging their responsibilities to the best of their abilities, which are limited to currying favours to oligarchs. That is their mandate.

Perhaps the situation would have been redeemable had this syndrome afflicted only the ruling class. The main opposition, the BJP, is virtually paralysed by this syndrome so much that it has been shrinking in its political space. Inspired by Sonia Gandhi’s experiment, the RSS leadership emulated her in true spirit by installing puppets as leaders. For the past five years, the RSS leadership has been enjoying fruits of power without being accountable to people. The grip of the RSS influence is so overbearing on the BJP that the growth of natural leadership in the party has been stymied.

What is disturbing is the fact that this trend is getting strengthened every day. Only a decade ago, this seemed to be aberration confined to Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray. But then Shiv Sena and Thackeray’s appeal were limited to pockets of Maharashtra. But now even regional satraps are adapting this model in their own innovative ways. For example in Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav won the election but handed over power in a seamless manner to his son Akhilesh Yadav. Those who see this generational shift as natural are wilfully ignoring the fact that Mulayam has not renounced politics to pave the way for his son. On the contrary, his dominance on the governance of the state has become more pronounced, albeit without responsibility.

These are indications that we are gradually becoming a society of rent-seekers. Such an arrangement is extremely cosy for those who are well entrenched in the power structure. They get quite rattled by an indication of public awakening which will ultimately endanger their status quo. Is this the reason why a random expression of truth by Kejriwal or Team Anna is unacceptable to those who swear to serve the country by truth and dedication?  Maybe, such hypocrisy is integral to today’s politics.



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