2 January 2013

The dependence inside Independence

Both India and the United States of America (USA) have been colonies of the English, and both claim that they are now independent. That their people are independent. Among these, the US is the senior 'independent' state, India is the junior one, and is imitating the senior in all its shades of modern democracy. So it is worthwhile to look at what we are following, to have a clear picture of what this path is leading us to.
This imitation of the US rests upon English systems that we have already copied and laid as the political foundation - a collection of 550 people in Delhi's Lok Sabha and about 4000 in the Vidhan Sabhas of different states who will 'govern' the remaining 100 crore people (1 billion people). Come to think of it, if there was one ruler, say a king, then we would say, unhappily, that we were ruled by just 0.0000001 per cent of the population. In the modern democratic system, the math does not change much, we are now ruled by a mere 0.00045 per cent of the population. But, you may say, 'we' get to choose or elect the 0.00045 per cent of people. Yes, of course, sort of; let us have a closer look at this.
It has been recorded that during the recent Presidential and Congressional elections in the USA, nearly six billion dollars was spent on behalf of candidates1, i.e., 6 followed by nine zeros. In Indian terms, converting to rupees, that is over 30,000 crore rupees, which in numeral form is Rs 30,00,00,00,00,000, i.e., 3 followed by twelve zeros! This is an absurd number to ordinary folk, because it stuns the imagination.

Indian elections are also increasingly becoming a rich man's game. A member of parliament (MP) election 'costs' three crore rupees (a crore is ten million), this is the average spending by each candidate of the big parties. Taking just the three main contenders for each of the 543 constituencies in the country, the money spent in the Lok Sabha elections by the candidates is about 4,900 crore rupees! The elections to the state assemblies (MLA) can see a spending of Rs 1 crore per candidate of the big parties, so calculating again on the basis of three important candidates for each of the 4,000 constituencies, the spending amounts to Rs 12,000 crore rupees! These are calculations by a prestigious independent group in India2.
In rural Tehri-Garhwal where I have lived for the last four years, I have seen that even a village-level gram panchayat election now demands a currency spending of one to two lakh rupees per candidate (a lakh is one hundred thousand). Before we dismiss these 'smaller' elections, it would be in order to remember the sheer scale of this: there are some 51 lakh serious candidates across the three tiers of the Panchayat system; district, block and gram sabha, so the combined expenditure comes to a stagerring 51,000 crore rupees! So, if one combines all the elections from village level to the national Lok Sabha, political candidates in India spend, once every five years, about 68,000 crore rupees! You may or may not see this as an obscene sum spent, but undeniably, this is an enormous amount of money. While it is assumed that 'anyone' can enter parliament or become the prime minister, it is obvious that in modern democracy, only a very, very select few can play this game.
Why so much money? In the US, because the election has just happened, the question has recently been asked. In India, because elections are round the corner, the question is now being asked. After a while, it will be forgotten in both countries, that is another similarity about the two democracies. The answer, however, is as important as it is simple: this is the money spent by politicians to get their own jobs.
I see reports from time to time in Indian media about how an unemployed person 'pays' to get a government job - as a policeman, clerk or even a teacher. Now we know that they are not the only ones; even the Prime Minister of India and the President of the USA use similar means - using money in elections to buy their jobs. In actual fact, the truth may be that corruption in smaller jobs are a direct result of the corruption in the highest jobs of these two countries.
Who gives this money to the political candidates, and why?
These are simple and significant questions. They have been asked and may have been answered before, but let us investigate now on the strength of what we see, for the benefit of our own understanding.
In the USA, we are told by confirmed media and government reports that:
1. For Barrack Obama, big law firms like Mostyn Law Firm, Kirkland & Eliis, and DLA Piper, as well as the American Association for Justice led the way in contributions. IT companies Microsoft and Google were also major contributors.
For Mitt Romney, the powerful banking & insurance sector firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase were big contributors (please recall that in the previous elections, Citigroup, JP Morgan and Goldman Sacks were among top ten donors to Obama and got billions of dollars of bailout money). Energy & Natural Resources sector companies like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and the National Rural Electric Association also fed the Republican candidate heavily.
Defence equipment companies Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing paid both the candidates. Hope we don't see another war started by USA (interesting question: who else has started wars in the last few decades?).
Here is an example of corruption embedded in Amercian-style politics: William J. Lynn is sometimes Deputy Secretary of Defense in Barrack Obama's White House and at other times is a lobbyist for defense giant Raytheon. He lobbies with his left hand and awards contracts to himself with the right hand!
2. Where corporates do not pay the politician directly, they have ways for unlimited spending through what are called Political Action Committees, which, thanks to a distorted US Supreme Court ruling3, allows corporate America to influence elections in a big way. For this 2012 election cycle, the SuperPACs spent as much as $710,011,924!4:
All of these corporate-sponsored superPACs have a direct profiteering agenda. They are merely paying the politician in advance for policy changes/ favours that he will have to concede later. Fred Wertheimer, president of the advocacy group Democracy 21 in the USA, says: "It's an extraordinary amount of money... where the candidates have to put themselves on the auction block to get money, and where a small handful of millionaires, billionaires and influence-seekers can exercise an undue influence on the results.. This money is not innocent money. It's a terrible situation we have right now - it's not serving the country. I think there is a high level of disgust with what is going on".
Are things any different in India? Here, our economics has been heavily influenced by Amercian-style politics since 1991, and this has unleashed the hysteria of money into politics. Lets take a look at the following facts:
1. The accounts of political parties have been a tightly held secret for a long time. Now that some disclosures have been made compulsory, it is amazing to see that most of their dealings are in cash. This is because the law allows the withholding of details of donors below Rs 20,000. All the parties have shamelessly used this provision to cook up thousands of fraudulent cash entries. In the two-year period 2007-09 for which the parties have filed their details, the Congress party shows a cash contribution received of upto 50 per cent, the BJP shows 85 per cent cash contribution, while the Samajwadi Party shows a 99 per cent donation by cash. Amazing, isn't it? The newly super-ruch Bahujan Samaj Party has filed an incredible income statement of 200 crore rupees, not a single rupee of which has come by cheque! All cash contributions, most of them allegedly anonymous individuals, each less than Rs 20,000, so that they can hide the details of names of donors. Government departments have quietly accepted these cooked up account statements. One billion Indians have not.
2. It is now clear that the crisis of black money in the country is directly related to politicians. It is convenient for businessmen to use them. During the last assembly elections, the Central Election Commission implemented the new expenditure guidelines in Bihar and then for all five states. The Commission spokesman says: "We seized money left, right and centre - Rs. 73 crores in five states... and that shows the magnitude because for every crore that we seized, 40 to 50 crore rupees we must have missed".
The election commission rules limit expenditure by candidates to Rs 40 lakh for Lok Sabha and Rs 16 lakh for state assemblies. The rules also demand that every elected representative declare in an affidavit that his or her expenditure has been within these limits. Since it is an open secret that all the big parties and their candidates spend much more than this, our entire political class starts its first day in office with a sworn lie.
3. In the on-going Gujarat state elections, in the first few days since the model code of conduct came into effect, there were news reports that the Election Commission’s team had seized more than Rs.10 crore of unaccounted cash in three cases alone. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was soon filed in the Gujarat High Court seeking “restraint and moderation” of the Election Commission’s order that permitted seizure of unaccounted cash. Guess who filed this petition? An association of the business community of Gujarat! Politics, big business, black money; the triangle of systemic corruption has taken shape in India.
It is remarkable that India's Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi himself should be saying, "Elections have become the biggest source of corruption." This growing rot is akin to what has already happened in the senior democracy of the USA.
The corruption of Lobbying: What has been said so far is only the visible end of political corruption and corporate influence during elections. In the American design of democracy, bribery is actually legal throughout the year; they call it 'lobbying'. In the last four years alone, lobbyists in the USA spent 16 billion dollars, these are official figures submitted by them to the government5. This is an astounding amount of money spent by corporations to 'educate' their own legislators. The list of leading spenders for lobbying include the usual suspects: ExxonMobil, GE, GM, AT&T, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Verizon Communications, Lockheed Martin, and ConocoPhillips. No wonder these companies follow the same system when doing business abroad - Enron publicly acknowledged ten years ago that it spent five million dollars to 'educate' Indian politicians, including an old man who died recently in Mumbai. Just last month, Walmart has been caught bribing politicians in Mexico, and is being investigated for possible bribery in India, too, (which is a strong possibility, if you have been following the way FDI in retail was allowed by the government against nationwide opposition. The very evening that the government announced its decision, Walmart had a launch party; it was ready, knowing that the decision had been taken).
Bribery is so institutionalised in the USA that through lobbying corporate America even influences the election of judges of the state courts. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the biggest lobbyist, and has become a powerful player in judicial races. From 2001 to 2003 its preferred candidates won 21 of 24 elections. In a report voicing concern, the Centre for American Progress says: "Big business is tightening its grip on our courts. Instead of serving as a last resort for Americans seeking justice, judges are bending the law to satisfy the concerns of their corporate donors". Interestingly, the US Chamber of Commerce is now lobbying for a change in the anti-bribery law so that corporations are not prosecuted for their corrupt activities abroad. Guess who is a big contributor to this lobbying effort? Walmart.
Harward Professor Lawrence Lessig has written: "We know intuitively that bribery and lobbying are related... The common argument is that bribery happens in developing economies where the rule of law is questionable, while lobbying is a more 'civilized' activity that brings economic benefits".
India does not permit official bribery through 'lobbying', so we do not have figures of what the corporates, both national and MNCs, have paid our politicians. So let us take a look at the rewards received by our Members of Parliament, as visible in their asset declarations in 2009. We find that:
1. There are as many as 315 crorepati MPs in the current Lok Sabha - assets of more than 10 million rupees each! (more than 80 per cent of Indian families have assets of less than one-hundredth of this amount).
2. Seventy one per cent of Congress MPs and 51 per cent of BJP MPs are multi-millionaires. These are two main so-called national parties, with the largest members in the Lok Sabha. Our 'democratic' rulers are clearly far, far richer than the average Indian.
3. Since the Congress party is in a minority in Lok Sabha and depends on other parties for support, the MPs of these parties are also very rich. About 61% of SP (Mulayam Singh) and BSP (Mayawati) members are multi-millionaires, so are 78% of NCP members (Sharad Pawar) and 72% of DMK members (Karunanidhi).
These are astonishing figures, really. One can go into the individual details of each MP, and their criminal records, all this is available (please see the foot-note for sources/web addresses).
What we started out to research was the political systems of the two countries, but we see how this has become intertwined with the economic system. There is sufficient supporting evidence available about how India's financial system, especially since 1991, has been blindly copying the model adopted by the USA. Governance itself is being commercialised, our finance ministry is a puppet in the hands of a few industrial families and foreign corporations. American company Monsanto is actually trying to write our laws through the Indian agriculture ministry, and succeeding. Our own Tatas, Ambanis and Mittals are trying to do the same.
Social evidence of the 'copy the USA' model can be seen in Bollywood and other movies - the trash they produce rivals the ones produced by Hollywood. The difference being that the American movies are products of their own dilemma, whereas in India, our movies are copying a foreign nation's social behaviour - such movies are usually made by urban Indians whose cultural roots have been dug out; they are strangers in their own nation. A few years ago, a school student in Gurgaon, near Delhi, took a gun to his class and shot his classmate - this, in a country where guns are a rarity seen only in movies. But, sadly, this is a common occurence in the USA; and we are copying this as well.
Further evidence of the Indian crisis is evident in our news media, both print and television, which, for the last dozen years, has been copying the worst from American media, indulging in noisy, advertisement-style filth journalism. The media owners themselves are now suspect; they are cutting so many deals with government and corporations that the elite ruling class knows well how to deal with them.
Somewhere, is all this related to education, too? At an educational NGO in Garhwal started by my friends Pawan and Anuradha, this question has been looked at in earnest, and the answer is yes, our education system is also a copy, or rather, a left-over of the English. The English established a school system mainly so that they could get a few English-speaking people from the natives who would help them in governing the slave colony. Obviously, such an education was not for the benefit of India or to enlighten Indian students; in fact, they completely removed ethics from school so that this Indian 'educated' class could help the English in looting their own nation. Today, that same class is responsible for furthering all the imitation mentioned above- a foreign education of a hundred years has resulted in our adopting a foreign political system. But its most serious damage is being seen today through the imitation of a foreign economic system. Do note that within eight days of Obama's re-election, the US Census Bureau published figures which revealed that nearly 50 million American citizens were living in poverty. The USA is the most indebted nation in the world. And we are hell bent on copying that model.
We can sense the danger of the modern system which we have adopted when we see that:
1. We periodically vote to abdicate our rights (the government can do virtually anything in our name, even take loans to make us heavily indebted, and sign unfavourable agreements with foreign nations and institutions which we will be forced to adhere to);
2. We hand over enormous power to a small group of 'rulers' (they sell our rivers, forests and mountains without our consent and against national interest);
3. We are dependent on the government in a weak and helpless way (we cry and beg for 'jobs'; our capacity is so diminished that we are dependent on the government to even change the bulb in the streetlight outside our home);
4. But the most significant factor is that this imported system of modern democracy implies constant dependence on further imports for 'improvements' in the system; and this is how we continue to be enslaved. Its like buying a machine and then you are dependent on the manufacturer for spare parts. Having gone deep into copying the US-style economic system, we are now desperate, but still going along with western advice which has already destroyed so many nations6. Our so-called economic experts - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Planning Commssion chairman Montek Ahluwalia - are in truth just dumb imitators who take orders from the US-dominated World Bank and IMF; these chaps just don't know the Indian reality, our education system has made them aliens in their own country.
So the real situation coming out of all this is of a 'democratic' corrupt system which is out of control. The modern political and economic system which we are copying is dangerous, and it is disintegrating. Imitating rot is only making us rotten; if we want a good democratic system, we will have to find a way and design it ourselves to suit our need and temperament.
I feel Greek thought about democracy was not at all the way it been implemented in the last two centuries. Also, every civilization has its worldview which shows its values, and it also has an economic system based upon those values. Being a mature civilization, the Indian region has evolved a socio-economic structure for thousands of years which has considerable merit; a representative self-governance like democracy can easily be integrated with this traditional structure - I see great possibillity in this. To break and discard the gains of local history and tradition and to copy an untested and hastily devised model is surely unnatural. If we understand this, we can also begin to correct it.
1. Source: Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research group in the US (www.opensecrets.org)
Also see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19052054 ; http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/campaign-finance/independent-expenditures/totals ;
2. Source: Association for Democratic Reforms, an independent research and advocacy group in India (www.adrindia.org)
Also see: http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/the-rs-81-500-crore-lie-137943 , and http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_congress-splurged-rs380-cr-on-2009-polls_1349280
3. See Annie Leonard's video "Citizen United vs FEC" at http://www.storyofstuff.org/
4. Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/pres12/superpacs.php
5. Source: Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/index.php
6. Read an authoritative article on this issue by a professor at London School of Economics at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/09/201292673233720461.html