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The real face of political parties

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The real face of political parties
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Lok Sabha elections are due in four or five months. But instead of parties putting forth ideological issues such as human rights or right to equitable development, the only test being applied is the marketability of the party, even though it may flout the ideal laid down in our Constitution or the vision of the freedom struggle.

Though the Lokpal Bill has been passed under the shadow of forthcoming elections, both parties made adjustments they previously proclaimed not possible. But two other legislation - the Whistleblowers Protection Bill and the Public Grievances Bill - which have been pending for so long and would have given great relief against bureaucrats’ angularities, were not even given the courtesy of being discussed, much less being passed with just a day’s extension of the Parliament session.

The self-serving political parties’ exemption from the Right to Information Act was passed unanimously to a thundering applause. Significantly, the question of donation to political parties by the corporate sector is being studiously kept under cover. It is no longer a secret that the amount of donations to political parties is determined by the fact whether they are in power or in the opposition.

The High-Powered Committee to revise the Companies Act constituted in 1977 had recommended the continuation of the ban on political donations by the corporate sector because of the warning given by Chief Justice Chagla as far back as 1958, when it warned that “any attempt on the part of business houses to finance a political party is likely to contaminate the very spring of democracy”. All this, however, fell on deaf ears of politicians and political donations were permitted after some time during Indira Gandhi’s rule. These have now been continued under the Companies Act, 2013. So much for the campaign against politics messed by money power! That is why corporate funding of the new Aam Aadmi Party, which is forming the government in Delhi, is a matter of concern, especially when it claims to be different. The danger of corporate involvement in politics is not lessened by receiving contributions through a website or cheques from the corporate sector, which in any case finds mention in balance sheets of the companies. It is the source of the money funding political parties that is the real danger to democracy. How it is displayed is a small matter.

India is among just 10 per cent of the countries that allow parties and candidates to receive anonymous donations. Even Nepal and Bhutan fare better. Of Rs 2,365 crore raised by the Congress between 2004 and 2012, about Rs 2,000 crore could not be traced to an individual or organisation. Similarly, the BJP attributed Rs 952 crore out of the total Rs 1,304 crore raised between 2004 and 2012 to unknown sources.

Hypocrisy in politics to some extent is accepted. But when hypocrisy takes on the role of mentor while concealing its real intentions, it amounts to cheating the electorate. Look at the way the BJP and the Congress are projecting their approach to the judgment of the Supreme Court reversing the view of the Delhi High Court, which had held Section 377 as unconstitutional, resulting in the section being restored on the Statute.

Initially, Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi both publically termed it an unhappy decision and interference in individual liberties. The normal course of action would have been to have Section 377 (LGBT) repealed through Parliament. But then the BJP, which had initially broached the idea of placing this matter before all parties, took a sudden reverse turn and openly declared its support to the Supreme Court decision. Obviously, the BJP feels that in the country at large, especially amongst rural voters and even among the older generation, deletion of Section 377 would not find favour. The BJP has taken the cover of the Supreme Court order to retain Section 377.

The Congress hypocrisy is even messier. The Central government has moved a review petition in the Supreme Court against the order upholding Section 377. Filing a review petition is a way of misleading the public. Legal experts would tell you that filing a review is impermissible because courts have held that merely because another view could be taken is no ground for review. It is also embarrassing when out of two judges who gave the judgment, the senior judge has retired. I do not understand why the government is taking the tortuous route of review when a straightforward easy course of repealing this provision is available. I say this because the Supreme Court judgment had given them clear power when it said: “Notwithstanding this verdict, the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377, IPC, from the Statute Book”. When this convenient solution is in hand why this double game of Congress leadership?

This is not being done because the Congress is both running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. The party wants to present itself as modern and liberal, appealing to the younger generation and urban population, but at the same time does not want to risk angering the rural and older generation. This may be a good political stratagem, but is a devious strategy, which brings more shame to the ambiguous conduct of the politicians. Compare this with the humility and bold response of Pope Francis: “If a person is gay and seeks God and goodwill, who am I to judge him;” and this when Italy has a law against LGBTs.

Though AAP claims to be radically different from other parties, its decision to have the Cabinet sworn in at Ramlila Ground is the same as the old feudal Roman practice of giving the people circus because you cannot give them bread. There is nothing radical about it. The likes of Akhilesh Yadav and Lalu Yadav have done it earlier. Such coronation does not befit a party purporting to speak for the rickshaw-pullers and slum-dwellers of Delhi. It would be far more democratic if the Delhi Cabinet after having been sworn in at Raj Bhawan in the usual staid manner were then to go to Ram Lila Ground and mix with the crowds as before. That would give the ‘aam admi’ a greater sense of belonging than being pushed around by the police while the oath is being taken and dignitaries are seated safely.

The times have changed since when Dr Lohia’s precept to the Socialist Party as the first principle of political work was summed up in ‘Spade, jail and vote’, meaning field work, readiness to go to jail and faith in democratic elections. The present generation has come a long way to ‘SMS, TV and middle corporate sector’. Where does the aam admi, i.e., 90 per cent of the urban Indians who spend less than Rs 142.70 a day to survive, fit in the present new political language?

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