Contemporary issues related to human development , regional and global.

Month: April, 2014

Sixteenth Loksabha Elections: A forgotten debate

Containing corruption: a historical perspective* 

K Vijayachandran

Our English speaking elite classes and the so called national media patronized by them were obsessed with long debates on corruption for a couple of years. They had promoted Anna Hazare and a few others as the sole custodians of anti-corruption struggles which have led to the formation of the Am Admi Party (AAP) led by Kejriwal. The national media keep on projecting AAP as a serious contender for power in Delhi along with BJP and Congress in the 16th Loksabha elections. However the subjects of corruption, Lokpal etc have vanished into thin air and the present election campaign is vitiated by mutual mudslinging by the major contenders for power. Nevertheless this essay, written three years ago at the height of anti-corruption campaign by the national media, has not lost its relevance.


Entire nation seems to be obsessed with the issue of corruption and debating on having omnipotent institutions of Lokpal at the Central and State levels for policing over the corrupt state machinery. An NGO under the banner, India Against Corruption (IAC) (www.indiaagainstcorruption.org ) and its leaders, a group of eminent citizens describing themselves as India’s civic society, are the promoters of Anna Hazare. They are supported by our English speaking media, visual as well as print, generally patronized by the elite classes living in Indian metros. National debates and discussions triggered by them had focused entirely on the policing of corruption, with the help of a large establishment, to be created anew. Little is being discussed about how to prevent or at least minimize the incidence of corruption: If policing were a solution, India could have been a corruption-free nation, long long ago.

The IAC was jointly promoted by the Fifth Estate Movement (www.5thpillar.org), another recently promoted NGO, mostly powered by NRI funds, and the Indian Chapter of Transparency International (TI), an NGO established in 1993 and head-quartered in Berlin: The TI (www.transparency.org) seems to be part the global political initiative of European Union (EU) and claim themselves to be a Global Coalition Against Corruption. Its Indian Chapter, Transparency International India (TII) “ is part of the Asia Pacific forum comprising 20 nations that include China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives and others.” The TII (www.transparencyindia.org), according to its website “is a non-government, non-party and not-for-profit organization of Indian citizens with professional, social, industrial or academic experience seeking to promote transparent and ethical governance and to eradicate corruption”.

TII seems to be intensely patronized by Navaratna CPSUs and has zonal offices in almost all Northern states. The Lokpal movement, spearheaded by an NGO network jointly promoted by TII and the more recent Fifth Estate Movement in Southern states has several similarities with the recent reform movements staged in the Arab world, in style as well as content. It has opened up a Pandora’s box, and the massive media build-up managed by it within a few weeks, has greatly embarrassed and shaken up the Indian Establishment: The ruling coalition as well as the opposition political coalitions are under compulsion to take a stand on the galloping corruption in the country, as a result of the two decades old economic reforms and trade liberalization program.

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has come out in defense of his Government, saying that his Government was being (wrongly) described as the most corrupt in India’s history. He has blamed the media as well as the institutions like CAG for playing the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time. He has told the press that, there was no question of short-circuiting the Parliamentary process of legislation and bringing the PMO under the scanner of the new Lokpal as demanded by the NGOs. He was quite right in upholding the values of parliamentary democracy and in not yielding to the demands by the international network of NGOs, well-orchestrated by a section of the local and foreign media. He had asserted that Lokpal was not a panacea and that there was no question of going back to the era of license-permit raj or ushering in a new era of police raj, for eliminating corruption. In his view, the unique identification project of UIDAI would “discover a new pathway to eliminate corruption and leakages in the management and distribution of various subsidies to which the people are entitled.”

By such assertions, Prime Minister was trying to win back the confidence of India’s elite classes on one hand and the global financial institutions on the other: But they are largely illogical and hardly supported by facts. For example, there was little logic in characterizing the Nehru era of planned development as mere license-permit raj: It had helped to build the technological as well as political foundations of modern India, despite its several deficiencies. Instead of reforming it to the real needs of the country, similar to what China had done, Dr. Singh & Co implemented reform packages recommended by IBRD experts, that had opened up the flood gates of corruption in almost all sectors of national economy. His reference to police Raj was an obvious diatribe on the Chinese or Socialist model development which is getting better and better acceptance today, in the context the current global crisis. Dr. Singh seems to argue that parliamentary democracy, as presently practiced in India is a great virtue and that corruption is very much a part of the deal. However, this is a grossly misleading formulation and an irresponsible one for the Prime Minister.

All developed countries practice parliamentary democracy in one form or the other, and their governments are counted to be more transparent and free from corruption in their dealings with the general public as well as business. True, perceptions on corruption and transparency as well as their indexation by TI and their affiliates are likely to be influenced by their free-market culture. Despite possible distortions, indexes arrived at in their studies and reports may be counted as reflections of reality. TI Report of 2010 evaluated the transparency or Corruption (Free) Perception Index of 178 countries on a 10 to 1 scale, using the reports of World Bank and other international institutions as inputs. In this report, Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tops the list with an equal score of 9.3, where as Somalia (1.1), Myanmar (1.4) and Afghanistan (1.4) are at the bottom of the scale. Transparency indexes for selected countries, based on this report, are reproduced in the table for enabling a critical review.

Despite its claims as World’s largest democracy, India with a transparency rank of 87 and score of 3.1, is far more corrupt, compared to the developed countries with market economies and practicing parliamentary democracy. Hong-Kong and Taiwan are placed several notches above India. None of these countries has Lokpal-type institutions for the policing of corruption, as pleaded for by India’s Civic Society people. However, unlike India, USA has a genuine federal constitution that functions, and the governments of member states, together with an efficient network of local self-governments are accountable to people at large, for most part of their social and economic needs. US Senate and Congress, unlike Indian Loksabha and Rajyasabha, debate and discuss not only bare laws, but also policies and programs, rather threadbare. In India, the recent massive economic reforms and restructuring programs were implemented with very little or no consultations with the Parliament and member states of the Union Republic.

Governing systems in European countries are basically not much different from that of USA. They have, in addition, a system of industrial democracy that ensures the participation of workers in corporate management. Possibly, that is why EU countries, in general, have a better transparency score than USA. It may be noted from the table that, apart from Hong Kong and Cuba, even mainland China were assessed by TI, as more transparent and less corrupt compared to India. All these facts simply exposes the hollowness of Dr. Singh’s argument that, democracy and corruption go together and that nothing much could be done other than waiting for deliverance by the UIDAI, an authoritarian project and institution, conceived by our elite classes with the support and blessings of IBRD and other related institutions.

Despite the federal character of our constitution, our Government in Delhi has transformed itself into an all powerful Central Government, that is turning less and less transparent in policy making and project implementation, under the influence of monopoly capital and global finance. Recommendations for recasting the present Center-State relations on more rational and democratic lines, by several commissions and reform panels, including the latest one dedicated for the purpose, were simply shelved by Dr. Singh & Co under advice from the elite classes that support him. Worker participation in corporate management is a directive principle of Indian constitution from the days of Indira Gandhi. But successive governments have ignored its implementation with the exemption of the short-lived VP Singh Government. A bill drafted for this purpose is pending in the Rajyasabha for more than two decades waiting for its final disposal. Democratic decentralization of governance as well as participative management of corporate institutions will dramatically improve the transparency as well as the efficacy of the Indian State and also bring down the incidence of corruption in a big way. That is what should learn from the historical experience of developed countries.

The vast scope for minimizing or eliminating corruption with the help of democratic reforms is indicated by the comparative corruption indexes, compiled for various states by the Transparency International India (TII). Results of this corruption study done with British assistance, some six years ago, are summarized in a second table. Bihar with an index of 696 was found to be the most corrupt state in 2005 and Kerala the least corrupt with an index of 240. Kerala is far advanced compared to other states, not only in the empowerment of local governments, but also in literacy, penetration of media, incidence of class and mass organizations, and awareness democratic rights among the people. There are plenty of lessons to be learned or simply copied from each other by the Indian states, in order to prevent or minimize corruption at various levels of governance.

Unfortunately, the eminent citizens, non-resident Indians and those of the elite classes that have come together and launched the India Against Corruption Movement of Anna Hazare are not bothered about the possibilities of democratic reforms, that could contain and minimize corruption at various levels, but also strengthen the developmental role of the Indian state. The proposed omnipresent and omnipotent Lokpal institutions proposed by by them are closer to the fascist dreams of disciplining the societies under their hegemony. It has nothing to do with the democratic aspirations of our people and may turnout to be a mirage of little social significance.

* Published as part of the book titled, Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism, ISBN 978-1-4828-1353-1 published by Partridge India.

Sixteenth Loksbha Polls: Part-2

Elections 2014: The gathering storms

K Vijayachandran


With the fifth phase ending on 17th April, polling was completed in a total of 232 Loksabha seats. There was fairly heavy turnout in most constituencies. Barring a serious land mine explosion by Maoists in Chattisgarh, sporadic violence in Naxal-hit areas of Jharkand, Bihar and UP, two cases of booth-capture in Madhya Pradesh, and an attempted booth-capture by Trinamul in West Bengal, polling was generally peaceful during these initial five phases. Turnout pattern across the country did not show any abnormalities.

With the next phase, scheduled for 24th April and covering 117 seats, India’s 16th Loksabha poll will cross the half way mark: It will take another fortnight for the finish, and vote count is scheduled for 16th May.  Quality of candidates as well as character and content of electioneering across the regions reveal great diversity, very typical of a multinational country. Ideological orientation as well as the structure and composition of coalitions and political formations were in a flux, as election tempo picked up across cultural and geographical regions.

Elections in the twenty constituencies of Kerala, my home state, showed a mixed trend: No two constituencies had witnessed identical or even similar trends. One was different from the other and there were no signs any wave or even a common general trend. Unlike in other constituencies that registered an increase in poll percentage, there was a decline in voter turn-out in the two constituencies dominated by Muslim politics. the Congress led UDF seems to be restless with reports on infighting and blame sharing, as the Left Democratic Front (LDF) looked confident of a conspicuous come-back.

Candidates as well as electioneering in Kerala were at sharp variance with those in other Southern states. A friend of mine living in Bangalore wrote to me on their poll day morning: “Today I woke up with a problem: How to defeat in my constituency two candidates, one is bidding for a sixth chance to solve the problem of the nation, by building a temple in Ayodhya. And another wanted to build modern temples like Infosys and making many trillionniers like himself and he was bent upon solving the problem of this nation, by giving every Indian a Unique Identity Number!” That sort of exotic fights are hardly sustainable or even conceivable under Kerala polity.

Bollywood star Hema Malini is contesting from Mathura, the city of Krishna, as a BJP candidate. And she is sure to beat the other candidates of Congress and BLD, according to Manorama News: Could we, in Kerala, ever imagine Hema Malini replacing Innocent and contesting from Chalakudy and then defeating PC Chacko, who did a commendable job as the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee inquiring into 2G Scam? Unlike Vadodara and Varanasi, not only Modi but even his wife Yesodabehn would have been treated moral outcasts in every one of the twenty constituencies of Kerala, despite their cultural diversity.

Minister Sasi Tarur is unlikely to be forgiven for the unaccounted death of his Desdemona-like wife, despite his reputation as a senior bureaucrat at the UN, while Christi Fernandez despite his long tenure as an IAS officer in Gujarat and under Modi was seen politically OK by the Left for fighting KV Thomas, a sitting minister at the Center and a Professor of repute.

Kerala has contributed to neighboring Tamilnadu several Left candidates and despite Mullaperiyar a couple of them will possibly win. Feedbacks from Kovai, Dindigal, Madurai, Tiruchi and Kanyakumari indicate that Left candidates have a good chance of winning a few seats thanks to the four or five cornered fights. News reports on campaign trends more or less confirm this possibility (1). Despite the big media support enjoyed by environmental enthusiasts and anti-nuclear activists these social activists found it impossible to unfold even their manifestos.

Campaign in the so called national media, under the intellectual and cultural leadership of the English speaking visual media, was focused on the sole issue of next Prime Minister. This seemed to be a clever strategy, jointly underwritten by Indian corporates and global finance. Big money has flowed into the campaign in a well organized manner. There was no Modi wave anywhere in the country including Gujarat, where BJP polled less votes in the last assembly elections and Modi was a highly controversial leader in his own state. There were no signs of any waves in the West, South, East or North. Even then, the London Economist came out with a clever editorial head line, just before election was flagged off: Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?

India Today TV and several other English and Hindi speaking channels had already launched, in unison, their 24X7 interviews on whom do you want as next Prime Minister: Modi, Rahul or Kejriwal? They arrogated themselves as the ECI and positioned the three Prime Minister candidates. There were then long discussions by experts on the views of laymen and laywomen collected from the interviews in suburban trains, long distance trains, flats, work places, house tops and tree tops. These were then broadcast as great exercises in democracy, and as proof for the existence of a non-existent Modi wave.

Even the existence of UPA, NDA, Regional parties or Left parties and their programs and policies did not find a place in such exercises because the total focus was on the question: Who should be the next Prime Minister of India? And everybody knows that, apart from Modi and Rahul, nobody was aspiring for the post. However the English speaking media had selected Kejriwal, the leader of AAP, also as an aspirant for that post, possibly even without consulting him!

The fact that, ECI was organizing this elaborate exercise for electing the 16th Loksabha got submerged under such meaningless mass campaigns and nobody even reminded the people that Manmohan was India’s Prime Minister twice, without facing a single Loksabha election. The English speaking national media played its mis-information role cleverly, by suppressing facts as well as fabricating news on a massive scale.

The so called national media propagated the view that Left is on the decline, even in its own traditional strongholds and published reviews in support of this view. Even the Hindu, which has been fairly objective in political reporting till recently, has published a review piece in its op-ed page on the so called “waning influence of the Left “, with three supporting articles that were hard on facts. With the recent changes in its editorial policies, Hindu is in no way different from the other Left-baiting national media (3).

In sharp contrast, the factual campaign reports from Tripura and West Bengal (4,5,6) are quite encouraging : This is not surprising, taking into account the political isolation of Mamta at the national level thanks to the semi-Fascist polices pursued by her government, reminiscent of the internal emergency of seventies. Mamta is facing a serious political crisis in West Bengal and her TMC and BJP are getting ready for a Fascist alliance at the national level.

Both NDA and UPA are in a flux and the political parties that constituted these alliances have started seeking realignments under the impact of the election trends. There are signs of revolts within BJP and Congress: In fact NDA and UPA do not exist any more, and there could be any number of alliances at the state level soon after the Loksabha elections.

It is unlikely that the joint tally of Congress and BJP together will cross the 200 mark and the Left will improve its presence in Loksabha substantially: That is why a joint initiative at the national level by the Left and the regional parties make plenty of practical sense. And there are clear indications of gathering storm in Indian politics as polling enters its concluding phases.

BJP and the national media, acting as the agents of Indian corporates and global finance, are trying their best to confuse the public with endless debates on the choice of Prime Minister: a question that will be easily settled within a couple of days, after ECI constitutes the 16th Loksabha as scheduled.



Notes and References

1. This report gives a good coverage of CPI(M) campaign in the nine constituencies in TN: http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/secular-democratic-alternative-possible-left-campaign-tamilnadu

2. This report gives a good insight into the digital plan for launching the Modi wave: http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/walled-gardens-bjp-propaganda

3. This lengthy OP-ED piece in the Hindu of 16th April with inputs from three well known correspondents was very untypical of Hindu traditions. This author had sent a long note on this aberration, which was not even acknowledged.

4. This report on West Bengal campaign is indicative of the new self-confidence of LF in West Bengal: http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/lok-sabha-poll-campaign-west-bengal

5. http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/polling-east-tripura-concludes-peacefully

6. http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/our-alternative-based-alternative-policies


India’s Sixteenth Loksabha Polls

Elections 2014: For whom the bell tools?
K Vijayachandran

Around 825m voters are listed to vote in the sixteenth Loksabha polls. India is one of the very few countries that have perfected the art and craft electronic voting. The current elections will use about a million Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) designed, developed, manufactured, tested and continually maintained to perfection by Indian engineers and workers.

Indian EVMs were devised and designed by Election Commission of India in collaboration with Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (1). Unlike the controversial Adhar, EVR was a totally indigenous project and highly cost-effective. In many ways, its achievements are comparable to those in atomic energy, rocket technologies and space communications.

Election Commission of India is guided by the modern management principle of centralized policy making and decentralized administration. It has developed into an efficient autonomous institution under the care of Central Government after national independence. Unlike most other institutions under central government, ECI is truly federal and speaks in the local languages or the languages spoken by Indian people.

London Economist, the mouthpiece of global capital, has published a lead article on India’s Loksabha elections in its 5th April issue. Titled, “Can any one stop Narendra Modi? It argues that, “if Modi were to explain his role in the violence and show genuine remorse, we would consider backing him, but he never has; it would be wrong for a man who has thrived on division to become prime minister of a country as fissile as India. We do not find the prospect of a government led by Congress under Mr. Gandhi an inspiring one. But we have to recommend it to Indians as the less disturbing option.”

The sort of rhetoric by Economist reflects not only the fears and confusions that prevail among India’s elite classes but also its own traditional double-speak about Indian democracy and polity: It continues, “Starting on April 7th, illiterate villagers and destitute slum-dwellers will have an equal say alongside Mumbai’s millionaires in picking their government “.

Defeat of Congress and its UPA is conceded by everybody, including their own leaders: According to Indian corporates and the ruling elites that support them, the only alternative is an authoritarian leader like Modi for the holding together a multinational country of continental proportions, based on the great imperial principle of divide and rule! And Modi is presented by the Economist editorial as the joint pick by “illiterate villagers and Mumbai’s millionaires and slum dwellers”, who enjoy an equal say in deciding their government!

These experts and editorial writers have little sense of history to know, how Gandhi and Nehru succeeded in building up a united movement of the Indian people to fight against British imperialism and neo-colonial exploitation. Indian National Congress (INC) organized by its founder AO Hume, soon after the first war of Indian independence, had remained a mere talking shop or debating club of Indian intellectuals and businessmen for long. It was Gandhi who galvanized it into a fighting organization of Indian people of diverse cultures and nationalities (2). He transformed INC into a fighting united front of Indian nationalities that found a mention in janaganaman, the national anthem composed by Tagore.

And Nehru, Gandhi’s successor, had dreamed about the tryst with destiny by Indian nationalities when he spoke to the Indian parliament (Con-Assembly) on the day of deliverance from the Empire. In fact, even much earlier, he had been dreaming about the multifaceted liberation of the Indian people as he wrote the The Discovery of India while in Ahamadnagar jail in 1945. He gives a graphic picture of Science and Technology ( S&T) achievements of Indian society as well as its growth and decay under its caste based feudal system.

After explaining the tragic fate of Ramanujam, the great Indian mathematician, Nehru sums up the situation under British rule with emotion: “Of our millions how few get any education at all, how many live on the verge of star; of even those who get some education how many have nothing to look forward to but a clerkship in some office on a pay that is usually far less than the unemployment dole in England..(3)”.True, things have changed during the past seven or eight decades. But even today more than ninety percent of our working people are employed in the so-called informal sector, where even minimum social security is looked upon as a modern luxury (4).

Russian revolution and the liberation of a hundred nationalities from Tsarist oppression was a source of great inspiration for Nehru.That was how Nehru, the great grand father of Rahul Gandhi tried to follow the so called socialist pattern by introducing the discipline of national five year plans formulated as a consensus among various Indian nationalities or states. Public sector initiatives in key sectors and in infrastructure like irrigation, power, transport and communication etc, based on the policy of technological self-reliance could create millions of jobs that stopped the trend of dependent development by moderating or severing exploitative linkages with developed economies.

Economic development was seen as a continuation of freedom struggle by the united front of Indian nationalities, and Union Government in Delhi seen as a friend, philosopher and guide by state governments. However, with the Indian corporates and other vested interests pulling and pushing Central Government and its five year plans in different directions, the Nehruvian vision was short-lived (5).

INC had entered a phase of irreversible decay even during the days of Indira, despite her commitments to her father’s visionary plans for nation building. Gandhi-Nehru legacy of INC got totally depreciated during the the two decades of IBRD dictated economic reforms. Economic planning based on national consensus degenerated into a system of crony capitalism manged by an all-powerful Prime Ministers Office, during the Manmohan Singh regime (6). Sonia-Rahul leadership of INC is seen as a liability, today, by Indian Corporates and the English speaking intelligentsia that supports them.

Despite the claims of India moving up the global GDP ladder, India is far less respected today by the comity of nations. Indian market is flooded with imported consumer goods and consumer durables when its own manufacturing industry is collapsing. Infrastructure is getting costlier by the day thanks to dependence on imports and its performance is deteriorating in every sector: electric power, water supply, public transport, health, and even education. Our agriculture continues its primitive existence. IT exports are not helping to contain galloping current account deficits. National economy is shamelessly dependent on manpower export and the fears about macro economic instability are genuine.

Special and English medium schooling, the hot favorites of our elite classes, are destabilizing the national economy as well as the national culture. Neighborhood schooling has to be made mandatory and mother tongue has to be the medium of instruction at all levels for salvaging our education system. The massive IT investments made in Adhar, e-governance etc etc have turned unproductive and unsustainable: NGOs and computers cannot be substitutes for real governance by real people.

Governance in our country is failing at every level. Our election campaigns as well as the media are silent about this. Voters in Kerala, where polling was completed on 10th April, were heard grilling the candidates and political parties for the collapse of infrastructure at panchayat and state levels. True, these local issues were not fit for a Loksabha campaign. However, these were real issues: local governments and even state governments were seen as utter failures and there was an urgent need for capacity building and capacity improvements from the street level and reaching up-to the national capital.

A Color Revolution was in the agenda of our English speaking media, print as well as visual, when they launched an anti-corruption movement around Anna Hazare. And, Delhi Assembly election turned out to be a great opportunity to try out Kejariwal who proved himself to be a god that failed. Modi’s men were waiting on the wings and they have galvanized the Indian Corporates and the English speaking media once again, and ask: Can any one stop Nareandra Modi?

Vast majority of Gujarati diaspora living in USA (about 14 Lakhs) are members of Viswa Hindu Parishad of America that supported the Ayodhya movement by sponsoring Karsevaks from various states. RSS supporters are trying to create a Modi wave across India by using this large resource base of Gujarati diaspora. However, no such wave is visible anywhere and there are fears that such open moves for mobilizing NRI support may boomerang. Trend analysis of past Loksabha elections indicates that instances of all India waves were rather rare (7). And, there is nothing unique about the so called Gujarati model and such claims are unlikely to inspire all India waves (8).

In fact, Regional and Left parties dominate the campaign scene in most Indian states. They command vast organizational resources and have a better feel about the crisis of governance facing the country, today. They are better placed to provide an alternative vision for governing the country better and in harmony with the spirit of Indian polity (9). There is a large inventory of sensible recommendations made by the learned bodies appointed for this purpose during the past few decades that remain unimplemented. Only a United Front of regional and left parties and AAP will implement them, considering their priority and relevance. (10).

Notes and references:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_voting_machines, for the details of EVM project

2. See Mahatma and the Ism, Book by EMS Namboodiripadu

3. The Discovery of India-page 221 of 1993 edition

4. Report on Unorganized Sector 2007, by Arjun K Sengupta Committee.

5. Public Sector in India, K Vijayachandran, Marxist December 1988

6. See recent books of Sanjay Baru and PC Parakh

7. Indian Express April 2 2014: Why Waves Don’ t Matter, Praveen Chakravarty & Saumya Tewari


9. Spirit and Form of Indian Polity- Sri Arabindo, 1966 Sri Arabindo Ashram

10. See the article, Center State Relations and the Indian Left, by K Vijayachandran as reproduced in Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism, 2013 Partridge India (Website: ISBN 978-1-4828-1353-1) .

%d bloggers like this: