Along the lines of my earlier post on new political parties, here is another item from the news related to Indian politics regarding an NRI member of the Indian parliament from the Toronto Star. (Hat tip: Reuben Abraham.)
The man, Madhu Yaskhi, moonlights as an MP for the Congress Party and his day job is being an immigration lawyer in Manhattan.
It is an interesting story. It all began when he was moved by the plight of the families of the farmers who had committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh in 2003. He donated some money to those families. He became famous and the Congress party decided to cash in on his popularity and gave him a ticket to contest the elections and he won handily against the Telegu Desam Party candidate.
So here is my unsolicited advice to anyone who wants to become a member of the parliament of the largest democracy on earth: get yourself noticed by one of the major parties by making a splash. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your point of view) it is not all that difficult to make a splash given the rather desperate situation in rural areas. Give out handouts to those highlighted by the press and it is a rare enough event that fame is guaranteed. The fortunes will follow.
Indian democracy is a stunning spectacle. Every election is won or lost on how successful a party is in bribing the voters. Giving handouts is the norm. Of course, this is true of any democracy, rich or poor. The astonishing thing about India is how little it takes to bribe the voters — a quarter bottle, or a sari perhaps. On second thought, perhaps it is not all that astonishing. After all, we are a poor country and even small handouts is rather significant in relative terms.
Small lump-sum transfers are not detrimental to the economy. In fact, it is positively good to give to the poor. However, the pernicious effect of winning elections based on handouts is that it is a perversion of whatever virtue there is in the idea of a democracy. It distorts the whole objective of figuring out which party is most worthy of one’s vote. Instead of voting for the party that is most likely to implement the most welfare improving policies, people vote for parties that are most likely to pander to their specific narrow interests.
The NRI MP inadvertantly but successfully bribed the voters. This caught the attention of the Congress party which being a past master at bribing voters, decided it was a gift horse and could win the race with ease. The Congress party routinely bribes voting blocks with handouts that are far more damaging to the society at large than just small handouts. Reservations is a favored tactic: reserve a certain percentage of jobs for minorities, or reserve seats for them in schools. Another tactic: give away free electricity to “poor” farmers.
The corruption of the idea of democracy — informed choice by a people who can be trusted to exercise due diligence in choosing a government which will best protect and advance the larger long-term interests of the society — through bribery and corruption has the lamentable effect that the society becomes increasingly poor, both materially and morally. How to extricate the country from this vicious cycle of poverty and corruption is a challenge that cannot be met with mere rhetoric from the leaders of how India is shining or how India is an information superpower.
I think — and this is my dangerous idea — that “democracy” as implemented in India must be discarded and replaced with a modified version of universal adult franchise.