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Trade unonism of political parties

Trade unonism of  political parties
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Trade Unonism Of Political Parties. Whether you like it or not and whether you notice it or not, despite the bitter one-upmanship games political...

Like the traditional working class who close their ranks under the banner of a trade union to keep the management at bay and thus protect their rights, the political working class often closes their ranks to keep at bay Anna Hazares, who appear to pose a threat to their existence, even remotely. This is evident in the way Lok Pal Law is enacted as well as in the move to overrule CIC order on bringing parties under RTI Act.

Whether you like it or not and whether you notice it or not, despite the bitter one-upmanship games political parties love to indulge in, leaders of most parties, if not all, are on the same page when issues related to preserving their class interest are involved. This is no more than trade unionism, unique to India. Like the traditional working class who close their ranks under the banner of a trade union to keep the management at bay and thus protect their rights, the political working class often closes their ranks to keep at bay Anna Hazares, who appear to pose a threat to their existence, even remotely.

The Lok Pal law is a manifestation of this grand old survival instinct of our political class. And the give away to the phenomenon is the pious determination displayed by the two biggies and the also ran category in Parliament. Some commentators have called this Kejriwal effect and they are right to an extent because the political class has realised that the voting public is no longer going to be pleased with an occasionally tinkered status quo. But such generalizations are neither here nor there because they conveniently duck the inconvenient questions, like, for instance, what is the big danger – big ticket corruption or petty bribes the common man is forced to pay in his daily life.

Anna Hazare and his therapy of fasts are targeted not at the big picture, as his experiments at Ralegan Siddhi and beyond in Western Maharashtra dominated by Sharad Pawar brand of politics show. How he got hooked to the Jan Lok Pal concept is no longer germane to our story but the fact that political class has managed to come up with a version of Jan Lok Pal that has pleased him and made him give up his Kejriwal. And Anna Hazare deemed it fair, proper and necessary to send a “thank you” note to Rahul Gandhi, to the delight of the Grand Old Party.

From all accounts, Rahul is a late convert to the Lok Pal cause. He did not display any enthusiasm for the Hazare creed two years ago when the Jawan turned Social Activist went on an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar. Today, RaGa-Hazare bonhomie is talk of the town. And he is claiming ownership of the government-led anti-corruption crusade to the great relief of his mother, and the party faithful, who are coming to terms with the transition in the dynasty.

Two months ago, Rahul was at the forefront of a civil society-led campaign against an ordinance to bail out Bihar’s RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and his ilk of tainted politicians. You know what happened. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, was away in New York then; Rahul’s nonsense act that had gone viral before the TV cameras undermined his image. Pakistan Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif took delight in taking potshots at his fellow Punjabi with the usual denial on record.

Now the new Rahul act of ‘Hail Anna’ may produce a similar effect. History, unfortunately, has a tendency to repeat. Already Kejriwal is calling the new institution of anti-corruption ombudsman as Joke Pal, and is accusing that crores have been spent to create a rift between him and his mentor.

Anyone familiar with the working of Indian democracy and Indian bureaucracy will agree that the new ombudsman will end up as yet another sinecure for the retired. This was the fate met by most of the regulatory bodies Manmohonomics has bequeathed to the country over the past two decades of economic liberalization.

As Indira Gandhi once said, corruption is a universal phenomenon. L’affaire Westland helicopters shows neither India nor the world has changed since she made that observation. Rahul Gandhi may say the latest Lok Pal would help to check 50% corruption. Anna Hazare may nod his head in appreciation. But if the experience of states that have created Lok Ayukta is any guide, babu –level corruption and neta-level tradeoffs will remain a part of Indian lexicon as long as our ruling political class refuses to move out of the Maa-Baap Sarkar mode. Also as long as elections make a mockery of ceiling limits the Nirvachan Sadan fixes for candidates in poll fray.

Frankly, these two pre-conditions are unlikely to be met till our political parties give up the practice of protecting each other’s interest or what I had said at the very outset the trade unionism of political class.

There is no such hope in the near term since our politicians refuse to see beyond their nose. A manifestation of this trait is the plan to exclude political parties from facing quires under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which, Rahul Gandhi says, was ‘the first and most important assault on corruption in this country’. The government has just received the green signal for the amendment from a parliamentary panel. The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its report tabled in Parliament on Dec 17, has rejected the stand taken by the Central Information Commission that political parties are public authorities. It asked the government to nullify CIC’s June 2013 decree that had added to the political nightmares created by the Cobra Post. Its logic is simple, loud and clear and it is that party finances and party functioning cannot be a subject matter of public scrutiny. And the requirements of transparency in financial matters are met by the provisions of Representation of People Act as well as Income Tax Act.

The Standing Committee did not go into a much larger question of what is a public authority. Nor did it grapple with the larger issue of how to make our political parties, which seek to articulate people’s concerns, accountable to the very people by submitting themselves to high standards of transparency and accountability since as much as 80% of their income is so called small ticket contribution from ‘unknown’ sources. Well, I rest my case on trade unionism of our political class.

(The writer, Delhi-based senior journalist, can be reached at [email protected])

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