Monday, March 16, 2009

Snippets/Mail Today, March 16, 2009

WHILE we lament the denial of chance to the youth of this young nation, let us spare a thought for some veterans who will not grace the august chambers during the 15th Lok Sabha. Politically, they may have been poles apart, but the presence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Somnath Chatterjee was a reminder that politics can indeed be a honourable profession. His failing health has not deterred the doughty George Fernandes from seeking election, but if he fails to make it, it won’t be because of ill- health but because of the fratricidal instincts of his partymen. They will be missed. Nobody, though, will miss Giridhar Gomango who is also a nine term member. He stood parliamentary propriety on its head when, as chief minister of Orissa, he turned up in the Lok Sabha to vote in the trust motion that the Vajpayee government lost — by one vote.

Out with the young, ring in the old
THE largest electoral exercise in the world will get under way in just under a month's time and of the over 750 million voters, nearly 500 million — or two- thirds — are aged 35 and under. But if young India expects this reality to be reflected in the 15th Lok Sabha, they should perish the thought. If recent history is anything to go by, leaders of the major parties are unlikely to hand out tickets liberally to their younger colleagues and “ Over To The Youth” remains an empty misleading slogan. In the 57 years since the first general elections, the average age of Lok Sabha members as well as the council of the ministers has climbed up. Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were liberal in handing out election tickets to the young, but their progenies have been rather miserly. In the first five Lok Sabhas, the average age of an MP was less than 50, while in the 14th Lok Sabha, it was 53.
The Congress party may be projecting Rahul Gandhi as the face of the party's — and indeed the country's — future, but the emphasis on youth starts with the young scion and ends with a handful of leaders who form his inner circle. Sonia and Rahul are merely following the tradition set by Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi who gave us perhaps two of the oldest Lok Sabhas.

In 1980, two- thirds of the members were handpicked by Sanjay Gandhi and yet the house had a grey look about it. In 1984, the chosen ones of India’s youngest Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, filled nearly 4/ 5th of the seats and yet, the treasury benches had a grizzled look. In 1999 and 2004, Sonia followed the path of her husband and reposed faith in the old guard. Ironically, it was the 12th Lok Sabha formed in 1998 which had the lowest average age: 45 years. It was led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then 73. Proof that it takes the old to truly empathise with the young.

POLITICAL leaders may be looking for issue or ideology based alliances but their spinmeisters can't seem to make out the difference between social networking and political matchmaking.
The collapse of the BJDBJP pact in Orissa, which had withstood many pulls and pressures for eleven years broke less because of Naveen Patnaik’s new found anathema for the BJP. Indeed it had a lot to do with the fact that while the interlocutors on both sides were socially and culturally compatible, politically one side didn't quite measure up.

It is no secret that the son of the legendary Biju Patnaik, who used to rub shoulders with the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis until his father’s death prompted him to take the plunge into politics, is uncomfortable in any language other than English. In fact, it was only after he became the chief minister that he began to learn his mother tongue. Yet the BJP leadership picked Vinay Katiyar, the former Bajrang Dal chief, to soften him up. The reception he got from Naveen is said to have been so frosty, Katiyar was quick to retreat.

The wise men sitting at 11 Ashoka Road then decided to send another set of emissaries, those who Naveen would find “ socially and culturally compatible” — People Like Us ( PLUs). That they are Naveen’s good friends is never in doubt, but there is a crucial difference between friends you invite home for an evening over 16 year vintage Lagavulin and those who come by for more serious business. The BJP emissaries fell in the first category. It's amazing how a party that seeks to capture power at the Centre could be so na├»ve. Pappu Patnaik's interlocutors, on the other hand, were politically motivated enough to take their social friends in the BJP for a ride. Suggestions that senior leaders with stature and political pedigree deal with a man of Naveen's stature were sabotaged.

The result is that while Naveen retains his “ social and cultural acceptability” in a section of the BJP that has no electoral significance, the saffronites have lost a crucial ally.

Democracy's soaring costs

ELECTION may have succeeded in taming the mafia and money bags from indulging in naked political dance. With every passing election, the percentage of eligible voters who actually bother to turn up shrinks. Yet the expenses on the quintennial exercise keeping spiraling.

An independent study estimates that all the political parties and candidates put together, the spend on the 15th Lok Sabha elections can be about Rs 10,000 crores in less than two months.
That’s more than what all presidential aspirants, including the ultimate winner Barrack Obama, spent through the year and a half long process beginning with the primaries until voting day. The fault, partly, is the Election Commission's for its inability to manage its own expenses and fix a more compact time frame for the polls. Even with EVMs and the full support of the state machinery, including para- military forces, it takes almost two months, as against a week it took in the 1950s, for the poll process to be completed. The commission’s own expenditure in the last elections was around Rs 1,300 crore — approx Rs 2.4 crore for each Lok Sabha constituency. Compare this with the Rs 10 crore spent for the 1952 polls — that is Rs 2 lakh per constituency.
So while the EC's expenses skyrocket, the expenses that candidates are allowed remains static at Rs 25 lakh. No wonder most politicos, as in real life, don’t file honest returns.

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