For this Sunday’s column, I did an open letter to Sonia Gandhi. As always, welcome your comments and suggestions, and encourage you to read others’ too. Columns have word limits, and thus, comments help in expanding and aiding the discussion. Besides, you never know who is reading!
If you prefer reading on the TOI website, the column link is here.
I’ve never been much of a fan of open letters. After all, why make public something meant for one person. However, I don’t have your email ID; you don’t seem to be on Facebook (and certainly not on Twitter). Regular mail will never get past your sycophants and reach you. Hence, this seems to be the best option. Also, i don’t speak only for myself. It’s something a lot of young Indians currently feel. However, we don’t know the right channel to express this and get it addressed. The issue is simple: India must get rid of corruption. Whatever the solution, you will have a pivotal role in implementing it.
I don’t think you would have a personal interest in being corrupt. Money would hold little significance for you at this stage of life. Neither do you come across as someone who aspires to a lavish lifestyle. Yes, the compulsions of running a political party require vast amounts of funds. This brings in cronies and moral compromises, which have become part of any Indian politician’s life. In recent times, however, there have been too many of these compromises. Amounts have reached levels that cannot be computed on a digital calculator. Scam after scam (and these are only the unearthed ones) show how we have created a monster of a system that rewards the evil and threatens the dream of India becoming a “first world” country. Recently, your son spoke about how corruption prevents the benefits of globalization from reaching the common man. This is absolutely true. In fact, it not only cuts existing benefits, it cuts out future opportunities for the young. Corruption is worse than terrorism. Terrorists blow up existing infrastructure such as roads, airports and power plants. Corruption prevents such infrastructure from being made in the first place. Terrorists take innocent lives. Corrupt politicians prevent hospitals from being built, which means innocent lives that could be saved are not.
You say corruption is a disease. But that sounds a little defeatist. A disease is something inflicted upon us by nature. Corruption isn’t caused by little bugs falling from the sky. Corruption comes from unchecked power. Take the example of electric power, a wonderful invention that brings light and comfort to our homes. But, before this power reaches us, it is kept under control at various sub-stations to limit voltage and current. If electric power is unchecked, it can burn our homes. Political power is unrestrained in India. Like little kings, our MPs roam around with their sycophants, blocking traffic, openly defying quotas and doing anything and everything possible to exploit their power. If you want to fix this ‘disease’ —and you can do it – you need to pass a ‘political accountability Bill’ in Parliament. Also, an independent council against corruption needs to be set up. It should not be under the control of politicians and should have the power to prosecute politicians (almost all “first world” countries have this). Without these changes, no matter how many wonderful speeches are made, the disease will remain uncured.
Mechanisms to punish errant politicians are one aspect. It’s equally important to understand why so many politicians err in the first place, and the reforms required to prevent that. Some of your party’s ideas seem well intentioned – particularly the massive push to bring young people into politics. Your son has travelled across the country to spread this message. But, i want to ask -—what happens when a young man joins Youth Congress (or another party’s youth wing). To do well, he will need to spend most of his energies serving the party. Parties do not have a formal stipend or salary system, so how is the young man expected to survive except through petty corruption? This is how a fine young man is forced to take small steps towards becoming corrupt. In such a scenario, would you advise educated, intelligent young people to join politics? Instead, if a proper stipend system were put in place, strong performers would have a mechanism to rise and contest elections and you would have a whole new class of talent in the profession of politics. Unless these reforms happen, including youth in our politics will be nothing but one of the specialties of our politicians – empty talk.
Other nonsensical rules in Indian politics include the Rs 25 lakh limit on electoral campaigns. The actual average spend, my MP friends tell me, is around Rs 6 crore per constituency. Where does this unaccounted money come from? Obviously, one stands little chance if one is not corrupt. Can we not remove these impractical and outdated limits? Why not define legitimate fundraising methods? If we do that, many good people would enter politics and change the face of this nation. As a nation we have enormous expertise in covering our backs and not rocking the boat. Right from school, Indians are taught to shut up and not question anything. Thus, even though some of the above things are obvious, nobody important will sit up and say ‘We need to change things’. It isn’t easy to change things but it needs to be done. And you, of all people, have the best chance of taking this archaic bull by the horns and showing it the right direction. The question hundreds of millions of young people are asking is: Are you up for it?