Why India is home to few of the most corrupt women politicians

Absence of family interests does not guarantee sage-like asceticism free of the need to amass wealth, as seen in the DA cases on Mayawati and Jaya.

 |  4-minute read |   24-02-2017
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Traditionally, we are taught never to speak ill of the departed even if they were fallible in their lifetime. We deify our ancestors, parents and leaders to a cult-status, to an extent their passage has an emotive quality.

There is a near-certainty when leaders die intestate, political and personal assets pass on to the favoured scion, wife or bestie, legitimised by a "sympathy" vote through elections. Psychologists attribute this phenomenon of seeking a look-alike-talk-alike replica to "a transference of affection", like seeing an "Amma" in "Chinnamma" Sasikala.

Legacy

The problem is when collective grief throws up untested, untried leaders as in TN, feuding over a crown-of-thorns over the legacy of the now infamous ex-CM.

From near-cannonisation to a posthumous convict, Jayalalithaa today stands instead for the monumental rot of all that ails the system: political, legal, law enforcement, and the investigative arm of the government.

Visuals of contenders surreally receiving divine guidance from a hotline with heaven at Jayalalithaa's grave, were reminiscent of minions prostrating at her feet when she ruled. What explains multitudes in mourning, instead of public indignation, knowing her political and personal fortunes were built robbing the state, but keeping the masses inebriated on an opium of freebies? It's the TN model of welfarism.

Kamraj as CM introduced free food and school education that Jaya expanded to include domestic essentials, housing, aiding small entrepreneurs as also an investor-friendly government, with TN clocking higher-than-national growth rates. The welfare schemes cost 11 thousand crores over ten years, and that populist paradigm replicated in other states, making for good politics but bad economics.

Indians are resigned to governments that under-deliver, so when a leader bestows the basics of mixers and grinders, personal corruption is overlooked and venality gets masked as largesse.

An assertive civil society with one of the highest literacy rates, who fought for Tamil identity in protest against the apex court's stricture on Jallikatu, must own the spiritedness to reject both DMK and AIADMK, which alternately pilfered the state. Voter angst cannot be gauged through an indirect vote where MLAs chose the leader, unlike Lok Sabha or Assembly elections.

Punjab, UP, Haryana and Kashmir have also alternated between two corrupt dynasties, so while TN may be ripe for change, it is becoming difficult for national parties to counter well-entrenched regional forces, as also because the state is the last Dravidian bastion.

BJP is aware its only stake in the embattled state is support for central policies, though TN has a share of 39 seats in Lok Sabha.

Proxy

Also, ideas and rebellion take time to ferment for taller leaders to emerge. Besides, the Indian voter has had enough of proxies and night watchmen holding the reigns of power for another, "benami" or "naami" fill-in, be it Manmohan Singh for Sonia, Rabri for Lalu, or Palaniswamy for Sasi. Besides,“if justice is blind, its interpreters are cockeyed.”

When a single-judge bench of Justice Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court granted Jayalalithaa absolution, miscalculating a whopping 76.5 per cent of her income as against 8.12 per cent, it raises questions on a flawed verdict and justice delivery mechanism that took 21 years, allowing a CM-at large a free run of two terms to compound illicit assets. When a CM is forced to demit office mid-term, it stands to reason the ruling party too must have lost the confidence of its voters.

But there was no opposing moral voice within the AIADMK who condemned the first-rung of leadership post the conviction, and that low-moral ground should nullify the legitimacy of Sasikala's protege Palaniswamy - who is a proxy to a once-proxy himself.

Corruption

Importantly, the TN vote of confidence is the first acid test post demonetisation, even before the UP elections verdict on a reform that was intended as a panacea to eradicate corruption.

127 legislators don't swing camps without the moolah, and holing them in captivity comes at a price to buy their support or silence. Which begs the question: post-demonetisation, how did Sasikala & Co have access to such money? Lalu Yadav and Jayalalithaa's conviction should set multiple precedences for leaders holding public office, who are under trial.

Just on the basis of a chargesheet accepted by court, they should ideally be debarred till acquitted, as the stages from investigation, trial, appeal and ultimate Supreme Court verdict are lengthy, and the guilty have ways of prolonging closure.

Secondly, there is a need to de-politicise the police and investigation agencies who act as "caged parrots" of the Centre.

Thirdly, the Centre must oversee governors are proactive in the timely discharge of their gubernatorial responsibilities to lessen the scope of horse-trading.

Post script: Absence of family interests does not guarantee sage-like asceticism free of the need to amass wealth, as seen in the DA cases on Mayawati and Jaya.

Both are Indian versions of Imelda Marcos, legendary for her shoe fetish, while our desi counterparts obsessed over gold and garlands strung with hard cash. If there ever was a rating on a "Global Corruption Index of Women in Power", India would surely be high on the radar.

Writer

Bindu Dalmia Bindu Dalmia @bindudalmia

The writer is a social commentator and author of the national bestseller, The Diary of a Lutyens' Princess.

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