Thursday, 21 July 2011

Cash for Votes: Diabolical?


For the uninitiated; this was a scandal that broke out in 2008. After Congress’ determined efforts to pass the nuclear deal with the US resulted in the left parties leaving the coalition. Lacking the majority, Congress needed to sway a few MPs to their side before the vote of no confidence. One of the means at their disposal, naturally, was bribing the opposition MPs. This came back to bite them with 3 BJP MPs bringing the exorbitant sum of money to the Parliament for all to see. Naturally an investigation was initiated, and quite naturally they didn’t make too much head way. Naturally the Supreme Court intervened and thus naturally all the parties are now trying to fling some dirt at Congress.

The details of the investigation and what actually took place is not relevant to my argument here so I shall skip them. What I really question is whether Congress was wrong in this particular instance. Don’t get me wrong, I do not for a second believe that the Congress didn’t bribe. I’m sure they did. But was the bribe ‘wrong’? For those who know me, and have listened to my idealistic lectures, this may come as a surprise. But as I have grown and learned about my friends and their family businesses, I have come to understand the practicality of everyday life.

Bribing is done at all levels of our society. From bribing the traffic police at the signal to bribing the netas for business tenders. In the book ‘A Fistful of Rice’, Vikram Akula describes his numerous struggles with our bureaucrats to set up a micro finance firm which would actually benefit the poor. In businesses people complain that even actions which will benefit our country are stalled till a bribe is handed over. We have all heard numerous examples of such situations and have now reluctantly accepted it as part of our ‘culture’. At the micro level, we Indians bribe, and then sleep peacefully in the night telling ourselves that ‘we had no choice’.

But then we come at the macro level. A whole new set of rules are applied. At the basic principle level, this is rightly so. They are the leaders of our country and should hold themselves to a higher standard than the masses. Their scandals have a wider and more prominent effect, than our micro level scandals. Additionally it is our money that they use for such selfish activities. Yes, they must be judged more harshly.

But now lets step back for a moment and examine this particular case. The problems we deal in a micro level is of the exact nature our leaders deal with at the macro level. Being at that level, its probably a lot worse. So let us suppose Manmohan Singh had  no ulterior motive for passing the nuclear bill (this being a very safe assumption). The bill, most would agree, was definitely benefiting us. BJP was hustling to gain some political points; we have seen the wikileaks letter where BJP promises Washington that if they come to power they would sign a similar deal. The left parties simply don’t like the US. Both reasons are stupid, and such stupidity may have killed this bill. After months of negotiation with the parties, Congress finally resisted giving into the blackmail and went ahead with what was right for our country. This cost them several MPs and the loss of majority, which in effect would kill the bill and would send our country in a period of confusion and uncertainty. So Congress did what they deemed required.

When our business deal is blocked due to some stupidity - we bribe. Congress had a business deal which was benefiting us all. When it was being blocked due to stupidity - they bribed.

This article may seem as though it is justifying bribing (and to be fair, so far it has done exactly that), but that is not the aim. Being an idealist, I loath bribes, but I have come to understand the people’s perspective, and when I applied it to our government, it didn’t feel much different. I would like to stress, that my argument only applies for this instance, because it is a rare occasion where the government bribed for the benefit of its people.

I have thrown a lot of ideas in here. There is however an easy way to sum up this debate. Just ask yourself: Does the end justify the means?

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