New Delhi, 16th March, 2007: It is a volatile time in India. Long before the Ides of March, the weather has been playing a lot of games: it was quiet in parts of January and even early February, then came welcome, unexpected rains and hills had snow as had much of the west. Then the Indian stock markets had a bloodbath. It was down 900 points, the Sensex, in four days flat; it was 1,000 points down in December last year. Both times, bulls came aggressively back and have started recovering ground yet once more.
Then the devilish inflation came like a rocket and the rulers are in panic, the inflation refuses to stop even though the financial wizards of the government and the Reserve Bank have taken a good number of steps. Money has been reduced in the hands of the banks, interest rates have been raised, traders in food will be denied bank loans to curb hoarding, but will they bother? They have their money to stock up. Two rupees have cut even petrol and diesel prices and one rupee respectively, import duties have been cut and will be cut further in the Budget, and excise duties will be reduced. Wheat exports have been banned.
But the grocer and the green grocer is making hay as the sun shines again, not metaphorically, but literally. Food processors are engaged in gimmicks, new packaging of cookies, reduced supplies and higher prices, loaves of bread are dearer any way, eggs are costlier, Rs.24 a dozen at the last count. Cakes and ale like the Marie Antoinette stuff: can't get bread, eat cake with a dash of French wine or any wine. The wholesale and retail prices of veggies are reminders of doom: 100 per cent between the two. But inflation measurements are only wholesale; retail prices can peak to the sky, the rulers count what their statistic jugglers tell them. They want their figures right. It is not only Budget time; it is also election time in four States. The fate of rulers in Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Manipur had been decided and Delhi should be decided around February 2008.
U. P. has some time to decide. A new legislature should be in place sometime in May. So elections could be held even in April, if not at the end of March. Gujarat will go to the polls at the end of the year; another highly volatile State where the saffron bunch has to count its chickens before they are hatched. Will the radicals or the hardcore guy make it? Time will tell. But money is the name of the game, whether you will make it with the voter or not, whether you will win or lose. As long as you succeed in the money game, sitting in the Opposition can be quite fun, as the BJP is now thinking with hyper inflation giving sleepless nights to the rulers and they are hoping to cash in on it, cash in on what is called the incumbency factor.
So what is the cause of inflation? Is it worldwide factors? Is it dearer energy, costlier because of the suddenness of the freezing weather? Is it India's globalization and a lot of liberalization moves, going ahead with very few breakers? Are there any other reasons? Is it corruption everywhere? Are the satraps in the States sapping the State and lynching the people and lining their pockets in the name of democracy? Are they giving the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution a bad name?
Chief Ministers or former Chief Ministers, some of many of them are in the dock, sometimes in the law courts and often in the public perception. Some have been convicted, some are awaiting their doom and many are hoping to escape the noose. They are quite used to attending courts, even being questioned by the police, being put behind bars and their crafty lawyers getting them out on bail. They are quite used to criticism on the public platform, in news channels or in the print media. It is part of the game. Press innuendoes have to be taken in the stride.
Veerappa Moily of the recent reservation fame, and with his earlier wishes several of the governments are complying by making reservations in educational institutions of higher learning to ensure their job prospects in competition, has now come up with a whole new lot of ideas on how to curb corruption to clean the political and social system? He wants the Prime Minister's office out of the purview as he thinks that the governments of the day should not be destabilized even though the present Prime Minister is ready to face the Lokayukta or the Ombudsman; he fears not the fetters of inquiry or inquisition.
But Mr. Moily would not like to spare even the judges. He would not like the judges only sitting in judgment over their wrongdoing or even their appointments. He would like the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister and the leader of Opposition to do the job, even for the appointment of election commissioner and in the States the similar levels to do the job. He has also suggested that high risk jobs should not be for the corrupt. But who is to decide whether certain people are corrupt and some sensitive jobs may not be perceived as corrupt.
He has also made recommendations on tightening up the laws and rules on defections in legislatures and Parliament, especially midstream defections once a legislature or Parliament has been chosen. All these appear to be excellent ideas, but will be accepted, and if accepted partially, will they be forcefully implemented? Even if enforced, will they deter the corrupt or defectors, who are at times ready to lose their place in the elected forum because the rewards of defection, are too good to be missed. They could always try and get elected next time round.
Corruption is a worldwide phenomenon, but perhaps it is too visible in India, perhaps at too many levels. There is no level of deterrence. Convictions and dismissals are rare, perhaps even suspensions from the workplace.
The Right to Information is expected to usher in an era of openness in governments and save people from corruption, but how many of the one billion know about it, have the ability or inclination to use? How many millions upon millions are not resigned to living with the system because without it, there is no survival.