Democracy cannot be used to derive private benefit at public cost

The ensuing December 5 bypolls to 15 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka are the result of defections from the then ruling coalition. The government fell, the Supreme Court was approached, and now we have 165 candidates contesting these elections. The court upheld their disqualification (of the rebels), but said they were eligible to contest again.

Engineering defections has become an accepted way of running politics, with the bizarre spectacle of MLAs being held captive in expensive 5 star deluxe resorts for weeks. Who pays for this and why? Are our MLAs so untrustworthy that they have to be kept captive? How then can we trust them in the Assembly?

The cost will be borne by the people of Karnataka, the Election Commission and the government and not the defectors. We need to note that funds spent by the Election Commission and the government are people’s money raised through taxes. A lot of time and effort have been wasted that could have been used for productive purposes.

An overburdened Supreme Court with a huge backlog of cases has spent time on this. Work slowed down during the transition from one government to the other. Regular work suffers, a code of conduct comes into play and government decisions are delayed.

The Election Commission, state government, district administration and school teachers and others are on compulsory election duty.

The Election Commission estimates that Rs 30 crore will be spent on the bypolls alone. In addition to this, candidates and political parties are spending a huge amount of money as this has become a prestige issue. Where is this money coming from? Will it be spent only for winning or for giving a better government?

Meanwhile, Bengaluru’s roads and Metro construction continue to cause traffic jams affecting thousands of people daily. Lakes are breaching and flooding homes and governance has taken a back seat.

Not only in Bengaluru, but elsewhere as well, because the leaders are focussing on the upcoming bypolls.

However, the 15 MLAs who defected have gained. The total assets of these defecting MLAs has gone up by Rs 234 crore in one year. How did their assets go up so much in such a short span of time? Will there be any investigation or will it depend on which party comes to power post the elections? Is this justified?

There are issues that go beyond the letter of the law.

Has democracy won? Should those responsible for causing so much disruption be asked to pay and be held accountable?

In the Mahabharata, the Rishi Vaishampayana says, “For the sake of a family, a member may be sacrificed”.  Individual rights of ordinary citizens, for instance, are curtailed when buildings and homes are demolished for road widening. Similarly, for the sake of society, the individual right to defect from a party must be weighed against the greater public good. Ideally, a defector should wait till the term of the government is over or resign but not be allowed to recontest.

If we let them resign, they should give a sworn affidavit in a prescribed format explaining to the people why they resigned, why they joined a new party and so on. Submitting a false affidavit is in any case a criminal offence.

As a routine, their finances should be investigated on defection. When voters reject such politics and candidates, things will change. Democracy cannot be used to derive private benefit at public cost.

 

The above article was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Prof. Trilochan Sastry
Prof. Trilochan Sastry (Founder and Trustee, ADR) has a Bachelors in Technology from IIT, Delhi, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) USA. He taught for several years at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad after which he moved to IIM, Bangalore. Earlier he was Dean at IIM – B and now he is a faculty there. He has taught in other Universities in India, Japan, Hong Kong and United States and has published several academic papers in Indian and International journals. Has received national award for research and teaching.
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