Karnataka assembly elections just got over. The sight of small processions mainly consisting of women and adolescents coming from class that forms the bulk of domestic helps and other support services was common during the campaign process. It was not uncommon to see the same faces in processions shouting slogans for different parties. This can be explained by the accounts given by some of these women: they got paid something between 300-500 rupees for each of these short processions; at times it also included tindi – some hot snacks! It was therefore common for domestic support work force to ask for leave or come late – quite justifiable.
These processions were present in all parts of Bangalore, and I am sure also in all parts of the state. It included constituency areas of the 14 B-PAC Endorsed candidates. Bangalore Political Action Committee, B-PAC, is a citizens’ initiative – led by known faces from the Bangalore’s corporate world: Mohandas Pai and Kiran Majumdar Shaw. Once they endorsed, they also provided funding support to these candidates. Now that the results are out, we know that some of them won and some lost. Most likely, these endorsements had no or little impact on voters’ decisions. Yet, it is important to discuss what it meant.
What is it that distinguished these 14 candidates representing different parties? Well, at least they cannot claim to be different on account of not paying low-income group for participating in the ‘supporters’ rallies, that is of course if they can be termed as rallies. Therefore, they are not different in at least one form of corruption. Then, what else? May be they are less corrupt. No way of knowing, alas. Whatever is known through gossip and public interactions tells you that they are perhaps not as blatant in making money through illegal sources as a few others. Still, there is no way of judging them on any scale, especially in comparison to others. Then, what else? They could be exceptionally good performers. Going by the performances of those who have held public positions most of them can at best be described mediocre. Then, what is it? Well, if we cannot trace the distinguishing factors, we can trace the common one. What is common among them is that they are all English speaking, suave and sophisticated; some even have foreign degrees. They are much more like ‘us’ – we being the English educated, suave, urbane and of course with claims of being honest and sincere. This by all means indicates a dangerous trend; as if those who are not like ‘us’ are all incapable, corrupt and unworthy.
Corporate fund support for elections has not been uncommon in India. Tatas and Birlas of this country have been contributing funds to political parties – some shown in the books and some not shown in the books. B-PAC is providing money in an open and transparent manner, and therefore definitely better than those who do it without accounting for it. But what makes it problematic is not the money bit; it is the endorsement bit. When a powerful group of people endorse individual candidates across party lines, it indicates supremacy of individuality over ideology. Political discourses devoid of ideology are dangerous signs as they undermine political processes – the values and positions are not clear, the guiding principles are not clear, the motives are not clear. This is especially so when these ‘endorsed’ individuals are not even ‘different’ from those who have not been endorsed on any clear parameter. It is in reality promoting apolitical process, politics by very definition is ideological. Business houses gave donations to two parties but did not endorse either of them. B-PAC has also two endorsed two candidates from the same constituency reflecting a complete lack of responsibility. Something like a film star or a cricketer endorsing two competing products without any qualms.
It is important that the middle class, English educated, suave gentry of this country engages itself with the political processes. But it is also important that this engagement enriches the political process rather than making it more individualistic and superficial. It is true that our mainstream political parties have become less and less distinguishable because of their corrupt practices and yet, there is value in bringing the ideological debates back. Citizens groups should ask questions that are relevant for citizens and force political parties or even individual candidates to take positions. When a women’s group asks different parties to explain their position on women’s social positioning or what their promises are for changing women’s positioning, it is a more significant contribution as the response would tell citizens where different parties stand vis-a vis women’s rights. Same is true whether it is for child rights or dalits or Muslims. Or, ask about tax or investment or agriculture sector policies. Or, even local issues relevant for a particular constituency. This is a more meaningful engagement than endorsing without making it clear what the criteria for endorsements are. The very accountability that one talks of is missing in this process of endorsement!
[Disclaimer: Views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of CBPS.]