Jiss ka Raja vyapari, usskiPrajabhikari—it’s an old Indian saying. This is valid even now though monarchies have been replaced by democracies. There are no kings, emperors and aristocracy today; their places have been taken over by Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, MPs, MLAs, corporators and sarpanchs. The former Prime Minister of India, Chandrashekhar, used to say, “Politicians should not have any businesses and businessmen should not have any political affiliations, both can’t go together.”
Shockingly for India, a sizeable proportion of the elected representatives, i.e. those who stand for the people, are either businesspersons, or represent the miniscule wealthy elite. Parliament, assemblies and gram panchayats look like congregations of networked coteries of the rich class.
Within the Executive, many lateral entrants, technocrats, and the so-called professionals tend to represent the interests of various business lobbies, especially the foreign ones. Hence, their actions and decisions are driven by the desire to promote the objectives of external elements, with scant concern for what India, and Indians, need. Along with their expertise and experiences, they tend to link up their business connections and networks to political ones. What emerges is a deepening nexus between Big Business and politics. This impacts the decision-making process and is invariably against the interests of the underprivileged masses.
Hence, the Legislative, and partly the Executive, become the strangleholds of powerful business lobbies. It is the business interests that drive the politics, rather than the other way around. This process began a few decades ago with the entry of leading businessmen in Parliament, and later in the state assemblies. This trend has gained strength in recent times. More importantly, the elected or nominated businesspersons (in the Upper House) have openly and blatantly used their positions to pressurise governments and manipulate crucial policies. The business community now thus manages the system from within, rather from the outside.
What is the way out? How can we stop the ‘lobby-isation’ of the elected institutions? One solution is to follow the US model, where an individual who holds a governance office has to relinquish his or her sources of incomes, as also control over businesses. This partly ensures that the person cannot directly benefit his empire. Here, we do have the concept of ‘office of profit’, but only concerning government institutions. This can also be extended to private profitable fiefdoms. In such cases, a businessperson or a wealthy individual will only enter politics if truly committed to social service and national interests. Private interests cannot subsume public interest.
A mere declaration of wealth and movable and immovable assets—including properties, shares and cash—in the electoral candidates’ affidavits filed with the Election Commission isn’t enough. While they do tell us the kind of businesspersons who enter parliamentary institutions, we don’t get to know how they help their empires during the debates in Parliament and state assemblies, as heads or members of various committees of Parliament, and as mere lobbyists who further the interests of their clients from within the system. What we need is an efficient information system that, at the press of button, can give us details of all the actions of an MP-Businessperson or MLA-Businessperson.
For instance, how many questions has he or she asked, and were the subjects related to their businesses. Which were the debates in which the individuals participated and what were their stance? What were the committees that they were part of, what were the key decisions taken by these committees, and did they relate to the sectors that they operate in? If such issues are not addressed, sooner than later, governance will degenerate and suffer further. The biggest impact will be on the common people of India.