PM Modi can become one of the most outstanding political icons of all time the world over if he rids the politics of corruption systemically.
Many reforms are talked about, some of them game-changers: financial reforms, agricultural reforms, judicial reforms, labour reforms, land reforms, educational reforms, administrative reforms, electoral reforms, and the list goes on.
But there’s one reform, which in my view could be the mother of all reforms: it has the potential to lead to the best of reforms in future. If not done, all other reforms will continue to produce only suboptimal results.
It’s centred around government funding of political parties (not just elections) and making political corruption almost impossible. Let me explain.
What’s the biggest challenge the nation faces?
Political parties and individuals should not be allowed to bring in their own money into politics, except for new parties or independent politicians.
We grossly underestimate the cost of corruption. Let’s see it with an example.
If there’s an end-to-end bribe of 15% in laying a road, the cost of corruption is NOT the mere 15% bribe money.
- Less money is available for laying the road which makes the road bad.
- Since there’s political patronage, there’s inadequate oversight. So, the money that goes into laying the road is even less, making the road worse.
- The road slows down traffic due to poor laying and the people who travel suffer delays. Add the value of time lost due to poor road conditions for travellers, and the nation suffers so much of time loss, in business, office work, Government work, time with family, medical emergencies, etc.
- The road develops potholes that cause short term and long term physical damages to the travellers, and some even die as a result.
- The road has to be repaired and re-laid frequently, which takes away the valuable time of the Government officials which could have been used for better purposes, and also costs several times the cost of laying it once right.
- Poor roads damage the vehicles, adding to their cost of maintenance.
- Frequent repair of roads damages other underground infrastructure.
- Rainwater doesn’t reach storm water drains (not to speak of the fact that it doesn’t get stored for later reuse), prolonging the agony of road users.
- And more…
This is just one example.
In the financial sector, we see major frauds, and its magnitude has only been growing since Independence. But for the connivance of the politicians, bureaucrats and bank officials, it’s very unlikely that these frauds would take place. What’s the cost of these frauds? The obvious accounting cost runs into lakhs of crores of Rupees, but the hidden costs, again, are several times this.
One can give lots and lots of such examples from just about every realm.
Suffice it to say, the monetary and non-monetary cost of corruption is humongous; several times the actual swindling by way of corruption.
Unless we strongly believe that corruption should be completely rooted out of our society, come what may, we’re likely to keep complaining about it forever, without any solution. Homoeopathic doses of medicines we’re administering won’t work. Major surgery is called for.
Given the huge Governments spend every year at stake, it is but natural that corrupt enter politics and take control of the money. When you add up what all politicians (not just those in power, but even ruling party-men outside the Government and opposition party-men, up to the village level) earn through corrupt ways, using their political power, it would run to tens of lakhs of crores of Rupees, equivalent to a high % of the GDP (not just GDP growth). If we plug just corruption substantially, with no other reforms, our GDP will be automatically above 10%!
Money helps the corrupt come to power and stay there. Competent & honest can’t spend that kind of money, and so they can almost never come to power. This is a vicious cycle.
Though we blame the politicians, the problem is also systemic. Even well-meaning people may behave no differently if they taste power. AAP which entered politics promising to clean it up is an example.
How do we change this system?
We need a political reform by which most of the wrong people would find it unviable to be in politics and many competent and well-meaning people would enter politics.
If this were to happen, politics would become a true battlefield of ideologies, between liberalism and conservatism, between left and right, between value systems and beliefs, etc. The role of black money power in politics would diminish substantially.
How can we address this problem?
We have been talking about Government funding election expenses. I think this would be grossly inadequate. Political parties don’t come into existence at election time and vanish after elections. They need grassroots level leaders and workers to work for them all through the electoral term. Unless their livelihood is also taken care, corruption will continue.
Since the cost of corruption is several times the bribe money (which itself should average around 10% at least), we can allocate a small % of the national, state and local body budgets (say 1%?, but can be debated and arrived at) in funding political parties, not just for elections, but also all their costs all through the year. It can be based on a combination of factors like % of votes polled in previous elections, the number of seats won, etc.
In fact, this move will save a lot of money for the Government, as it will plug the larger bribe holes.
Once this is done, political parties and individuals should not be allowed to bring in their own money into politics, except for new parties or independent politicians; if any party/ individual violates it, the punishment should be so stringent that they dare not even think of doing it.
Now comes the important judicial reform that should go with this electoral reform.
The position would typically help PMs make financial and non-financial gains only if they indulge in corruption (or permit others to indulge in corruption as it happened in the case of Dr MMS).
Corruption should be enacted as a crime worse than murder, and punishment should be life imprisonment. It is justified because it’s a crime against the State and all its people.
Once the prima facie case is established, the onus should be on the accused in such cases to prove one’s innocence. SC, in the case against Sasikala, has already set the precedent that in DA cases, the onus of proof is on the accused.
False complaints should also be treated as equally grave offences, discouraging anyone from making false allegations against honest politicians.
Corruption in the judiciary and bureaucracy should also attract similar stringent punishment.
Some of the ancient kings used to treat corruption as worse than murder and those found guilty, whether ministers, or officials, were punished severely, and some were even hanged.
This will disincentivise corruption so much that corrupt will stay away from politics. And honest and competent will have nothing to fear.
Once this reform is done, it will be almost impossible to set the clock back.
And the competent and committed politicians who come on stage will bring in the best of reforms, and make them work without leaks. GDP growth is most likely to go beyond double figures, with most holes plugged.
Imagine an India where there’s almost zero corruption, all public infrastructure well built and maintained, people’s interests taken care, foreign investment coming in, industries growing, making India look and feel like Singapore! That’s possible with this reform. This is why I consider this the ‘Mother of All Reforms’.
There can’t be a better time to make this reform than today.
The one major reason why almost no PM would dare do this is because, they would typically be affected too. PMs remain in power because of the support of their party members and allies; surely most politicians won’t like this. The position would typically help PMs make financial and non-financial gains only if they indulge in corruption (or permit others to indulge in corruption as it happened in the case of Dr MMS).
Modi got a massive mandate recently mostly due to the faith people reposed in him personally. So, MPs, MLAs, party members and allies can’t dictate terms to him.
He’s one of the few PMs who have no family or friends to take care of while in office. He’s dedicated his life for public service. He also wants to leave an indelible impression about his contribution to building a modern India. If there’s one major impediment in accomplishing this, it is corruption.
Modi 1.0 was substantially successful. Modi 2.0 can transform politics in India forever, and even set a gold standard for politics the world over. He can become one of the most outstanding political icons of all time the world over if he rids the politics of corruption systemically.
Will he do it? Let’s hope he will!
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.