Sunday, December 25, 2011

[ZESTCaste] National Interest: The caste of corruption

National Interest: The caste of corruption

Shekhar Gupta Posted online: Sat Dec 24 2011, 01:50 hrs
Is there a caste or communal link to corruption and crime? Or, are
your chances of being involved (and getting caught) in corruption
cases higher as you go down the caste ladder? Nobody in his right mind
would say yes to either of these. But let's examine some facts.

Why is there a preponderance of this underclass among those charged
with corruption, or even targeted in media sting operations? Here is a
roll call: A. Raja and Mayawati (Dalit), Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren
(tribal), Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav (OBC), are all caught in
corruption or disproportionate assets cases. Faggan Singh Kulaste,
Ashok Argal and Mahavir Singh Bhagora, caught in the cash-for-votes
sting, are all SC/ST; among the BSP MPs in the cash-for-queries sting,
Narendra Kushwaha and Raja Ram Pal (who is now in the Congress) are
OBC, and Lalchandra Kol a Dalit. Of course, there are also some
illustrious upper-caste representatives in the net: Sukh Ram,
Jayalalithaa, Suresh Kalmadi. But there are far fewer of them. Could
it be that the upper crust tends to be "cleaner" as a rule, or could
it be that the system is loaded against those in the lower half of the
social pyramid? The Sachar Committee report on the condition of
Muslims also tells us that the only place where our Muslims have
numbers disproportionately high in comparison to their population is
jails. So, face the question once again: do Muslims tend to be more
criminal than Hindus, or is the system loaded against them?

For another example, look at the BJP. Two of its senior leaders were
caught on camera accepting cash. One, Dilip Singh Judeo, caught taking
Rs 9 lakh, was a mere MP, but of a high caste, and was happily
rehabilitated in the party, fielded in the election, and is now back
in Parliament. The other, Bangaru Laxman, caught taking just Rs 1
lakh, was ranked much higher in the party; he was, in fact, the
president, but much lower on the caste pyramid, a Dalit. He has been
banished and isolated and is fighting the charges in that Tehelka
sting case by himself. I am sorry to use this expression, but the
party treated him as an utter outcast even as it continued to defend
Judeo. What is the difference between the two except caste? You want
to take this argument to the judiciary? It has been loosely insinuated
by many prominent people, including by some notable members of Team
Anna, that a large number of our former chief justices have been
corrupt. But who is the only one targeted by name (however
unsubstantiated the charges)? It is Justice K.G. Balakrishnan,
currently chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and, more
importantly, India's first Dalit chief justice.

These questions are inconvenient, but can never be brushed aside in a
diverse democracy. These have become even more important now as the
political class has responded to Team Anna's Lokpal campaign by
bringing in 50 per cent reservation for lower castes and minorities.
You can say this is a cynical political ploy to counter what is, after
all, an upper-class, upper-caste, urban movement so far. But facts are
facts and there is no hiding from them. The system is much too
prejudiced, much too loaded against the underclass. Reservations may
not be the perfect solution. But how else do you ensure equity? How do
you convince this vast majority of Indians below the very top of the
social pyramid that this new all-powerful institution will be fair to
them? Or, you can flip this very same question in the context of Team
Anna. Why has this vast majority of socially and economically
vulnerable Indians been so distant from their movement? Why are the
leaders who represent them, from Lalu to Mulayam to Mayawati, so
strongly critical of the institution of Lokpal? Because the
minorities, the weaker sections, are always afraid of mass movements,
particularly when these are led by the dominant upper classes. In
these movements they see the threat of majoritarian excesses. And that
is exactly the apprehension that the political class, particularly the
UPA, has now gotten hold of.

"The upper caste, creamy layer of our society is the most prejudiced,
and yet the most dominant minority in any democracy in the world. That
is why even the person representing Mayawati on otherwise brilliant
funny-man Cyrus Broacha's show on CNN-IBN always has a blackened face
(Dalits are supposed to be dark-skinned, no?) and that is why the man
described by breathless anchors of our blue (business) channels as
India's Warren Buffett, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, sends out tweets like
this: "Don't think [Kapil] Sibal even understands the internet. This
happens when you make a lawyer an IT Minister. Like hiring Mayawati
for an item song." Of course, Mayawati could return the compliment by
gifting him a very large mirror. But can you imagine the real Warren
Buffett getting away with saying something like this about Michelle

An interesting new turn has meanwhile taken place in the discourse
over the Lokpal bill. Whenever asked to comment on the UPA's ploy of
reservations, members of Team Anna simply say they are happy to leave
that entirely to the government. Leave something entirely to the
government? When was the last time you heard Team Anna say that?

They are doing so because the caste card, howsoever cynical, has
thrown them entirely off-balance. They are now paying for having built
such an unrepresentative upper-crust leadership, deluded perhaps by
the belief that this battle was theirs to win on Twitter, Facebook and
television channels where their interlocutors were trumpeters or
fellow travellers. They forgot that the battle for power and ideas is
fought in a democracy's parliament and within its institutions. They
started to believe their own mythology of being apolitical. They did
not realise that politics, in a democracy as diverse as ours, needs
two essential pre-requisites: ideology and inclusiveness. Abhorrence
of corruption is a universal virtue but not an ideology.

If there was an underlying ideological impulse to this movement, it
was anti-politicianism, underlined by that slogan from the early,
heady days — Mera Neta Chor Hai.

It was probably because of that philosophical abhorrence of politics,
and the give-and-take, the unending deal-making it involves, that Anna
did not set up a truly diverse and representative "Team" to begin
with. They had the wisdom and the sincerity, they thought, and
Indians, cutting across barriers of caste and religion, would be smart
enough to see it. Representative inclusiveness, they probably
believed, was part of our cynical electoral politics though that did
not stop them from having a Dalit and a Muslim girl help Anna break
his fast, making it the first time that a child was described as
"Dalit" on a public stage in a mass rally.

Leaders of Team Anna now rightly say that theirs indeed is a political
movement. But even if they assert that it is above electoral politics,
they have erred gravely in not learning from the political class and
building a representative leadership. It could have come from both
their abhorrence and ignorance of politics, from a lack of respect for
the political class, and an inability to appreciate that you need
politics to create a sense of fairness, balance and empowerment in
such a diverse society. That is the difference between Anna on the one
hand, and Gandhi and JP on the other. Both of the latter made
inclusive politics the vehicle of their revolutions. Team Anna,
instead, tried to circumvent politics, and now finds itself right in
the thick of it.


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