What’s so wrong with wooing voters with sarees?

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Oxford: Whoever else wins or loses in an election, saree makers, liquor manufacturers, flag and poster makers always seem to have a field couple of months during election season.

If a Sensex listed company manufactured any of these things on a large scale, you can imagine erudite analysts on CNBC telling us that the stock has just spiked on the announcement of election dates by the EC.

Every other day brings us news of so many bottles of liquor seized here, or this many sarees confiscated there. It is supposed to make us feel better that the authorities are doing their best to conduct a lawful election. Yet, I cannot shake away this unease whenever I hear the glee with which these confiscations are publicized.

For one thing, I think we should really thank elections for putting black money into circulation in the real economy. This seems a far more cost-free and efficient way to retrieve black money than penal taxation or “let’s-go-to-Switzerland” bravado.

It is a direct transfer of wealth from the incredibly haves to the desperately have-nots. What’s wrong with that?

You say liquor is bad? Sure, it is. But, we haven’t banned the trade of liquor have we (save for Gujarat)? Even if liquor is bad, what’s so bad about sarees? Or televisions? Or any other totally harmless product (like, oh say, Modi-masks) handed out by political parties during election time?

In fact, I think soon all parties will cut out the middleman altogether and just hand over bundles of notes to the voters, thus sparking a burst of economic activity that works better than any “job creation scheme”.

I don’t know about you, but this law (and its implementation) smacks of middle class paternalism where the masses are not supposed to be able to make a reasoned decision when tempted with material goods.

Apparently they should vote on the basis of, I dunno, religion maybe?

Or caste?

No, no, you say, they should vote on the basis of the manifesto, the content of the character of the candidate, the familiarity of the name, or some such noble and “democratic” ground. Of course they should, but why can’t they accept a gift or two in the process?

It’s not like any of us would stop working if we stopped getting bonuses (unless of course we are investment bankers, in which case Thank God!). If the regularity with which incumbent governments are thrown out for non-performance is any indicator, we know that the voters are not stupid or blind to such issues.

But wait, you say, you haven’t dealt with the problem of money power in elections. Surely, you point out, we don’t want elections to be determined solely by money power alone. Of course I don’t. I want elections to be determined solely on the grounds of who has the better mike throwing arm. But we all can’t have what we want all the time.

It is a fact of life that running for elections costs money. You need money to organize rallies, to get your message out to the masses, to print posters of your Photoshopped face, copies of your manifesto, and, believe it or not, getting people to come out on a holiday and cast their vote for you (obviously).

Issues are important of course, but how do you get your viewpoint across if you are not willing to spend money to tell anyone?

Let’s face facts here. The average Lok Sabha constituency size in India is more than a million voters. You need to convince at least 500,001 of them to vote for you, or even accounting for low turnout, 300,001. The current level of spending caps leaves a candidate about Rs. 2.50 per person in the constituency.

Let’s face some more facts here. The reason why crooks, liars, cheats, rapists, murderers and Pappu Yadav (who is in a category of his own) keep getting elected is not because they have a superior fund raising or spending capacity, or some secret tap of inexhaustible funds. It will not even do to blame just caste calculations since pretty much every party (except the Communists) know how to appeal to which caste (nominate a member of that caste) so they cancel each other out.

At the end of the day, it is still the refusal of middle class India to do the work that is necessary to get elected to the legislature.

The “work” is not a fancy CV or a college degree or any of the typically middle class markers of “success” (or for that matter winning a game show called �Lead India�). It involves actually being involved with the community and working with the people at the ground level.

Despite the disparaging remarks of the Republican Party, “community organizing” got Barack Obama started off as the fine politician he now is. If middle-class India refuses to contribute at ground level governance, how can it expect to be given the reins of power at the highest level?

And how will seizing truck loads of liquor or sarees get us there?