The stench of corruption spreads quickly from
The DMK believes it won the last election because it promised free television sets. To promise is one thing but the DMK government actually gave away millions of TVs! The sets were paid for from the state treasury--not party funds. In the coming election, voters are being promised fans, mixies, laptop computers, and 4 gm of gold for a poor bride’s mangalsutra. Tax payers in Tamilnadu are outraged but Kanimozhi asks, ‘what is wrong in giving people what they need?’ People wonder, however, if free TVs have a link to DMK owning a Tamil TV channel. Some greedily ask, will the next politician offer Rs one lakh cash?
It is not that Tamils don’t value integrity. They just don’t expect it from their politicians. They cynically believe that politics is the art of the sincere lie and cite the example of Dhritarashtra in the Mahabharata, who flourished through hypocrisy and nepotism. Chennai is not so different from Hastinapur and Tamil voters would prefer to be bribed openly. Populist give-aways have always been a great temptation. Roman politicians devised a plan in 140 B.C. to win votes of the poor by giving away cheap food and entertainment—they called it ‘bread and circuses’.
The idea of free TVs and mixies is morally troubling. The election commissioner has pleaded helplessness, saying that freebies only contravene the law when they are distributed before an election. Most of us do accept state spending on public goods. Roads, parks, and schools are examples of public goods as they are open to everyone. However, spending public money on private goods (such as TVs) seems offensive. It is legitimate for the state to equip schools and public libraries with computers but not to give free laptops to a section of the people. It is just as wrong to erect statues to oneself with public funds. But the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise. It has recently absolved Mayawati, arguing that the people of U.P. had elected her and can remove her at the next election if they object to her statues. There is a fine but important line between public and private goods.
Nothing quite explains Indian politics as the fact that we embraced democracy before capitalism. The rest of the world did it the other way around.
It is ironic that Tamilnad should be the setting for this corrupt practice. The state has high literacy and a reputation for being one of
Free TVs mean less money for investing in the future--in roads, ports, and schools. Eventually Tamilnad will pay a price—for without investment, growth will slow down. Ask the voters of