Channel: Editor's Viewpoint

  • Politics: Shaken and Stirred

    The state of political incumbants in both India and the UK.

    By Sanmit Ahuja On 10 May 2011

You could mistake it for a James Bond 007 tag line. But no, this note is far more banal and closer to the realities on the ground. Grounds that are currently shaking under the very political establishments of India and the UK.

The Indian Government has been rocked with corruption scandals one after the other. The old cliché goes - when it rains it pours. The saga started with the numerous cases of corruption during the organisation of the Commonwealth Games in October 2010. The organising committee’s chairman, Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, currently behind bars pending investigation, was the man at the helm of affairs. He claims that everything he did was in accordance with the Central Government officials and those of the State Government of Delhi. The ruling Congress party was quick to sever ties with Mr. Kalmadi who was ultimately sacked as the head of the Indian Olympics Association in April 2011.

The scandals got larger in the months to come with the telecoms industry’s 2G scam revealing the crony-capitalism which is the dark underbelly of the Indian economy. Mr. A. Raja who was the Union telecoms minister, also behind bars pending further investigation was accused of under-selling the spectrum licenses to various companies resulting in estimated losses to the tune of USD 16bn.

The scandal further put a spotlight on the triumvirate of Politicians-Industry-Media with a number of industry majors and Ministers getting named. No one can establish how deep rooted this issue in the country is.

Some attempt to quantify it by looking at the Indian wealth in Swiss institutions. Recent figures put that amount near USD 1.7 trillion - almost twice the size of Indian GDP; the same level that Indian Government wants to invest in infrastructure over the next decade. Others speak of the domestic gray economy which is 3-4 times the size of the formal economy. Whichever way you look at it, the figures are astounding.

The matter spilled on to the streets led by a veteran social and anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare who went on a (unto-death) hunger strike. His demands were to fast-track the implementation of Citizens’ Ombudsman “Jan Lokpal Bill” which has been on the table for decades. The Indian Government finally gave into the demands by recognising the need of the hour and engaging with the Committee drafting the bill.

Now cut across to the British Isles…and a different game is at play. Contrary to its Indian counterpart, every bit of spotlight on the Tory/Lib-Dem ruling coalition has been on its handling of internal affairs. The defeat of the Lib-Dems on the “Alternate-Vote” referendum has exposed the deep rift in the dogmas of the two parties. Britain hasn’t seen coalition politics for a few decades now thus the experiences will certainly not be present.

The British public is witnessing a slanderous match between the two sides playing out in the open. The Lib-Dems are biting their tongue not quite sure whether they are coming or going. The Deputy PM Nick Clegg has had calls for resignation, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and Business Secretary Vince Cable, both senior members of the Liberal Democrats are fighting a battle to control carbon emissions. Nobody is quite sure what on earth is going on but it is certain that the Lib-Dems are certainly facing some sort of identity crises. A lot of individual point scoring is going on creating problems for Nick Clegg on which fight to take on – internal with his own colleagues or the external with the Tories.

The next battle stage is already set with the two parties declaring an open war on the proposed “healthcare reform”. The country’s healthcare system is seemingly broken. Everyone agrees that NHS needs to cut costs, but by how much and how to remains a big problem. There are even more fundamental policy shifts on the anvil with some demanding American insurance style healthcare system. The politics in the UK will certainly get more and more interesting with times to come. Only time will tell whether the British electorate will prefer a more pronounced public reaction.

Both Indian and the UK Governments were gifted with opportunities to shift the attention from politics to events that brought the nation together. Indians were lucky with its Cricket team winning the world Cup almost after 3 decades. The British Government had the Royal Wedding which was a much larger affair with over 2 billion people watching it.

Here it seems the Indian Government successfully shifted gears whilst the nation was busy watching its most famous (and rich) sportsmen winning the coveted cup. The UK Government however did completely the opposite. The daggers were out as soon as the wedding Euphoria fizzled away.

Not quite the Bond like beginning and certainly not a Bond like end…..

Stay tuned and watch this space on how political foundations will either be strengthened or written into oblivion.

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