Meera Sanyal, the head honcho of ABN Amro’s India branch, has taken time off work in order to stand for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai South Parliamentary constituency as an independent candidate. Apparently the plan of action is that if Sanyal wins, she will quit her job and dedicate herself fulltime to being a politician.
One thousand kilometres away from Meera Sanyal, Captain Gopinath, the man behind India's low-cost airline Air Deccan which sold out to Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher, is also making preparations to take on the might of established political parties as an independent candidate in Bangalore.
Both candidates have positioned themselves as clean outsiders who will speak up for the common man and make a difference. But will they, I wonder?
The Parliamentary form of government which India follows ensures that the party or coalition with the largest number of M.Ps calls all the shots. Such party or coalition will not only elect the Prime Minister, but will also be able to propel its candidate into the Rashtrapathi Bhavan when the Presidential elections take place. The system of issuing whips, sanctified by law and parliamentary protocol does not allow M.Ps to vote across party lines. In order words, an independent M.P. will not be able to make much difference on his own or her own, other than to may be ask a few pointed questions in Parliament.
This situation begs the following question. If a socially committed individual like Sanyal or Capt. Gopinath wants to enter politics and make a difference, what should he or she do?
The State Legislative Assemblies are miniature forms of the Central Parliament and a lone ranger M.L.A (Member of Legislative Assembly) cannot hope to accomplish much. Should Sanyal and Capt. Gopinath have joined a political party they found to be the least abominable and tried to change the system? The sad fact is that, in the current political scenario, reaching a position within a leading political party where one can make a difference is no easy task and usually requires the aspirant to cut a few corners. By the time one makes it to a position of power, one is corrupted by and is a part of the system that one set out to change.
Should Sanyal or Capt. Gopinath have tried to make a difference at the local level? Unfortunately, despite so much talk of decentralisation, the most powerful person in any city’s administrative set up is the Municipal Commissioner, a position filled by a senior bureaucrat appointed by the state government. In Mumbai, the chief of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation goes by the honorific ‘Mayor of Mumbai.’ This is a largely ceremonial post and does not carry any real powers. The Mayor is elected from among the corporators elected to the Municipal Council by various ‘wards’. Even these elections are fought on a party basis and in that sense are not particularly different from elections to the central Parliament or the Legislative Assemblies.
Something I find very disturbing about Sanyal and Captain Gopinath’s election campaigns is the inbuilt assumption that Sanyal and Captain Gopinath are superior to the candidates fielded by the established political parties. There can be no doubt that Sanyal and Capt. Gopinath have not been corrupted by the Indian political system yet. However, there is no guarantee that they will continue to be so clean if they are placed in positions of power. Further it cannot be said that their respective corporate experiences at ABN Amro or Air Deccan have equipped Sanyal or Capt. Gopinath to be able politicians. History is replete with examples of businessmen who took to politics and came a cropper. Politics is a totally different kettle of fish from running a business. If Sanyal or Capt. Gopinath were to land quasi-bureaucratic or quasi-administrative positions, they might do justice to such posts. However, it is very unlikely that the winning political party will hand over a plum post to an independent M.P. It looks even more unlikely that Sanyal or Capt. Gopinath will manage to make it to Parliament in the first place.