Democracy for Sale: the Current Culture of Corporatization of Indian Politics

Image credit : Photographer: Ruhani Kaur/Bloomberg  | |

Does ideology mean anything today? Have Indian political parties become corporate houses interested merely in the maximization of profit? At least, this is what a friend of mine, a Muslim voter from the Seemanchal region of Bihar feels. As it is well known that there is a sizable population of the Muslim voters in four of the parliamentary constituencies here, all electoral decisions depend on this demographic calculation. If Mr Owaisi’s AIMIM decides to suddenly give candidates in Seemanchal, there could be no other reason for this except the unique demography.

The Muslim voters are treated as a lachar (helpless) vote bank as they are bound to vote for a candidate who could defeat the NDA contender. As a consequence, they have been getting all kinds of candidates causing their own disgrace. Take, for instance, the Purnea parliamentary constituency located in Bihar. In the last general elections, they voted for the JDU candidate, who was known for instigating communal violence when he was in the BJP. He left the BJP and joined the JDU only a few days before the elections. 

It must have been disgusting for them to vote for such a person. In this election, the three-time winner candidate of the BJP has been fielded by Congress. One can imagine the dilemma of the Muslim voters. Now they are facing the same candidate from the JDU in alliance with the BJP and an ex-BJP whom they voted down earlier. What does ideology mean in this case? The communal-secular rhetoric has no meaning for the common people.  

There is a new ideology called the ‘win-ability factor’, which probably is the most unethical thing to happen to Indian democracy. Democracy has become a slave to this this new master. No party is hesitant in giving tickets to anyone who could win; it really does not matter even if he is a criminal or a rapist.

One should undertake serious research on this idea of win-ability. How does it work? How is it decided if someone is a potential winner? Things which scholars either did not know or dared not to say, the public knows and keeps saying too. It is like the famous song from an Indian film entitled ‘Ye Jo  Public hai Sab Janti Hai ‘(the public knows everything). I was informed during fieldwork in Bihar that the most important attribute of win-ability is the money that one has as one should be able to contribute to the ‘party fund’, no one has any idea if it is taken by the party or it goes to the individuals responsible for ticket distribution. According to them, like the dowry system, the rate of every saleable seat is almost known.

In the last Assembly elections, a lady candidate was denied a seat at the last moment by a party as she could not pay around three crores, so, she decided to fight independently and finally won. The factor that led her to win was public sympathy due to the widespread information about her inability to pay. It has become a common practice to give candidature to liquor barons, contractors, corrupt bureaucrats etc. The average expenditure in a parliamentary constituency for a serious candidate runs into crores, it is anybody’s guess who could spend so much of money.

A new profession of the political consultancy is on the rising in India. One can find IIT and IIM graduates joining it. I encountered a rich businessman in Delhi around ten years back who was running a travel agency and used to provide services to many politicians and NRIs. He gave me a couple of lessons in politics. First, earlier political parties used to have supporters and they were the sources of funding too. Now parties have employees who may be casual or permanent. Second, he was convinced that the political consultancy would emerge as a big business in India in the near future. He wanted me to help him in developing a database on Punjab constituency profiling. In fact, he was contacted by many rich NRIs from Canada contemplating to come back and try their luck in Indian politics as they were convinced that it is a better business opportunity compared to any other in Canada. So, politics is no more a question of ideology for them, instead, it is an industry which is growing fast.

One can compare the Indian politics with an exclusive club. To get membership you need to be recommended by a couple of club members and then you have to pay a heavy amount as fee. But once you are a member, you can always keep changing your table or your partners on the same table. It is a lifetime membership. You may change your political parties as many times as you like. There is no problem even if they are apparently of drastically opposite ideological orientations. This is the new rule of Lutyen’s Delhi that you have to look for the public once in five years, in between you keep doing whatever you feel like. On your behalf, the well-dressed spokespersons would keep fighting the battle on the television screen every evening. The show will go on, you may relax.

I remember, once on a TV channel, two of the panelists started fighting almost physically as one told the other that you seem to have changed your party. However, within the next few days, the breaking news almost gave me a jerk when it was declared that he had actually done so. The television debates are becoming almost mechanical engagements like Amitabh Bachchan in the movie, Iman Dharam (1977), wherein he was supposed to be a professional witness available outside the courtroom who could be hired on the spot.

A still from film Immaan Dharam (1977)

Once in a case, the judge asked him how tall was Gullu Miyan, he gestured with his hand to show almost five feet. The judge, who was well aware of his proficiency as professional witness thought he could catch him on a wrong foot, asked him that Gullu Miyan could not be five feet as a cock could not be so tall. Bachchan denied any possibility of being caught by replying that he was yet to bring the other hand to show his actual height and he aptly placed it below the other hand indicating the actual height of the cock. So behave the spokespersons.  

The parliamentary democracy has become a capital intensive industry and it follows the market rules perfectly well in which profitability or win-ability is the only ethics. There are readymade, customized templates for writing party manifestos, no need to think much about the ideological orientation of the party that is the last thing to bother about. What a democracy are we witnessing!

This article is part of democracy4you campaign.  


  1. Democracy tends to lose it sanctity when it is transacted in the market of political vote banks. I feel that such a culture not only insults democracy but also denies all possibility of mature citizenship. I congratulate the team for this campaign.

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