Sunday, March 27, 2011

Corzine and Karunanidhi: Bribing Voters.

There is lot of brouhaha on Karunanidhi's freebies (and Jaya's response). Offering subsidies for weaker sections is indulged in by politicians across countries, sometimes out of a good intention but mostly as a means to fleece votes. DMK rode to power based on providing subsidized rice to the poor. So what differentiates the color TV scheme, and its repugnant offsprings that threaten to derail a state by tearing into whatever was left of the deplorable moral fabric of a people, from other subsidies?

Jon Corzine, ex-governor of New Jersey, provides a good template to differentiate subsidies and voter bribes masquerading as freebies. NJ is a state that is practically broke thanks to corrupt politicians and public exchequer busting benefits to unions. Here was Jon Corzine who ran on a platform to reform NJ with his vaunted business skills. After all he ran the most feared money-machine on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs. Corzine, democrat, got elected. NJ's woes worsened, NJ rolled down a slippery slope of financial ruin. Corzine was roundly defeated in his re-election battle by a very unlikely candidate. Chris Christie, Republican, set about bringing order to chaos and stumbled upon a stash of $90 million dollars that lay undistributed. Corzine, the good Democrat that he was, had levied a TAX on cable TV provider Comcast in order to subsidize Cable TV programs for elderly in hospice care. Christie flew into a rage asking 'since when was watching Cable TV (not broadcast TV channels, like ABC CBS etc, that are already free) a fundamental right that needed a tax on a corporation'.

THAT captures the venality of what Karunanidhi unleashed. Progressive taxation and welfare schemes for the weaker sections is part of every economic system in the world. its part of politics in every country. Promising subsidized rice or shielding the poor from the ravages of the market is one thing, to dole out what is classified as 'luxury' is sheer bribery. Till date Rs 10,000 crores (or possibly more) has been spent on doling out the TV's. I've DMK friends who non-chalantly says "what could he do, it was a strategy". Beware, those are traitors to people who would not, in their blood lust to see Karunanidhi get elected, hesitate to sacrifice any Tamilian. When MK promised the TV's not many believed he would follow through that's why he could not ride to absolute majority based on the TV promise but that catch promise helped him become a minority government. MK has earned credibility in keeping up the promise because his targets are elsewhere. Thanks to him today Tamilians have been reduced to beggary. There is an unseemly eagerness to see what MK would announce? Vikatan had a very chilling comment by a woman "உசிலம்பட்டியில், 'ஜெயலலிதா வந்தா, சட்டம் - ஒழுங்கு சரியா இருக்கும். அதிகாரிங்க பயப்படுவாங்க. நிர்வாகம் சரியா நடக்கும். அதனால எங்களுக்கு என்ன பிரயோஜனம்? கலைஞர் வந்தா, டி.வி, மிக்ஸிலாம் கிடைக்கும். அதனால கருணாநிதிக்குத்தான் ஓட்டுப் போடுவேன்’ என்றார் ஒரு பெரியம்மா." Even if one ignores her credit to Jaya for good administration its frightening to think that a citizen values her personal safety negotiable with a freebie. It was pathetic to see DK's Veeramani applaud this manifesto as 'heroine' and call for Tamilians to help elect DMK and defeat Aryan designs. Periyar must be turning in his grave.

The poor do not realize the pernicious effects of such schemes. The middle class and the rich think "I do not care, it does not affect me". Not a SINGLE citizen is left untouched by the direct and indirect effects of such schemes. A good example is the Kalaignar Insurance Scheme. TN, like the rest of India, runs Government Hospitals which are provide almost free medical care to anybody who comes, thousands of crores are already being spent on those hospitals and doctors. Yet the conditions in those hospitals are deplorable and they are rife with corruption. Even the most poor man 'prefers' to go to a private clinic. MK comes riding as the knight in shining armor and announces a scheme to cover medical care for 'life threatening' diseases. Private hospitals and doctors rush to advertise that they welcome patients under that scheme. Reason was simple, profiteering. Hospitals overcharged, doctors over billed, prescriptions were padded, pharmacies and drug manufacturers prospered, tests were ordered unnecessarily, again prices were inflated. A total web of corruption ensnared the medical fraternity. Of course the poor patient got his heart repaired. What he did not realize was that in the process of this all round thievery medical costs soared due to an inflationary aspect for EVERYONE. This same poor patient now when he goes for an ordinary illness, which is not covered, pays inflated costs. THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH.
The laws of Physics eventually catches up. Government set aside only Rs 500 crores to be given to insurance companies. The inflated bills, systemic fraud etc now has compelled insurance companies to deny bills. By the way the insurance is provided by private insurers not government owned LIC's. Now add on the inflationary cost to get insured.

When food prices soared some dimwits blamed capitalism and the fact that India is now trying to liberalize. Take the Kalaignar Housing Scheme. Cement prices and construction material prices have soared due to demand thus raising the cost of construction. There is shortage of labor, their prices have shot up. When cement price hots up MK steps in and forbids the cement manufacturer to raise his prices beyond what MK thinks is fair price. Each of these schemes destroy and skew the operation of free market. What is worse they skew it in favor, not the poor, but the corrupt. The poor slum dweller thinks he gets a home but thanks to corruption and unfair pricing controls what he gets is a home of pathetic quality. Now having contributed to inflating labor prices, the woman carrying bricks who enjoys her new pay is now forced to pay more for the vegetables she buys. Round and round it goes distorting every economic activity beyond recognition.

I'll NOT blame the poor man or woman who votes for DMK drawn by such schemes. They do not know better. I've seen literate PhD's (from American Universities), people who are educated and have been exposed to a much wider world, behave no better than the woman who said "கலைஞர் வந்தா, டி.வி, மிக்ஸிலாம் கிடைக்கும்". Education, I find, is often of no avail. In fact I now wonder what is the purpose of being educated, especially when I think of casteism amongst Tamilians in US & UK. That needs a separate blog by itself.

What is the difference between politicians like these and a drug peddler? Who is a leader? What makes a person a leader? I think of Gandhi who made Indians rise up to the best within them. A famous scene in the movie 'Gandhi' is the depiction of Salt Satyagraha at the Dharasana Salt Works. Charlie Sheen, playing Webb Miller of NYT, files a report (I quote from wikipedia in full)

"Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow.Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down. When every one of the first column was knocked down stretcher bearers rushed up unmolested by the police and carried off the injured to a thatched hut which had been arranged as a temporary hospital."

A leader is one who makes a people rise about their collective weakness. Not one who makes a people collectively weak and corrupt. TN is being reduced to abject beggary. Like Bharathi said:

விதியே... விதியே! தமிழர் சாதியை என் செய்ய நினைத்தாய்?’

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