Blog post

Get ready for IPL (Indian Political League) 2024

I don’t usually watch videos on Whatsapp for fear of getting fired by a cop in Hathras, but last week I saw two, and I’m so glad I did. The first was a short speech delivered to his Parliament by the Prime Minister of Singapore in which he succinctly explained how elections, even in democracies, are more like an auction. The second was even shorter by our Minister of Finance announcing the decisions of the GST Board. At one point she alluded to a new tax on “horse trading”, but quickly corrected herself and revised it to “horse racing”.

Most observers have attributed it to a Freudian slip. But a Freudian slip is more telling than you think, it’s telling of what’s going on in your subconscious mind, a temporary revelation of thoughts that you keep in check. Like the priest who blessed the newly married couple with, “May you both have great sex lives.” He quickly corrected it to a “successful” life but the cat was out of the bag. Or take the case of the Sikh gentleman giving a job interview. When the interviewer expressed doubt about his qualifications, the young Punjabi retorted, “Would you like to see my testicles? He meant “testimonials” – or did he?

So I’m not sure Mrs. Sitharaman didn’t really think about the horse business. Remember, this was at the same time Shiv Sena horses were led to the watering hole in Maharashtra; the govt. desperate for money with the budget deficit going north and states crying blue murder for their share of the GST. A horse trade tax can be a reliable and substantial source of revenue for the government, with the BJP specializing in this economic activity and promising much more by 2024.

Just consider the potential. A friend of mine who follows the LSE (Legislators Stock Exchange) daily tells me that in the past eight years at least seven state governments have been overthrown by defections. He estimates that at around Rs 30 crore per MLA, this equates to a market capitalization of around 3,000 to 6,000 crore. A GST of even 18% on this would have brought in around 600-1200 crores! This would have covered the cost of the now-abandoned Railroad Seniors Concession, presumably to raise funds for the Bullet Train (soon to be renamed the Canon Ball Train given the rate at which the project is progressing).

In the era of neo-liberalism, the market decides everything, so why not let it also decide elections? In a previous blog, I had speculated that the elections have now become moot since the BJP will form the governments anyway, willingly or unwillingly, before or after the polls. Maharashtra confirmed the validity of my hypothesis. The people’s vote doesn’t matter anymore – they can vote for Party A legislators but in a few months, once a deal is finalized, all those johnnies will just head to Party B, which will then form a government that the people had never wanted in the first place. So why not abolish elections altogether and replace them with an IPL (Indian Political League) modeled on the Indian Premier League of cricket? It’s a business model that cannot fail.

This is, I think, what the Prime Minister of Singapore had in mind. Let there be an IPL (Indian Political League) every five years. Candidates throw their hats into the ring and political parties bid for them. The party that is the first to win a majority in that state wins government. There would be a minimum bid price for each state, decided by the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) who badly needs to be given work to do. It would be like the Circle Rate set by states for registering real estate transactions, to ensure there is no tax evasion. After all, IPL cricket also has a price floor.

Each party would submit its report to the IPL commissioner, since the electoral commission would have been dissolved. (There wouldn’t be any need for him in the new system. No one would miss him since he’s been missing for eight years anyway). Mr. Lalit Modi could be offered the position of commissioner, with or without Sushmita Sen, since he knows all the ins and outs, the ups and downs and the ifs and buts of the game. This feedback would remain confidential for fear until Mr. Elon Musk learns of the huge business opportunity available and bids for it as well. If he did, with the US$42 billion again available with him after the Twitter deal collapsed, he would be able to form the governments at the Center and in every state as well, except may -being from West Bengal. who doesn’t like car manufacturers. We certainly can’t afford that, not while our own A+A dual engine is there, can we? And since there can’t be an IPL without cheerleaders, I’d be happy to suggest the names of some well-known TV presenters for the role; they have the required experience as a political party cheerleader for the past eight years, and while they’re not great at kicking their heels, they’re superb at bending their knees.

In one fell swoop, we would have eliminated all those pesky problems of EVM tampering, code of misconduct, campaign petitions, defections, pit capture. The govt. would save thousands of crores in election expenses. The courts, rid of the baggage of electoral petitions, could finally get down to ruling on the 100,000 petitions awaiting release on bail for which they seem to have no time. Admittedly, the voter would no longer be relevant, but then he no longer has a place in the democratic process since 2014. Voting booths have already been replaced by 5-star resorts, governments are formed in Raj Bhavans and not in Vidhan Sabhas . The IPL would illustrate the pinnacle of ease of doing business: instead of bribing millions of voters, it would be so much easier to strike a deal with a few dozen candidates. It would also be cheaper.

With the horse business now becoming legitimate, Ms Sitharaman could now move in with her TPS. I would suggest that the tax be maintained at the 28% maximum applicable to “sin goods”, as there is no greater sin than selling one’s conscience to the highest bidder. My friend mentioned earlier (who could have been the CAG if he had been more interested in coal mining or 2G spectrum, like Mr. Vinod Rai) tells me that in just one general election, the government. can fetch around Rs. 5000 crore from this tax. And here is the beauty: the central government. wouldn’t have to share that with the states because they can impose a similar horse trading tax in state elections! It would be a horse race where there can be no losers (except, of course, the voter, but he has been a loser since 1947 and is happy with his fate).

Indian democracy would finally have come of age, and our rendezvous with fate would be complete. Who said you could take a horse to Wardha but you couldn’t make it blink?

Avay Shukla

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a passionate environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one point, but now he’s run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/