By Rahul Shivshankar
Mayawati’s infamous cash garlands have got just about anyone with an opinion on anything worked up into a right royal lather. Her “brazen and vulgar display of money power,” some rage, is a taint on the spotless white khadi of Indian democracy and “mocks the poverty” of her supporters. The Opposition has been quick to claim the moral high ground and with admirable lexical dexterity has re-christened her daulat ki beti (Daughter of pelf). Those with less to gain have preached to Mayawati about the need to evolve an “agenda for governance.” The government at the Centre has gone a step further. In order to teach Mayawati a lesson in fiscal propriety it has set the toothless mastiffs of the Income Tax department upon her. The Dalit ki Beti must now explain how her constituency rose above its abjectness to collect five crores. Is the Income Tax inquiry then the bigger slap in the face of her impoverished supporters?
Though no one can grudge the cynics their views they might have missed a trick or two. With tongue firmly in cheek it could be argued that “Garland gate” is in fact a welcome step in the direction of bringing transparency to the murky business of campaign funding in India.
Look at it this way, Mayawati has at least been honest enough to display in public every little rupee contributed to party coffers: A public audit that leaves no one under any illusions about the identity of the donor or the end beneficiary. And given that she’s been so upfront so far there is little reason to suspect she’ll suddenly shrink away from being equally forthcoming when confronted by the Tax department. Now, for a moment imagine the benefits.
For one, if each naya paisa “donated” to political parties is accounted for through a public audit it could make for a more level electoral playing field. What’s more the ‘cash garland’ could even eliminate the underhand practice of parties once in government granting favors in return for donations. If our parties are really as keen as they claim to clean up the polity they must all wear their money where their mouths are — Maya style.