Who's going to save politics from money?
Bees make honey, but it's easier said than done. They have to fly 55,000 miles and visit roughly 2 million flowers to produce a pound of honey. One bee colony produces 60 to 100 pounds of honey in a year. An individual bee's contribution is only 1/12 teaspoonful in its lifetime.
These correlations between flowers and bees hit home after the 136th IPU Assembly concluded in Dhaka on April 5. Fifteen hundred guests from 131 countries met for five days. Added together, these participants flew thousands of miles and clocked in thousands of hours if the number of participants is multiplied by the number of hours spent on deliberations. What they eventually produced is an ounce of wisdom that inequality is the mother of all evils.
Hence, the assembly concluded that politics must be saved from the clutches of money and organised lobbies. That precious conclusion echoed the famous fable about a group of mice, who had once gathered to discuss how to deal with a marauding cat. The mice decided that a bell would be placed around the cat's neck, so that they knew when it approached them. When one mouse asked who would volunteer to place the bell on the cat, others made excuses.
In 2015, the President of Bangladesh resented that politics had gone into the pockets of businessmen. That year, the Chief Justice of the country more specifically claimed that 80 percent of the lawmakers were businessmen. In 2013, the number of lawyers in Canada's House of Commons had slipped to 15 percent, while double that number came from business and consulting backgrounds. Four years ago, the composition of the Australian Parliament showed the highest percentage of members, 25 percent, had a business background.
In 2010, the National Social Watch in India found that over the past decade there had been an exponential growth in the numbers of businessmen getting elected to the Lok Sabha as well as occupying the Rajya Sabha. This year, the lawmakers from 131 countries reinvented the wheel. They somberly concluded in Dhaka that money in politics is a serious problem.
But that foregone conclusion doesn't solve anything. Yes, the problem has been identified, and ironically so in a country, which must be one of the world's most fertile grounds for money-based and debased politics. The closest concentration of moneyed men in politics, perhaps, is the Trump White House. The net worth of over 100 top officials show that this iconic address for the US president houses the highest number of multi-millionaires in its history.
The IPU proclamation at best is an undertow in a surging tide. Money reigns like a monster in our life, and everything about us has money as its bottom line. So, how is anybody going to save money from politics? This question is particularly relevant for the parliaments of the world, which are creaking under the oppressive burden of money.
Thus the well-meaning resolution has the contradiction of wiping windows with dirty rags, or washing clothes with dirty hands. Politics is now so mixed up with business that underlying currents connecting both are indistinguishable. It's almost impossible to win party nominations or elections without money. It's absolutely impossible to win business deals without political connections.
What has happened is a sordid synergy between the politicians and businessmen, moneymaking being their primary and common goal. So, politics is packaged like a business deal, and business is campaigned with political zeal. Who can separate them when these birds of the same feather have so doggedly decided to flock together?
This doesn't rule out the possibility that there are some sincere politicians and businessmen amongst us. But each of them is like that lonely bee whose singular contribution doesn't count much. Money and power have so badly contaminated each other that what's needed is an exchange transfusion. The procedure involves slowly removing a person's blood and replacing it with fresh donor blood or plasma.
Viral infections are hard to treat because viruses live inside a body's cells. A similar challenge persists between money and politics. Those who are powerful are moneyed, and those who are moneyed are powerful. Both are relentlessly perpetuating the self-serving vicious circle lodged between them.
The might of money in its cataclysmic impact has undermined the concept of dignity. Its purchasing power turned our minds into commodities, evermore ready to be transacted for a price than accepted for potentials. Money has infused us with the spirit of the world's oldest profession. Payment not pride motivates us; nothing more, nothing less.
Power is now a function of money, and money is a function of power. The rest of us are squeezed between them like hopeless slaves, happily licking their chains for taste of freedom. The prophets of false hope know and beware that honey is toxic in boiling water!
The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
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