Sunday Times of India Interview

In today’s Sunday Times of India, I speak with Amulya Gopalakrishnan about my new book. In the interview, Amulya asks me what policy measures can be taken to minimize criminality. Here’s a glimpse of my answer:

Before thinking about policy responses, we have to come to grips with why politicians linked to criminality do so well in the first place. If this was about uninformed voters, mass media campaigns could educate the electorate. Unfortunately, a lack of information is not the binding constraint — it’s a lack of governance.

You can read the full interview here.

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Chaitanya Kalbag on the “cess pool” of state elections

Chaitanya Kalbag has a nice column in today’s Economic Times about whether the issue of corruption will figure at all in the upcoming five state polls due to kick off in February. Uttar Pradesh, of course, is the prize everyone has their eyes on. But there are several states of consequence that will go to polls in the next few weeks: in addition to UP–Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa.

Kalbag is rightly skeptical that Prime Minister Modi or any other major political leader will take serious steps to cleanse what he calls “India’s political cesspools.” Kalbag very graciously cites my forthcoming book to justify his skepticism:

“Just as markets feature intermediaries who match buyers with sellers, political parties have embraced and promoted candidates with criminal links, drawn to their deep pockets at a time when the cost of elections has exploded and party organizations have atrophied,” writes Milan Vaishnav in ‘When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics’, to be published this month. Vaishnav, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, adds: “Loophole-ridden campaign finance laws have been no match for the torrent of undocumented cash that those with criminal ties are able to marshal.”

The whole piece is worth reading. You can find it here.

New op-ed: “Purify the Parties”

In a special New Year’s Eve address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again reiterated his desire to see election finance reform in India. This has been a regular theme in the PM’s speeches, dating back to the 2014 general election campaign. However, Modi’s rhetoric has intensified in the days and weeks following his government’s November 8, 2016 demonetization decision.

In the speech, Modi said:

Political parties, political leaders and electoral funding, figure prominently in any debate on corruption and black money. The time has now come that all political leaders and parties respect the feelings of the nation’s honest citizens, and understand the anger of the people.

It is true that from time to time, political parties have made constructive efforts to improve the system. I urge all parties and leaders to move away from a “holier than thou approach,” to come together in prioritising transparency, and take firm steps to free politics of black money and corruption.

All of this is well and good, but the PM unfortunately stopped short of outlining a detailed agenda for reform. In a new Indian Express column, I outline a four-point reform proposal that I argue Modi should adopt immediately. It would begin to cleanse India’s system of political funding while also placing the opposition on the back foot. In the piece, I write:

While we will continue to debate the merits of demonetisation, the government has repeatedly signalled it will stay the course. The question is: Will it eventually summon the same fortitude when it comes to closing the loopholes from which political actors derive undue benefit? Fresh moves aimed at the political class will inevitably create disruption, including for the ruling party, but it will engender massive popular support. It will show the entire country that no one is truly immune from the cleansing. The ball is in the government’s court.

You can read the piece in its entirety here.

What India Taught Me About Trump

An outsider runs for political office in a hotly contested election. He has a closet full of skeletons the conventional wisdom views as a liability, but he regards as an asset. He preys on distrust of the government, vowing to obliterate “politics as usual.” Against a backdrop of demographic change and economic disruption, the candidate exploits a once-dominant group’s fears of being left behind. His behavior may be unorthodox, but it is authentic and even reassuring to his base.

Sound familiar? While this quote could characterize U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s rise, it could just as easily describe many of the “non-traditional” (criminal) politicians I researched for my book. As I write in a new column for the Diplomat, their “playbook is strikingly similar to the one Donald Trump executed with aplomb to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

You can read the full piece here.