When I was in school, during the school elections, the candidates distributed notebook labels and similar “gifts” among younger children. When the catholic nuns found out, we were asked to fork over those goodies. But, they could have bought us only if we were up for sale. Democratic politics is not any different.
It is perhaps true that politicians can buy voters with a 10 Rupee or 100 Rupee coupons. But, no one compels voters to vote for the politicians who distribute cash and liquor. It is not hard for a man to accept liquor from the local politician and still have a healthy contempt toward him, and punish him. When I once tried to shirk during college elections, a candidate’s supporters chauffeured me to college. To punish these hooligans, I voted for his opponent. I did not tell anyone because I feared that they might retaliate. The point is that for the voter, political virtue is almost free. No one knows what he does inside the polling booth. But, even that he evades. He finds it hard to do the right thing even when it does not cost him a single paisa.
If the voters have such “soft hearts” and “soft heads”, virtue in democratic politics is forbiddingly expensive. Asking politicians to change is a lot like nagging a brick wall. Indian politicians—or politicians anywhere for that matter—are not known for their decency. It is worse than a waste of time to ask them to act against their own self interest.