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On the eve of the vote, vote-buyers would be more desperate than vote-sellers, and so the price of an additional vote should have been higher than it was earlier.

india Updated: Jul 28, 2008 22:33 IST

In the backdrop of the trust vote, two important events happened — one inside and the other outside Parliament. Soon after the date for the vote was announced, the media reported that parliamentarians were shifting party loyalties for something like Rs 200 and 250 million, attributing the information to some senior political leaders. Since no one took the media to task for false reporting, one assumes that the leaders mentioned actually did say so.

The second incident was the public display of cash in Parliament and the accusation made by three MPs that they were being enticed to vote favourably for Rs 30 million each.

Let us assume that the second allegation is true. Then, could the first allegation, made well before the actual vote, also be true? How did the price of switching loyalties fall so drastically on the eve of the vote? In most market-determined systems, the price falls if the demand falls. One would expect that on the eve of the vote, vote-buyers would be more desperate than vote-sellers, and so the price of an additional vote — or three — should have been higher than it was earlier. So if the second allegation made in the Parliament is true, then the allegation made earlier is false. Let us dig a bit deeper.

If the trust vote is about to be won, there is no need to buy additional votes at any price. However, suppose the trust vote was about to be lost. Some votes (let us say five) had already been bought at the higher price (of, say, Rs 200 million). If the trust vote is lost, the buyer of votes loses power in Parliament and the amount of money already paid. This comes to a trillion rupees (200 million multiplied by five). The sellers have a simple bargaining position. “If you do not pay us, you lose a trillion rupees and power in Parliament; if you pay us instead — say Rs 50 million each — you gain power in Parliament and lose Rs 1.15 trillion.” The buyer says, “Since I have already paid Rs 1 trillion in the hope of winning, the gain from winning must be worth at least Rs 1 trillion to me. If I refuse to pay the price of Rs 50 million, I lose at least a trillion. If I pay the Rs 50 million each to the three sellers, I lose Rs 1.15 trillion and gain power whose value to me is at least Rs 1 trillion. So my net loss from paying the new price is less than Rs 150 million, compared to a trillion plus, if I do not agree.”

In other words, the buyer would have been willing to pay more than Rs 30 million per person. It is unlikely that the seller failed to recognise this. So the earlier alleged price of Rs 200-250 million seems suspect.

In short, if we believe that the buyers and sellers of votes are smart, the price could not have come down so drastically. One may argue that the buyer was interested in increasing the probability of winning. But in a one-off game, it is foolish to play for such large stakes unless the outcome is assured. And so, we are led to conclude that if the allegation made within Parliament is true, the allegations made outside it are false. From this we can also conclude that while some of our senior leaders are irresponsible, some of our parliamentarians are not very smart. In either case, we should worry about the type of political leaders we choose to follow and elect.

Further, if the accusations made within the Parliament were false but the set of allegations made outside it were correct, it is the duty of the political leaders to disclose the names of those who have been bought. If they are unable to do so because of lack of hard evidence, they must say so to the public.

And if both accusations are false, then all Indians should disown such political leaders. In other words, regardless of who is right and who is wrong, some of our politicians have forced all Indians to hang their heads in shame.