Richest politicians

A lean bare man on the banks of a river near Champaran, his eyes moist with sadness, letting go of his shawl for a poor woman downstream to cover herself and her child. This poignant moment from Richard Attenborough's biopic on Gandhi is perhaps the most eloquent image of selfless politics.


The gentle giant loved as Bapu and revered as the Mahatma epitomised the philosophy of public service as one who gave up everything to be one among the huddled millions. Nearly a century later there is little evidence in reel or real life of the high moral ground once straddled by that generation.


The brazen parade of the Prada Prado set zipping across cities in cavalcades, appropriating security funded by public money is evidence that politics has since morphed into a largely self-serving enterprise. The pretense of khadi and Gandhian values went out of vogue with the Gandhi cap long before the Gucci generation stormed the political arena in the 1980s.

The transition is best described by Rajiv Gandhi who said at the Congress Centenary in Mumbai in 1985 that politics has been reduced to brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert mass movement into feudal oligarchy . Yes there are those who enter politics to serve the public cause but they are exceptions rather than the rule. Entering public life is now an investment of time and effort for dividends to be earned from political entrepreneurship. A joint study by INDIA TODAY and EmpoweringIndia.org (an initiative of the Liberty Institute) of the reported assets of our elected representatives reveals a startling contrast between the rulers and the ruled.


In a country where over 77 per cent of the populace, or an estimated 836 million people, earn an income of Rs 20 per day and over 300 million are living below the poverty line, nearly half the Rajya Sabha members and nearly a third of those from the Lok Sabha are worth a crore and more. Just the top ten Rajya Sabha members and the top ten Lok Sabha members have reported a cumulative net asset worth Rs 1,500 crore. The 10 top losers in the last Lok Sabha polls including Nyimthungo of Nagaland who reported total assets of Rs 9,005 crore is Rs 9,329 crore. Members of legislative assemblies seem wealthier than many MPs. The top five MLAs across the 30 states are worth Rs 2,042 crore. Of these 150 crorepati MLAs, 59 don't even have a PAN card.


1. T. Subbarami Reddy

Indian National Congress

Rajya Sabha, Andhra Pradesh

Total Assets: Rs 239.6 cr


2. Jaya Bachchan

Samajwadi Party

Rajya Sabha, Uttar Pradesh

Total Assets: Rs 214.3 cr


3. Rahul Bajaj

Independent

Rajya Sabha, Maharashtra

Total Assets: Rs 190. 6 cr


4. Anil H. Lad

Indian National Congress

Rajya Sabha, Karnataka

Total Assets: Rs 175 cr


5. M. Krishnappa

Indian National Congress

MLA, Vijay Nagar, Karnataka

Total Assets: Rs 136 cr


6. MAM Ramaswamy

Janata Dal (Secular)

Rajya Sabha, Karnataka

Total Assets Rs 107.7 cr


7. Anand Singh

BJP

MLA, Vijayanagara, Karnataka

Total Assets: Rs 239 cr


8. Anil V. Salgaocar

Independent

MLA, Sanvordem, Goa

Total Assets: Rs 91.4 cr


9. N.A. Haris

Indian National Congress

MLA, Shanti Nagar, Karnataka

Total Assets: Rs 85.3 cr


10. Mahendra Mohan

Samajwadi Party

Rajya Sabha, Uttar Pradesh

Total Assets: Rs 85 cr


And don't look for a correlation between the state of the state and the wealth of the legislators. Uttar Pradesh boasts of the largest number of people 59 million or over a third of its population living below the poverty line. Not only is Mayawati the richest chief minister in 30 states, the state also boasts of 113 crorepati MLAs. Similarly, Madhya Pradesh which has over 25 million of the 60 million people living below the poverty line boasts of 80 crorepati MLAs. The Marxists are the stark exception in this study too. The CPI(M) has 301 MLAs across 10 states but has only two MLAs with declared assets of over Rs 1 crore. Of the 537 candidates who contested on a CPI(M) ticket, only seven had assets of over Rs 1 crore, of which five lost in the elections.


As the old maxim goes, power begets power and money attracts riches. Clearly, it pays to be in power. Take the last round of Assembly elections which afforded the study an opportunity to compare the increase in wealth. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where the BJP was in power, the average assets of candidates increased by five times.

In Karnataka too where the Congress ruled in rotation with Deve Gowda's JD(S), Congress candidates reported a fivefold rise in their assets. Mercifully, wealth doesn't always ensure success. In all, 365 crorepatis contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2004; 88 lost their deposits, and 114 came second.


Last December in Delhi the Congress learnt this important lesson again when they found that Congress candidates who lost in Delhi were on an average richer than those who won. But wealth clearly does matter, all other things being constant.

The caveat emptor here, as with all matters concerning transparency in public life, is that we are going by what the political class has chosen to declare. After all, the statement of assets filed by candidates is at best a confession of sorts mandated by two Supreme Court judgements of May 2002 and March 2003.


There are several gaps in the information available. Of the 542 Lok Sabha members, details of assets are available for only 522. Similarly in the Rajya Sabha, only 215 members have filed details of assets.


There is no institutional mechanism to cross-check facts, nor is there a requirement for candidates to declare the source of wealth, or the increase in wealth of candidates in subsequent declarations. In Mizoram for instance, none of the 10 top candidates have reported possessing a PAN card even though their wealth is in excess of Rs 1 crore.


What is worse is that although MPs who are ministers file annual statements of their assets, the information is not available to the public. This virtually negates the concept of scrutiny that would prevent misuse of position of power and enrichment. Indeed, what should be openly available is denied even under the Right to Information Act.


It is tragic that the Office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has been described as integrity personified has been made party to this decision to deny the information. Again, while Central ministers are required to file a statement of assets, there is no such requirement for ministers in states.


The adulterous cohabitation of power and pelf is conspicuous across the political spectrum. The chasm between the declared and perceived reality is all too obvious to be missed. Contrast the wealth reported and wealthy lifestyles of those elected to high office.


Clearly the tip of the benami iceberg has not even been touched. In a country with a stark asymmetry in opportunities and ability, political power enables bending and twisting of policy, converting politics into the elevator politicians ride to reach the pot of gold. Living room conversations in middle and upper middle class homes are dotted with whose son, daughter or son-in-law is raking it in using the benami route to accumulate property and assets.


Television footage of currency notes being waved in Parliament during the last trust vote, the airborne campaigns witnessed during the polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, money spent in fielding dummy candidates, funding of party offices, travel in Toyota SUVs costing over Rs 75 lakh each and private charters that politicians avail of to fly within the country are all pointers that are hard to ignore.


Bankers and brokers talk in not so hushed tones about the role of politicians in corporate scams. There is also speculation about the real beneficiary and benami ownership of at least two airlines, several real estate ventures, pharmaceutical units and infrastructure companies. The corporate concept of 'sleeping partner' has a whole new connotation in the political world. As long as the real incomes, wealth and funding of politicians remain opaque, governance will continue to suffer and democracy will be rendered more often on the liability side in the balance sheet of development.


Television footage of currency notes being waved in Parliament during the last trust vote, the airborne campaigns witnessed during the polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, money spent in fielding dummy candidates, funding of party offices, travel in Toyota SUVs costing over Rs 75 lakh each and private charters that politicians avail of to fly within the country are all pointers that are hard to ignore.


Bankers and brokers talk in not so hushed tones about the role of politicians in corporate scams. There is also speculation about the real beneficiary and benami ownership of at least two airlines, several real estate ventures, pharmaceutical units and infrastructure companies. The corporate concept of 'sleeping partner' has a whole new connotation in the political world. As long as the real incomes, wealth and funding of politicians remain opaque, governance will continue to suffer and democracy will be rendered more often on the liability side in the balance sheet of development.


With Sangram K. Parhi and Shyamlal Yadav Empowering India www.EmpoweringIndia.org has diligently tried to compile over 45,000 affidavits of candidates who contested for state assemblies and Lok Sabha seats, in the past five years. In this process of digitisation, there are possibilities of errors. We will greatly appreciate if the readers point out any mistakes that come to their notice. For authentic copies of affidavits, please consult the web site of Election Commission of India.

Comments

  1. ok ok...its just another demotivator to pay taxes!

    ReplyDelete

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