Jan 6, 2011
The oft-repeated maxim ‘politics is the last resort of a scoundrel’ may sound harsh and derogatory in the simple sense of the term. The blanket application of this maxim to the worldwide political scenario may not be justifiable. But if the political happenings in India in the last few decades are anything to go by, it makes sense to alter the maxim - ‘politics is the last resort of businessmen who are scoundrels’ or to change the definition completely based on individual percipience . Because for many in our country politics is also a business, to grab huge mass of land, buildings, shopping malls, apartments and prime properties in major cities of India and to amass wealth. Considering the way this clan of scoundrels swindle our country left, right and centre, they deserve a much more ruthless term to describe them rather than stick on to the age old term of a mere scoundrel. Because words like scoundrel are too mild and have lost their meaning in today’s changed circumstances. May be one can call them avaricious rogues, parasites, maniacs or a kind of bacteria, virus or political cancer, who are bent upon inflicting such a deep wound from which our country cannot survive leave alone recover.
One can only say politics in India stinks badly, to an inexplicable degree as it is unable to come out from the morass of filth, corruption, dishonesty, rank opportunism, expediency, maneuverings and manipulation of all kinds and above all, greed and criminalization that has come to afflict it. Elections after elections we keep generating more filth adding on to the existing one. With many politicians with criminal background getting elected to the parliament both at the centre and in states, one can only expect the political situation to become worst than what it is today. Just wait and watch! The stabbing to death of a sitting BJP MLA in Bihar by an exploited school principal, is just a small price paid by the politician for his misdemeanor and brazen behavior. And lo, there will be enhanced security cover to these ‘netaas’ , for which taxpayer’s money will be spent.
You may wonder what warranted this kind of outburst to direct my angst against politicians at this stage, now that 2G scam is losing the initial euphoria it had generated. What triggered my pent up anger against the degeneration of the political scenario is the Citizens Report on Governance and Development, 2010, released by the National Social Watch recently showing that 128 out of 543 (25%) of the Lok Sabha members in India are either industrialists, traders, businessmen or builders. Though it is nothing to gloat about, Rajya MPs from these groups account for only 10 % (25 out of 245) in the parliament. Not that it is something that was not known to a majority of Indians. The trend of businessmen becoming politicians has been on the rise especially in the last two decades. But for the first time there was a clear idea of the number of businessmen netaas who have succeeded in spreading their tentacles to the precincts of parliament, albeit as elected representatives.
The report also says that this trend is a flagrant departure from the past when both the houses of parliament had the right balance of educationists, intellectuals, industrialists, sportspersons, social workers or people who excelled in art, culture, literature & music. The report says “it was rarely that one found an industrialist or businessmen or others from allied communities in the Lok Sabha right until the 1990. But the recent years have witnessed an astonishing growth of crorepatis in both the houses of parliament”.
Again, it is not just the question of these businessmen spreading their wings in parliament, but using their clout for their personal gains. Ever since getting elected to the parliament, the financial fortunes of many MPS have also undergone a sea-change - of course only for the better. This is, at a time when common people are struggling to live in the big bad world with spiraling inflation and many small time businessmen struggling to survive following the onslaught from MNC’s, luxury malls and big business houses and the global economic meltdown resulting in the closure of many businesses.
Leaving aside common man, where else but in politics in India, can one expect his income to rise by a stupendous 3,024 per cent during a period of five years from 2004 to 2009? This record is created by 46 year old Vijayawada parliamentarian Lagadapati Rajagopal, an industrialists who unabashedly calls himself as a political social worker. During this five year period his fortunes witnessed an exponential growth from Rs. 9.25 crore to 289 crore, something that no ordinary mortal can even think of in his dreams. And behold! The change in the political fortunes of these elected netaas is not confined to a single individual or any single party. It spreads across politicians of all hues and political parties.
Among those parliamentarians whose affluence has witnessed a big leap include BJP MP Maneka Gandhi. Her assets rose from 6.32 crores ibn 2004 to reach Rs. 17.6 crores in 2009. The assets of another BJP MP Uday Singh, who hails from Bihar, rose from 3.06 crores in 2004 to 43.86 crores in 2009.
The assets of our own ‘Mannina Maga’s Maga” H D Kumaraswamy saw a sharp rise from 3.06 crores in 2004 to 49.85 crores within a short period of 5 years. Milind Deora, young businessmen-parliamentarian, son of union minister Murli Deora, also is a crorepathi whose assets saw a big jump from 4.98 crores to 25.86 crores. Industrialist-Congress parliamentarian Navin Jindal also witnessed a meteoric rise in his fortunes from 12.12 crores to 131 crores in five years. Another Trinamol Congress MP Ambika Bannerjee also considerably enhanced her wealth from 23.18 lakhs in 2000 to 17.6 crores in 2009. This is just the tip of the iceberg, based on the declaration of assets required to be submitted by these parliamentarians. One can just imagine the black money staked in foreign banks, benami properties, assets and cash and gold by these unscrupulous and shameless beasts!
Union minister and veteran parliamentarian S. Jaipal Reddy, who released the report, painted a rather grim picture of what lies ahead saying the proportion of rich parliamentarians will keep rising in the days to come mainly because contesting elections has become a costly affair. The report also reveals that except in Kerala more money is spent during elections in the southern states.
One would not have grudged these businessmen becoming mere parliamentarians. But, many members of parliament belonging to various political parties are in the centre stage of the conflict of interest. This is because many parliamentarians are part of the various standing committees connected to their specific professions, despite being industrialists. It is well known in the parliament circles that finance and industry-related committees are the most sought after and many MP’s often solidly lobby to be a part of such committees. A cursory glance at the list of members of these all important committees including standing committees on finance and industry and the public accounts committee, reaffirm these facts.
For example at least 3 members on the Standing Committee on Health, run their own medical and education institutions. The 31 member Standing Committee on finance has everyone connected with industry, cutting across party lines and 8 of them are from Andhra Pradesh, all leading captains of industry. Can these members allow to formulate policies which are detrimental to their business interests?
Nearly 1/3 members of the Committee on Industry are those from the business and industry. Businessmen Navin Jindal, Tamilnadu educationist M Thambi Durai and Andhra-based contractor Kamba Siva Rao are members of the Public Accounts Committee. Public Undertaking Committee has three Andhra-based businessmen as members – T Subbirami Reddy, Nama Nageshwara Rao and Rajagopal Lagadapati. An MP who has a defense equipment business is allowed to be on a defense committee that formulates policies pertaining to defense.
These members of various standing committees have the power to summon officers, including those from the income tax and revenue departments and one can imagine the outcome. It is said these members wield enormous clout and even their personal assistants often browbeat bureaucrats and officials. Being members of the powerful standing committees, one cannot rule out abuse of public office for personal gains by these MPs. It is not without reason therefore, that the personal wealth of many of our MP’s rose by leaps and bounds.
While our MP’s are bent upon getting a handsome increase in their salaries or even ask to be paid salaries equivalent to that of salary paid to the highest bureaucrat - may be taking a cue from Japan and France, they fail to emulate politicians of other countries in other matters. In Switzerland, parliamentarians are not paid salary or allowance. They just get paid leave from their employers on the days of the session. In Mexico, MP’s are paid handsomely but are allowed to do business or practice any profession. In USA, members of Congress cannot earn more than 15% from outside of their Congressional salary. But when it comes to Indian MP’s there is no bar. They only add up to the existing bars or remove all the bars/obstacles that come in the way of their business interests.
Though becoming a MP is a sure fire way of making more money in this country, decent people shy away from joining politics. It is not easy also for an ordinary mortal to get into politics where dynastic succession is in vogue both at the centre and in many states. Even though some politicians are naïve at the time of joining politics, with the passage of time and on joining bunch of unscrupulous rogues, they become one like them. May be it is difficult to survive amidst a bunch of crooks who are driven by the sole objective of swindling this country in all possible ways.
Now you know why our businessmen sweat it out during election time doing padyatras and even coming to the doorstep of voters with folded hands? It is a kind of investment to them, as one months of hard work is sure to earn him or her in crores in the days to come. So the next time a businessman enters into politics and eulogizes about serving the public, you know what he/she means. So take full liberty in altering the existing maxim. Let your creative mind work overtime.