Friday, December 30, 2011

I was an MP not so long ago & I Loved those 6 Years!

nAn Interesting blog by Pritish Nandy........

Everyone called me sir, not because of my age but because I was an MP.

And even though I never travelled anywhere by train during those years, I reveled in the fact that I could have gone anywhere I liked, on any train, first class with a bogey reserved for my family.

Whenever I flew, there were always people around to pick up my baggage, not because I was travelling business class but because I was an MP.

And yes, whenever I wrote to any Government officer to help someone in need, it was done. No, not because I was a journalist but because I was an MP.

The job had many perquisites, apart from the tax free wage of Rs 4,000. Then the wages were suddenly quadrupled to Rs 16,000, with office expenses of Rs 20,000 and a constituency allowance of Rs 20,000 thrown in. I could borrow interest free money to buy a car, get my petrol paid, make as many free phone calls as I wanted. My home came free. So did the furniture, the electricity, the water, the gardeners, the plants. There were also allowances to wash curtains and sofa covers and a rather funny allowance of Rs 1,000 per day to attend Parliament, which I always thought was an MP's job in the first place! And, oh yes, we also got Rs 1 Crore a year (now enhanced to Rs 2 Crore) to spend on our constituencies. More enterprising MPs enjoyed many more perquisites best left to your imagination. While I was embarrassed at being vastly overpaid for the job I was doing, they kept demanding more.

Today, out of 543 MPs in Lok Sabha, 315 are Crorepatis. That's 60%. 43 out of the 54 newly elected Rajya Sabha MPs are also millionaires. Their average declared assets are over Rs 25 Crore each. That's an awfully wealthy lot of people in whose hands we have vested our destiny.

The assets of your average Lok Sabha MP have grown from Rs 1.86 Crore in the last house to Rs 5.33 Crore. That's 200% more. And, as we all know, not all our MPs are known to always declare all their assets. Much of these exist in a colour not recognised by our tax laws. That's fine, I guess. Being an MP gives you certain immunities, not all of them meant to be discussed in a public forum.

If you think it pays to be in the ruling party, you are dead right: 7 out of 10 MPs from the Congress are Crorepatis. The BJP have 5. MPs from some of the smaller parties like SAD, TRS and JD (Secular) are all Crorepatis while the NCP, DMK, RLD, BSP, Shiv Sena, National Conference and Samajwadi Party have more Crorepatis than the 60% average.

Only the CPM and the Trinamool, the two Bengal based parties, don't field Crorepatis. The CPM has 1 correlate out of 16 MPs; the Trinamool has 7 out of 19. This shows in the state-wise average. West Bengal and Kerala have few correlate MPs while Punjab and Delhi have only correlate MPs and Haryana narrowly misses out on this distinction with one MP, poor guy, who's not a correlate.

Do MPs become richer in office? Sure they do. Statistics show that the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested last year grew 300%. And, yes, we're only talking about declared assets here.

But then, we can't complain. We are the ones who vote for the rich. Over 33% of those with assets above Rs 5 Crore won the last elections while 99.5% of those with assets below Rs 10 lakhs lost! Apart from West Bengal and the North East, every other state voted for correlate MPs. Haryana grabbed first place with its average MP worth Rs 18 Crore. Andhra is not far behind at 16.

But no, this is not enough for our MPs. It's not enough that they are rich, infinitely richer than those who they represent, and every term makes them even richer. It's not enough that they openly perpetuate their families in power. It's not enough that all their vulgar indulgences and more are paid for by you and me through backbreaking taxes. It's not enough that the number of days they actually work in Parliament are barely 60 in a year. The rest of the time goes in squabbling and ranting. Now they want a 500%pay hike and perquisites quadrupled. The Government, to buy peace, has already agreed to a 300% raise but that's not good enough for our MPs. They want more, much more.

And no, I'm not even mentioning that 150 MPs elected last year have criminal cases against them, with 73 serious, very serious cases ranging from rape to murder.

Do you really think these people deserve to earn 104 times what the average Indian does.

Vijaender Takhan vijaender.takhan@gmai…

30 D

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lokpal to Electoral Politics-Let's Treat The Disease not The Symptoms!

As expected, Political class has hoodwinked Civil Society once again. They brought a Lokpal which they wanted - A Toothless Tiger.

I have been of the view all along & have told this in person to Team Anna too - Lokpal is no RTI. Political Class will never let it happen. Though some opposition parties paid a lip services to Team Anna, just to get some political mileage but in the end they don't want or rather can't risk an effective Lokpal.

Corruption is embedded in our Political & Electoral system where Civil Society, an euphemism for Middle Class, has stopped mattering. We brought it upon ourselves, but now is the time to change it. Here is why & how of it?

The defeat of NDA in 2004 had convinced political class that "India Shining", a middle class focused electoral theme, does not translate into votes. Consequently UPA ignored the governance & scuttled NDA era economic reforms, instead focusing on appeasing the poor & marginalized through welfare schemes and subsidies. In absence of reforms, discretion and cronyism ruled, leading to massive corruption in a semi-liberalized Indian economy. Common man suffered & was rendered helpless.

Came along Anna. Millions across the nation supported Anna's movement against corruption. Success of Anna campaign conclusively busted the MYTH, purported by political class, that "Middle class is self-centered and is indifferent to the social & national concerns". Anna movement gave people a credible platform with a hope of change and they responded.

This uprising was against the political class in general, though some opposition parties would like to wishfully believe that this angst was against UPA or Congress. Hence, it was comical to see political leaders gleefully sharing the dais with Anna at Jantar Mantar, hoping to convert the photo opportunity into vote bank arithmetic. Political parties are playing an opportunistic game, trying to ride Anna bandwagon, with no intent of bringing a systemic reforms in the current political system. The fear is that, by aligning or seeming to align with some political parties, Anna movement will loose it's credibility & effectiveness.People are looking for a fundamental change in the way our political parties & electoral systems are run. One law or bill will not bring out the desired systemic change.

Current political system is designed to be corrupt and inefficient. Political parties raise legitimate & illegitimate electoral funding from corporates & businessmen who subsequently dictate the policies of the government. With funding in place, political parties do not involve electorate in deciding the candidates unlike the primary system of USA. If the candidates are not up to the mark, which is usually the case, educated middle class chooses to abstain as they aren't involved or invested in the selection of the candidate.

Coming to candidates, many are forced or choose to buy their party ticket & later they buy their way to the electoral victory. They recover their electoral expenses & much more, through corrupt means. Even a good candidate, having been elected, has no voice of his own to represent his electorate in an assembly or the parliament. He is herded by party syndicates & whipped to vote as per opportunistic political arithmetic dictated by the party. Any dissent leads to disqualification.

This party focused & business funded political system has inherent flaws and is poised for a change. The political awakening through Anna movement presents once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take power from political parties & hand it over to the electorate. In this era of coalition politics, where TMC or DMK with less than 20 MPs control the UPA government, we need no more than 40 MPs, elected on a common platform without the help of the current party system, to change the political discourse of this nation.

Can this happen? Yes, It is imminently possible. We should create a common platform, identify and field 100 credible candidates who have spent years in public life but are loath to enter the current political system. Indian middle class has learned to communicate & organize itself through new age communication tools as is evident throughout Anna campaign. Volunteers & paid office bearers should manage the electoral campaign of these candidates. Campaign funding should be crowd sourced to avoid dependence on few money bags.

If 30 out of 100 win, political parties will be forced to rethink their political & electoral strategy. We have to prove that electoral victory can be achieved by non-corrupt means. No one likes to be corrupt, specially in the age of Lokayukta & Lokpal, but today's electoral system hinges on corruption. By showing the way through a non-corrupt electoral system, parties will be forced to adapt. After all they are the masters of guessing the popular mood!