Politics, which could still be argued is a form of social service, has gradually changed its image to now become a more profitable career option that pays more than other professions. More significantly, growth in a politician’s wealth is immune to economic slowdown or financial depression.
This assessment emerges from the declaration of assets in the affidavits filed by candidates of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And there is no discrimination based on political parties they belong to — wealth of all politicians sees a rise — even though members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saw their wealth increase at the highest rate in the last five years in comparison to other parties.
The data being presented here is for Jharkhand, but other states show similar trends. For example, wealth owned by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren (the candidate from Dumka) has doubled in the last five years; but the value of properties belonging to BJP Jharkhand president Laxman Gilua (Singhbhum candidate) has registered a five-fold increase. If JMM’s Champai Soren (contesting from Jamshedpur) has managed to double his wealth between 2014 and 2019, BJP leader and former chief minister Arjun Munda (Khunti) achieved a remarkable feat — his riches quadrupled in the same period.
Shibu Soren’s property was worth Rs 4.17 crore in 2014 and it is now valued at Rs 7.26 crore. Laxman Gilua’s wealth has increased to Rs 62.42 lakh in 2019 as compared to Rs 12.49 lakh in 2014. Other parliamentarians recorded similar rise in the value of their properties — Chandraprakash Chaudhary (from Rs 20.14 lakh in 2014 to Rs 54.36 lakh in 2019), Champai Soren (from Rs 1.62 crore in 2014 to Rs 2.28 crore in 2019) and P.N. Singh (from Rs 2.40 crore in 2014 to Rs 2.75 crore in 2019).
However, one of the wealthiest candidates in Jharkhand is none other than BJP’s Jayant Sinha, the minister of state for civil aviation who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Hazaribagh parliamentary constituency. His wealth grew from Rs 51.23 crore in 2014 to Rs 77.07 crore in 2019. Arjun Munda, who was born in a middle-class family, now owns a fortune worth Rs 8.39 crore. His total property in 2014 was worth Rs 2.98 crore.
In times when politics was still seen as an extension of social service, salaries of elected representatives were quite meagre. They had no permanent residences in the state and central capitals and temporary accommodations were provided when Parliament would be in session. Most of the MPs used to travel in buses provided by the secretariat to commute between Parliament and their respective homes.
However, since Parliament and state assemblies have a right of self-determination regarding salaries of their members, elected politicians have exercised this right to ensure manifold increase in salaries and allowances.
At present, a Member of Parliament is paid a monthly salary of Rs 100,000. In addition, the member gets other allowances and privileges, which include: daily allowance of Rs 2,000 if they attend Parliament sessions, Rs 25,000 monthly pension (to retired members), travel allowances, free passes for journeys by rail and 75% concession (including for spouses) during travel by air. The members, interestingly, also get a quarterly laundry allowance of Rs 50,000, which works out to be approximately Rs 600 per day. Significantly, all these salaries and allowances are free of income tax.
Every MP also has a Local Area Development (MPLAD) fund, in which Rs 5 crore a year (Rs 25 crore for one term) is deposited. This amount is allocated for recommending development-related work in their respective constituencies. There has been a constant debate about usefulness of this MPLAD scheme as the funds have often remained unspent. Even if we discount the possibility of corruption or misconduct, the MPLAD fund appears to have little relevance in the current scheme of things. All in all, even when a parliamentarian works with complete honesty, being an MP or an MLA is not a bad option for a full-time career. Elected representatives often compare their salaries with bureaucrats to demand higher salaries.
Incidentally, in most cases, salaries and allowances are only one of the many sources of income for a politician. Most of the MPs are involved in other professions, run an enterprise or some other profitable work. Several of them get huge rental earnings and profits from other investments. It is to be noted that here we are talking about only legal incomes because official data reveal only legal wealth.
In Jharkhand, several young people have already accepted politics as a profitable career and are getting involved in political work as full-time professionals. They start with local elections, conduct pad yatras, come up with attractive slogans and ultimately take the plunge into state or national elections. It will be better for all of us if educated and socially aware youth get attracted to politics and see it as a genuine career option. It will break the old notion that politics is bad as a career and that it is an exclusive domain for people with dominating personalities.
The author has been associated with the JP movement, and has penned a novel ‘Samar Shesh’. Views are personal.