The word is that most of the members in Parliament have many, many crores each, and they have been reportedly made by milking public coffers dry.
Sad and scandalous as it may sound, India is for the rich. The prices of its food, clothes, houses and medicines – the bare essentials that one needs to live with a modicum of dignity, nay to survive – are so high, and artificially kept so, that they are beyond the reach of not just the poor, but even the middle classes.
The cost of a single apple is Rs15, that of a banana Rs5. A kilogram of rice sells at Rs40-plus. A new flat in Chennai with two bedrooms is beyond Rs one crore, which is many, many times the average salary of a graduate employee (RM1=Rs15).
Forget the man who earns Rs25 a day. He may well sleep on the pavement (to be run over by drunk drivers with the fanciest of vehicles) and struggle to cover his body, picking food from garbage bins that has been left to rot by the rich after an overly vulgar party of booze and biryani.
But, wait a while, the Planning Commission in a shocking affidavit to the Supreme Court said the other day that “an individual income of just Rs25 a day constitutes ADEQUATE private expenditure on food, education and health”.
The affidavit is based on the report of the Suresh Tendulkar Committee, which pegged the poverty line at Rs15 a day. Anybody earning above this was not impoverished! The Planning Commission added Rs10 perhaps as a charity to those making between Rs15 and Rs25.
India and its founding leaders once described the country as socialist, and laid a heavy emphasis on public welfare and the public sector. I would not know whether our “netas” still fancy themselves as socialists, but the fact is quite something else. And here it is.
The National Commission for Enterprises once found after a serious study that there were 836 million Indians who lived on Rs20 a day or less. Of the remaining 200 million people, a large number belonged to the middleclass segment and a relatively small number to the rich.
And the rich are stinking rich. And the Members of Parliament and the State Assemblies are rich, at least largely so, running the administrations.
Let us look at figures again. Naveen Jindal, Congress Member of Parliament and managing director of Jindal Steel and Power, earns an annual salary of Rs69.76 crores.
Kaveri Maran, joint managing director of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-owned Sun TV, takes home every year Rs37.08 crores.
Praful Patel, who held the aviation portfolio in the federal government till recently, has assets worth Rs 122 crores. But Air India, the nation’s national carrier, that Patel headed by virtue of being the minister, is struggling to pay its employees their monthly wages. The government-run company has had to borrow to meet its salary obligations!
Nation for the rich
The assets of the DMK’s Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting in the federal Cabinet shot up from Rs5.9 crores in 2009 to Rs70 crores this year. And, mind you, the real figure may, in all probability, be much higher.
The cricketing team in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet is merrily hitting a string of sixes. The Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and new Indian Premier League chief, Rajiv Shukla, upped his assets from Rs7 crores in 2009 to Rs30 crores in about 28 months.
Such runaway rise in wealth is mostly confined to members of the ruling Congress Party and other political organisations, like the Bharatiya Janata Party. Invariably, these men have all amassed such riches while they served the public — and public offices.
Little wonder, then, that, most of those who hold secret bank accounts in Switzerland and other tax havens are Indians!
Years ago, social scientist and one of India’s remarkable original thinkers, Ashis Nandy, told me that politics was the most lucrative profession. It is this, and much more. A party position helps one to earn like there is not another day. And a ministerial berth opens the floodgates of income.
So, does it surprise you when I say that India is a nation for the rich, and the political parties, the governments and those who run them are a pretentious bunch of men and women who really do not care for their people?
But, do they not feel a sense of regret or remorse when they see the starving masses?
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.