Politics is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage. This adage rang true last week when news exploded that the State Exchequer of seven States has been bearing the income tax burden of the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers beside their salaries and perks for over 40 years. Sic. Why? Because they are “poor”. Really, you could have fooled me!
An abhorrent practice started by “Rajasahib” VP Singh in UP in 1981 on the fallacious ground that his Ministers were too “poor and had meagre incomes” to pay taxes. Till date 19 Chief Ministers and about 1,000 Ministers have saved on their taxes. Last year’s the Ministerial tax bill totaled Rs 86 lakhs.
Predictably, six other States Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Himachal and Chhattisgarh followed. Never mind that Madhya Pradesh Congress Chief Minister Kamal Nath has assets worth Rs206 crores, his BJP predecessor Shivraj Chauhan Rs 6 crores, Congress Punjab’Amrinder Singh Rs 48 crores and Chhattisgarh’s Baghel Rs 23 crores, BJP’s Himachal Jairam Thakur Rs 3 crores and UP’s Adityanath Rs 1 crore. His predecessors BSP’s Mayawati Rs 111 crores and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav Rs 37 crores.
Worse, some States have abrogated palatial plush bungalows and pensions for former Chief Ministers for life. Despite 25 Chief Ministers have declared wealth of over Rs 1 crore. Andhra’s Jagan Reddy is worth Rs 375 crores while two others have declared assets of over Rs 100 crores, six have wealth between Rs 10 crores and Rs 50 crores, 17 between Rs 1 crore to Rs 10 crores and six below Rs 6 crores according to the Association for Democratic Reforms.
At the Centre 51 Ministers in Prime Minister Modi’s ministerial council are crorepatis with the average assets of all accounting for Rs 21.7 crores. Four ministers have declared more than Rs 40 crores worth of assets. SAD’s Harsimrat Badal Rs 217 crores, BJP’s Piyush Goyal Rs 95 crores, Rao Inderjit Singh Rs 42 crores and Amit Shah Rs 40 crores.
Undeniably, this has left a bitter taste in the aam aadmi’s mouth. Already grappling with sky-rocketing prices, shrinking budgets and rising unemployment, it raises several questions: Why can’t our janata ke sevaks pay their own taxes? Given that a majority of them are crorepatis.
Importantly, do our Ministers know the reality of Asli Bharat which they ad nauseum vow to protect? Do they care a damn? Whatever happened to democracy by the people, of the people, for the people?
Besides, their income declarations are an eyewash. Gone are the days when the country had selfless leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri or Gulzari Lal Nanda who died penniless. It’s another matter how our present netagan acquired their wealth and black money stashed abroad in safe havens. Ex Union Home and Finance Minister Chidambaram a case in point.
School-teacher-turned-Dalit messiah Mayawati brazenly justfies her vast wealth including prime real estate holdings by asserting that if a Thakur and Brahmin could be crorepatis why not a Dalit.. Why not indeed! Mum’s the word when it comes to her dazzling diamonds she flaunts ‘affectionately’ given by her garib bhakhts.
Ditto the case of TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu worth Rs 177 crores, Muslim saviour Mulayam Singh and Lalu Yadav of Chara ghotala both has moveable assets worth crores. Bluntly, it pays rich dividends to be a politician.
While some would dismiss the Orwellian syndrome I-am-more-equal-than-you nee VIP culture as a fallout of the colonial mindset and feudal intent, all concur this in-your-face boorishness of our VIPs is omnipresent. Juxtaposed with the Oliver disorder of always-asking-for-more alongside the high octane decibels of Saada Haq whereby, just about everybody, who’s anybody abuses power and public resources topped by being protected, all at our expense. No matter each costs the tax payer over Rs 3.12 lakhs per month.
The list of our neo-Maharajas replete with the power trappings that go with it is impressive: Lavish seven-star bungalows with manicured lawns, growing wheat and vegetables, furniture, air-conditioners, fridges, internet and maintenance to boot, down to a Rs 10 tube-light all for free. So what if it cost the tax payer an extra Rs 60 crores annually.
It doesn’t end there. They get free all expenses paid junkets across the globe, treated to freebie refreshments in first-class or priority lounges and assigned an airline representative to handle all their needs and escort them to the plane, official transport, travelling allowances for himself and his family along-with daily allowance, medical treatment, advances purchase of motorcars. Free water upto 4000 kl per annum and electricity upto 50,000 units.
Also, Rs 30,000 of furniture, 1,50,000 local calls for 3 telephones and 50,000 free local calls during a year. Down to washing of sofa covers and curtains every three months! And a guard. Do our jan sevaks need a sepoy to protect them from their janata they profess to serve? All paid by the aam aadmi who continue to grovel outside soliciting a favour from their undata.
There can be no argument that leaders deserve special treatment. However, a fundamental precept of democratic governance is egalitarianism of all citizens whereby if the hoi polloi pays taxes so do the mantris. They cannot enjoy freebies as their birthright which results in a wide chasm between the aam aadmi and our khaas aadmis. Leading to increasing frustration, disconnect and contempt for the rulers which results in defiance by people at large.
The tragedy is that even as the country saunters into the 21st century for our ruling neo maharajas the vestige of 19th century India still lingers on. Of which ‘follow-no-rules’ is a fundamental part instead rule by law. No IDs’, no frisking and long queues, cars jumping red lights etc to exhibit their ‘power’ might. God forbid, if anyone questions their misdemeanor be prepared for open fury.
Clearly, the don’t-you-know-who-I-am’ VIP term is outdated in a democracy. That over one billion people should be beholden and subservient to their undaata is anathema and does not hold.
High time our netas wake up from their deep slumber of self conceit and deception and minutely read the writing is on the wall that India is not their personal jagir where the aam aadmi not only pays them salary but also their taxes. They need to stop being parasites, dismantle their privileged fortresses, drastic pruning and crying a halt to all the financial pampering and perks, make their incomes and salaries taxable and stop pensions to former legislators which they don’t deserve. They need to set an example and be accountable if we have to survive as a nation.
This would force them to experience the pathetic state of affairs in Mera Bharat Mahan and understand how democracy is undermined when VVIPs accept frrebies, break all rules, usurp flights and train seats and how unsafe public transport is for women.
As a new generation comes of age our rulers need to remember a home-truth: Democracy is based on the fundamental premise of equality for all. Gone are the days when leaders were revered, today they symbolise everything that plagues India, warts and all. Time now for our leaders to introspect and cleanse the system before the rot overpowers them. Punjab and UP have shown the way. Our netagan need to undergo a catharsis. Poor India cannot afford its rich Ministers and their taxes!