The country knows, for instance, that BSP chief Mayawati is accused of having assets that are disproportionate to her known sources of income because the CBI filed a case against her alleging this. What is less known, however, is that a very large number of elected politicians have also seen a dramatic surge in their assets after coming to power—at both the state and the central level. Whether such a surge is legitimate or not, however, has not been scrutinised in any serious manner. A couple of years ago, an NGO, Lok Prahari submitted a list of politicians who had seen a huge increase in the assets declared by them at the time of fighting an election. The Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, for instance, saw an 841% increase in his income over five years, it was 698% in the case of the BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra. The Association of Democratic Reforms, which was also associated with the case, claimed the assets of four current Lok Sabha MPs had risen by 1,200% and by over 500% in the case of 22 MPs.
None of this is to say the increase is always illegitimate. Politicians who are businessmen, for instance, continue to either run them or get replaced by a family member; lawyers, similarly, continue to earn from their practices. But there have been other cases where the sources of income are not that clear and the explanation, in some cases, that followers made small donations is not always believable. After Lok Prahari approached the Supreme Court, the judges asked the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to submit a report on whether the asset increases were legitimate. What is shocking, as the SC found, the CBDT reply was wishy-washy—that is why it was forced to say “this affidavit is not worth the piece of paper it is written on”. What makes this especially odd, as the court also observed, is that the government is trying to clean up electoral funding to ensure political parties get their donations in white—if it wants to clean up political party funding, surely ensuring politicians incomes are above board must be part of the same exercise? With SC asking tough questions, the CBDT will now have to make a more serious investigation. While SC has told the government that it has the option of submitting its findings in a sealed envelope, this exercise will ensure there is no favouritism by the ruling party—the government will then have to file a case against all MPs/MLAs whose assets are disproportionate to their known sources of income. Ideally, the list should be made public.