Our representatives crore competence

Written by Bibek Debroy | Updated: May 27 2009, 05:43am hrs
Fortune
Courtesy the Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) and Election Commission affidavits, we know how rich the Lok Sabha 2009 is. (Strictly speaking, affidavits are only available for 535 MPs). There are 300 MPs worth more than Rs 1 crore. In 2004, there were only 154. The richest is Nama Nageswara Rao (TDP, Andhra, Khammam), with total assets of Rs 173 crore.

Which state has produced the most crorepati MPs It isnt Andhra. Actually, 52 crorepati MPs are from Uttar Pradesh, 37 from Maharashtra, 31 from Andhra, 25 from Karnataka, 17 from Bihar, 17 from Tamil Nadu, 15 from Madhya Pradesh and 14 from Rajasthan.

There isnt much correlation between poverty of a state and the number of crorepati MPs it sends to Parliament. There is better correlation between poverty of a state and average assets of MPs. For instance, average assets are worth Rs 18 crore in Haryana, Rs 16 crore in Andhra, Rs 11 crore in Punjab, Rs 10 crore in Maharashtra, Rs 7 crore in Karnataka, Rs 5 crore in Uttar Pradesh, Rs 3.5 crore in Tamil Nadu, around Rs 3 crore in Rajasthan, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, Rs 2 crore in Gujarat, Rs 1.65 crore in Bihar and less than Rs 1 crore in West Bengal. Taken together, these 535 MPs are worth Rs 2,846 crores.

There are 138 crorepatis from Congress, 58 from BJP, 14 from SP, 13 from BSP, 11 from DMK and 6 from Trinamool. How come 25 crorepati MPs dont have PAN cards

Just so we dont form a warped impression, the poorest MP is Charandas Mahant (Congress, Chhattisgarh, Korba), with assets of Rs 12,000. At Rs 30.39 crore, average assets are the highest for NCP, followed by TDP with Rs 30 crore, JD(S) with Rs 18.6 crore, Akali Dal with Rs 16.7 crore, TRS with Rs 14.7 crore, Congress with Rs 6.87 crore, DMK with Rs 5.01 crore, BSP with Rs 4.77 crore, BJP with Rs 3.07 crore, and SP with Rs 2.50 crore.

Compared to 2004, average assets of NCP have increased by almost 2000%. On a 2004 base, average assets have increased by more than 100% for Congress, BJP, BSP, DMK, BJD, TDP, Akali Dal, RJD and JD(S), often far exceeding stock market returns. Barring JD(U), Trinamool, CPI, RSP and AGP, average assets have increased for every political party.

Had it been the same MP in 2004 and 2009, one would have concluded MPs are far better portfolio managers than many investment analysts. However, there are MPs who have recontested. For 300 recontesting MPs, average asset increase has been 287%, with 694% increase in Karnataka and 411% in Assam.

Consider average asset increase for some re-contesting MPs9137% for Mohd. Tahir (UP), 6526% for CH Vijaya Shankar (Karnataka), 3152% for Susmita Bauri (West Bengal), 2160% for Suresh Ganpatrao Waghmare (Maharashtra) and 1841% for

Akshay Pratap Singh Gopalji (UP). There is no need to presume reporting wasnt taken seriously in 2004, or that is more accurate in 2009. If that is precluded, with these returns on individual investments, you begin to wonder if expertise is being properly exploited.

The link between wealth and success in elections is tenuous and there are regional variations. With sums involved in electoral expenditure (not to forget occasional purchase of tickets from parties) and limited party funding, a threshold level of wealth is necessary to contest, even though present caps are unrealistic and circumvented. But beyond that threshold, it isnt obvious that wealth determines success. In fact, its not even obvious it is a precondition for success. The richest contender was VM Singh, Congress candidate from Pilibhit. He is worth Rs 632 crores, but he lost. Why should one grudge MPs their wealth If India is shining, so should our MPs, even if they act in the name of the poor.

That apart, a charitable view is now floating around. Electoral expenditure is huge. Salaries, office expenses, constituency allowances, daily allowances and pensions are meagre. MPs with independent means are therefore desirable, so that they cross-subsidise democracy and are not prone to corruption. Thus viewed, rich MPs are good for the democratic cause and clean government. This seems nave and simplistic, even if there is a grain of truth.

While motives for standing in elections are not completely pecuniary, one shouldnt exclude monetary intentions. If that amount of money has been invested in elections, one expects a reasonable rate of return. Corruption by MPs (even those who dont become ministers) is therefore an economic, rather than moral issue. It isnt quite the case that opportunities for rent-seeking are non-existent among MPs who arent ministers.

It wasnt that long ago that some MPs took bribes to raise questions in Parliament. There is also scope for lobbying and influencing policy, and some discretionary use of MPLADS. One should be more guarded in welcoming this increase in affluence. Electoral reform (including funding), removal of caps on electoral expenditure, increase in transparency, reduction in discretion still remain critical for better governance.

The author is a noted economist