The image of our parliamentarians has sunk so low that there is perhaps no grave crime that parliamentarians won’t end up being associated with. Or, alternatively, has the Parliament become a safe sanctuary for corrupt and antisocial elements?
This question begs an answer amid the latest accusations of MPs using, or rather abusing, their priveleges to indulge in human trafficking for money.
Last year, eleven MPs were caught on camera demanding money for asking questions in Parliament. Not long after, 7 MPs were also caught on camera demanding bribes for supporting projects under the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme, ironically a scheme intended to let MPs have a say in government spending in their constituencies. The latest: the alleged involvement of three MPs in human trafficking, using fake documents.
Several members of Parliament have been known to indulge in corrupt practices for a very long time. Wherever there is scope for corruption, there have always been some ingenious parliamentarians who lapped it all up—be it gas and phone connections under discretionary quota, or the emergency train reservations allotted to members on priority. While some members rent out their official accommodation to supplement their incomes, several are believed to receive bribes for allotment of petrol and gas dealerships of public sector units.
With many of these cash sources having dried up in the new reforms era, some of these parliamentarians have had to look for new avenues to keep their cash flow intact.
So, what makes some of our elected representatives so brazenly corrupt to the point that they transgress the boundaries of decency and resort to even criminal acts? Why is being honest no longer a virtue in today’s politics?
Firstly, there is an all-pervasive culture of corruption in the entire political spectrum that often means to be able to survive and impress political bosses, ordinary members need to know how to get rich—assuming they aren’t already—and, more importantly, periodically share their riches.
The problem perhaps starts with the way political parties are run. There is little reason for parties to nominate people with doubtful integrity. Candidates don’t matter much in Lok Sabha polls, as ‘candidate voting’ (people voting for a candidate and not the party he or she represents) is not very pronounced, as it is in state assembly polls. As for nominations to the Rajya Sabha, many parties award (rather auction) some of the berths in return for money and regular contributions.
Secondly, members of Parliament are under severe peer pressure as many of their political counterparts—either ministers or political brokers—have become filthily rich. Some leaders today were involved in menial jobs, not too long ago.
The staggering wealth they are now associated with—running into hundreds and even thousands of crores—is truly astonishing. Ordinary MPs—like those who seem to be regularly caught in indiscretions—are often not prominent leaders and seem to take inspiration from such bigwigs.
With many governments and incumbent members of Parliament (or state legislatures) being voted out, politicians now believe that they are not necessarily going to win—or get a second chance—irrespective of their performance. As a result, grab whatever you can appears to have become the operating principle of many parliamentarians.
For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which prides itself on probity in public life, it is a matter of shame that most representatives caught indulging in various acts of omission are from that party. Are the party’s representatives relatively looser in their morals or are they simply stupid to get caught while others don’t? Either way, it reflects poorly on the party. The BJP’s inability and even unwillingness to take effective steps to curb such tendencies is alarming, given its original claim to honesty, though inaction on such matters is common to all parties.
In the human trafficking case, by its delay in taking action, Parliament has sent out a signal that both parties and the august body lack the commitment and conviction to enforce discipline and law-abiding behaviour. The BJP’s demand that cases of jailed members and ministers in the cabinet should also be referred to an ethics or disciplinary committee is worth accepting. There is a need to send a strong message out, to restore the “image and dignity” of Parliament. Of course MPs should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But if that means suspending a few dozen MPs—before expelling them for proven crimes, it would well be worth it.
—G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research and consulting firm. Your comments on this Monday column, which will alternate between the intersection of business and politics, and pure politics, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org