Reading is a top pastime for India’s MPs, followed by sports, music and social work, a deep-dive into their profiles on the Lok Sabha website shows
The lockdown imposed to contain the spread of covid not only brought economic activity to a standstill but also paused regular political activity. What might have our members of Parliament (MPs) been up to during the lockdown?
A Mint analysis of more than 1,200 hobbies and special interests named by 373 MPs in their Lok Sabha website profiles suggests that most may have spent their time on books.
Reading is by far the most popular of the 31 kinds of hobbies reported by MPs. Literature and biographies have the most takers. The MP with love for books about “revolution" is not from the Left. It is Shiv Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar. Haryana MP Rattan Lal Kataria simply said he likes “reading good books".
Most members who love reading named particular preferences, such as scriptures, journals and newspapers. Some prefer specific topics. Y.S. Avinash Reddy from Andhra Pradesh likes reading on irrigation projects and West Bengal Congress MP Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury on Sufism.
This analysis treats each pastime or interest named by an MP as a separate response. Reading found a mention 236 times. Sports and fitness-related activities (142) are the second-most popular pastime, followed by music (138), social work (119) and travel (114).
Forty responses show interest in films, from “good social and patriotic movies" to “well-researched documentaries".
Prime Minister Narendra Modi prefers to be amid nature when not working. Rahul Gandhi lists swimming, flying and aikido among his interests. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Sakshi Maharaj has a “special interest in computers". Some replies are personal (“favourite pastime: spending quality time with family"), and some very political (one MP described his pastime as “only politics"). The other 169 members did not respond to the questions.
Only four MPs said they liked cooking. Three of them were women. They include West Bengal’s Nusrat Jahan of the Trinamool Congress who loves cooking and baking. The only male MP who said he liked cooking is the BJP’s Shantanu Thakur.
Indian MPs love to meet people—family, friends, children, the elderly and even strangers—and some list that as their hobby. However, their purposes vary. Gujarat MP Prabhubhai Vasava likes to “interact with learned people" and Suresh Pujari of Odisha meets the elderly to “seek their advice and blessings".
There is a fair share of offbeat interests in the Lok Sabha. Would you expect interior designing enthusiasts to be in Parliament? There are five of them. Aeromodelling? Fishing? Knitting? Quizzing? Going on long drives? Each of these has a voice in the Lok Sabha.
Apart from “favourite pastimes" and “special interests", MPs were also asked about their preferred sports in their Lok Sabha profiles. We found 82 favourite sports. These include the entries under the “favourite sports" question as well as the sports that some members may have named under other profile items.
Cricket was the top choice, with 90 MPs naming it. Football (62), badminton (58), kabaddi (55), and yoga and fitness (47) were the other popular interests. Members who said they were office-bearers in associations of any particular sport were assumed to have an affinity for that sport even if they did not explicitly say so.
Travel is a common interest across party lines. Out of the 543 MPs, 290 answered the question about the countries they had travelled to. This does not imply the others have not travelled abroad. The US is the most visited country. At least 93 out of those who responded have been there. The UK, with 87, comes a close second, followed by Singapore (72), the UAE (64), Thailand (61) and China (58).
Figures for each country could be higher as 95 MPs simply said they were “widely travelled", while 15 mentioned regions such as “Europe" and “Arab countries". Among continents, Asian countries have been visited the most, with at least 601 visits among 290 MPs. South America is the least visited. Europe is also a major destination, with 382 mentions. Of those who named the countries they have been to, BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy is the most travelled (66 countries), followed by Manish Tewari of the Congress (29). This excludes many other MPs who simply wrote “widely travelled". Some MPs described their tours as official visits as part of delegations.
Just 22% of the 303 BJP MPs seem to be widely travelled (a response saying “widely travelled" or a list of 10 or more countries), but for the 52 MPs of the Congress, this ratio is 46%, a possible consequence of the number of years the party has been in power.
Clearly, there is more to the lives of politicians than political wrestling. The hobbies of MPs and lives of leisure reveal more diversity than their religions, parties and states do. Some like kho-kho and indigenous sports, while others play golf and billiards in their free time. Some profess a love for Vedanta discourse and gau seva (serving cows). Others claim to be passionate about world cinema and jazz. The range of passions appears to be as diverse as Indian democracy itself.