After all the fire and brimstone in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday against Arvind Kejriwal’s uncharitable comments on “criminal” MPs, parliament adopted a mild censure motion. The NDA’s Sharad Yadav (JD-U) led the assault on Team Anna along with the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj while Congress MPs sat back in delight at this unique exhibition of parliamentary solidarity.
Why only a gentle reprimand, not the stern privilege motion we were promised? Because MPs know better than anyone else how deeply tainted nearly a third of its flock in the Lok Sabha really is. If too much public attention is drawn to the facts underpinning Team Anna’s comments, it may open up a Pandora’s box whose lid MPs across party lines want to keep tightly shut.
What are the facts?
Fact 1: 162 out of 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha do have criminal cases pending against them. No one – not even a single Lok Sabha MP – has ever disputed this fact.
Fact 2: 75 of these 162 MPs have serious criminal charges against them – murder, rape, extortion, kidnapping. No one – again not a single Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha MP – has disputed this fact.
Fact 3: Some of these charges may be politically motivated. But the serious cases pending against 75 Lok Sabha MPs are not politically motivated. They are all based on court-framed chargesheets. This implies application of judicial mind. A magistrate has found enough prima facie evidence against these MPs to frame charges and allow the case to go to trial.
Fact 4: Of the 75 Lok Sabha MPs facing serious criminal charges, nearly half belong to the country’s two principal political parties – the Congress (with 13 criminally-charged MPs) and the BJP (with 19 criminally-charged MPs).
Fact 5: Over 1,175 MLAs, cutting across party lines in state assemblies around the country, also have criminal charges against them. In the recent Uttar Pradesh assembly election, the four major parties (the Congress, BJP, BSP and SP) gave tickets to known criminals to contest from dozens of constituencies. In several UP assembly constituencies, the voter was confronted with a choice between four criminal candidates – one each from the Congress, BJP, BSP and SP. A voter in these constituencies was left with no choice but to vote for a candidate with a criminal record (details here).
All the data cited above is in the public domain. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), which works under ADR’s aegis, have been compiling this data for years. Team Anna’s Arvind Kejriwal has simply restated ADR’s painstakingly researched facts which ADR has over the years consistently and openly used to campaign for a cleaner parliament.
It was ADR, founded in 1999 by a group of outstanding IIT/IIM alumni, whose PIL in the Supreme Court led to the apex court in 2003 ordering all political parties to disclose the financial assets and educational qualifications of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha candidates and reveal any criminal cases pending against them.
Parliament should laud the work of organisations like ADR and Team Anna who want to clean up parliament. Instead what do we have? A censure motion against Arvind Kejriwal and other Team Anna members for simply restating ADR’s data, which is available to all just a click away here, rather than urging party leaders to clean up parliament, the fulcrum of our democracy.
We may not all agree with Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill. There are alternative models of governance we should consider which span electoral, judicial, police and administrative reforms (about which I wrote on the edit page of The Times of India on February 18, 2012, here). But between Anna’s anti-corruption crusade and the government’s corruption-tainted record, there is little doubt on whose side every right thinking Indian should be.
Our MPs are over-sensitive to criticism. They shouldn’t be. They are servants of the people and yet are a pampered lot. Most live in bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi. The average price of a bungalow in Lodhi Estate or on Tughlaq Road (where incidentally Rahul Gandhi lives) is between Rs. 250 crore and Rs. 500 crore. The 890 MPs collectively in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha therefore clearly cost you and me – who elect them, pay them and bear the cost of their accommodation through our taxes – a large amount.
How large? Consider only the value of the real estate they occupy and discount for the moment the free cars, travel, constituency allowance and other “perks” of office. These 890 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs cost us, at a lowish average of Rs. 150 crore per bungalow, well over Rs. 1.3 lakh crore in terms of real estate “foregone”. That’s nearly equal to the annual personal income tax paid by 3.5 crore individual taxpayers in India or, putting it another way, just a bit lower than our entire annual defence budget for 2012-13.
Instead of censuring Team Anna for telling the truth, MPs should censure their own political party leaders for giving criminals tickets to contest elections.