The Times of India
Jug Suraiya

Everyone's long known that politics in India is a potentially lucrative business. Just how lucrative it is has been revealed by studies conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the National Election Watch (NEW). According to these organisations, the assets of recontesting MPs in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections had increased by 289% over the five-year period of their previous tenure. Compared with this, gold registered a rise of 138%, or less than half the increase that accrued to our netas. Other investment options - such as the stock market, mutual funds and bank fixed deposits - saw far more modest gains: 64% for the sensex; 67% for mutual funds on an average; and 46% for bank fixed deposits.

While MLAs didn't fare quite as profitably as their counterparts in Parliament, they didn't put up a bad showing either. According to an ADR survey based on legislative assemblies from four states and one Union territory - Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Puducherry - over a five-year period the MLAs had notched up gains ranging from 71% (for West Bengal) to 195% (for Tamil Nadu). In Tamil Nadu, no fewer than 97 MLAs tripled their asset values. The number of crorepatis in the four states and Puducherry has reportedly risen from 97 in 2006 to 268 in 2011. Such figures corroborate what the recent spate of scams and swindles has brought to the forefront of public attention: that Indian politics is arguably the most remunerative of all career options for the enterprising individual.

Our politicians are the best wealth generators in the business, much more so than any professional mercantile banker, portfolio manager, market analyst or hoarder of gold bullion. The only glitch is that the wealth they generate - and have been generating all these years - is only for themselves and not for the rest of their fellow citizens. Which helps to explain the economic paradox that has long puzzled many: why is it that India is a potentially rich country inhabited by an overwhelming majority of extremely poor people? Just how poor the poorest of India's poor are can be gauged by the fact that the Planning Commission has proposed an expenditure cap of Rs 20 a day to identify the below the poverty line (BPL) population which is eligible for benefits under the government's projected social security scheme.

How do you get at least a little bit of the wealth-generating capacity so ably demonstrated by our political representatives to trickle down to those whom they supposedly represent? One suggestion has been to confiscate to the public exchequer the assets of any public office holder caught in a scam. But this not only limits the field to proven scamsters and their assets but is also tantamount to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Or rather, the geese that lay the golden eggs.

The geese are our elected politicians. And instead of metaphorically killing them, we should turn them into negotiable instruments open for investment by the general public, like government bonds or mutual funds or shares floated by individual companies. Investors should be enabled to invest in a particular MP or MLA, or in a diversified portfolio consisting of various MPs and MLAs, much as people do now in mutual funds. The mutual fund so created - call it the Midas Touch Funda, or whatever you will - would invite investments from individuals and from social and economic groups representing all strata of society, from the lowest to the highest. As in the case of other mutual funds, the MPs'/MLAs' fund would declare regular dividends, based on the performance of the participating politicians, which would be distributed on an equitable basis among all the shareholders.

Next time round, don't just vote for your local MLA and MP. Put your money where your ballot is and buy shares in them. It's likely to be the best investment you ever made.

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