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Sangram K Parhi
New Delhi

Last week, while filing his nomination for the Legislative Council bypoll, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan declared to the Election Commission he was worth Rs 6.81 crore, which included Rs 42.27 lakh belonging to his wife. It seems the 65-year-old Congress leader—whose government is still to emerge from the past shadows of corruption and land scams—has only an Esteem car parked in his garage, and is one of only two chief ministers to own a motorcycle. Ever since the Supreme Court ordered in 2003 that all elected leaders should file their assets to the Election Commission (EC) at the time of filing their nominations, the wealth of our leaders is in the public domain. Still, does the man on the street believe it when our chief ministers state they do not own cars and their savings are as measly as that of a middle class Indian’s? According to the affidavits available, the combined net worth of the 30 Indian chief ministers is merely Rs 236 crore.

For the average Indian with an average paycheck, the face of power is a fleeting blur glimpsed behind the dark car windows of VIP motorcades charging out from heavily fortified mansions— democracy in motion. The impression is that of a king of old showing off his wealth and power; but when it comes to declaring assets, many of our chief ministers are as poor as church mice. Oddly, even though their offspring and other relatives live in palatial mansions, run multi-crore businesses, head various trusts and committees and drive expensive imported cars, most chief ministers do not even own a Maruti 800. Many have been accused of graft, but few have bank balances that exceed Rs 5 crore.

As the cloud lifts from the great pyramid, there’s a catch—candidates are not required to specify the source of their declared wealth, or explain its growth. “The general feeling in public is that the asset declarations are understated,” says Anil Bairwal, National Coordinator, Association for Democratic Reforms. He is all for a detailed scrutiny of these declarations, and says an “independent, bold” investigating agency is needed.

Let’s start at the top of the declared pyramid, whose current occupant has an asset worth of Rs 87 crore. Mayawati has come a long way from a Delhi schoolteacher who once dreamed of being a civil servant and now controls civil servants. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister, according to her affidavit of 2010, is Rs 35 crore richer than her 2007 valuation of Rs 52 crore— Rs 87 crore now. That’s a 67 per cent increase in three years. Behenji is, of course, not ostentatious; less than Rs 1 crore of the leader of the oppressed’s wealth is gold and diamond jewellery; as an art collector, she is modest, owning only Rs 15 lakh in murals, and when it comes to silverware she only has Rs 5 lakh of the shining stuff. Of course, it’s another matter that Mayawati’s past birthdays have been public occasions where she would appear before the public on daises covered in diamonds, wilting under the burden of garlands reportedly made up of Rs 1 crore in banknotes. In the 2007-08 assessment year, Mayawati ponied up Rs 26 crore as income tax, placing her among India’s top 20 taxpayers. Last year, she had bitterly complained that the CBI investigation into her wealth that started sometime in 2003 was politically motivated and that her earnings come in the form of gifts and contributions made by her adoring supporters—the CBI had uncovered 41 agricultural plots, 16 residential plots, seven shops, three orchards, two shops-cum-residences located in and around Delhi, one mansion in her ancestral village of Badalpur, built on a 30,000-square-yard plot.

Just beneath her in the money pyramid is Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi who is worth about Rs 44 crore, according to his affidavit this year. Here it gets a bit confusing. In his asset declaration, Karunanidhi states he possesses nothing more than Rs 5 crore as deposits in banks and shares in a publishing company. His party may be under the Rs 1.7 lakh crore 2G scam cloud, but the 86-year-old DMK leader could not have come up with more Rs 15,000 in cash if he emptied his account the day he filed his affidavit. He doesn’t have a car either; one of his wives owns a Honda Accord though.

And his family has Rs 23 lakh in jewellery.

Karunanidhi’s official residence is a small house in Gopalapuram, where he had started living since he was an MLA. In reality, he reportedly lives mostly in a huge mansion in CIT Colony with Rajathi Ammal, his third wife, and daughter Kanimozhi. Kalaignar does visit Gopalapuram often, for meetings and such; members of his extended family have bought up most of the street on which his house is— son and Deputy Chief Minister Stalin reportedly owns a house there, so do the Marans, the CM’s grandnephews.

In December 2010, Karunanidhi said his family was paid Rs 100 crore for offloading shares in Sun TV on which Rs 22.50 crore was paid as income tax.

He, however, kept Rs 10 crore and distributed the rest among his children and charitable organisations.

Immediately after Karunanidhi lies the money pyramid’s faultline; the net assets of all other chief ministers are less than Rs 25 crore. Put another way, the average chief minister is worth Rs 7.8 crore, but only Rs 3.7 crore if Mayawati and Karunanidhi are taken out of the equation. The only CM in the middle ranks with more than Rs 10 crore is the 56-year-old Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Dorjee Khandu. A Congress leader, his declared wealth added up to almost Rs 23 crore in 2009. Khandu owns a little fleet of cars—three Scorpios and three Santros—and can count on Rs 46 lakh in cash for a rainy day.

When the much-maligned Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa declared his assets in 2008, he showed Rs 2 crore as his net worth. A vengeful opposition attack over alleged nepotism forced him to reevaluate his wealth to Rs 11 crore earlier this year, a fast rise in net worth in restrospect. The 68-yearold BJP leader owns no car, having sold the two he had earlier. He possesses 2.5 kg gold and diamond jewellery worth Rs 50 lakh—these were valued at Rs 22 lakh in 2008. In addition to this, Yeddyurappa also owns 76 kg of silverware worth nearly Rs 17 lakh. His bank deposits have quadrupled from Rs 8 lakh in 2008 to Rs 34 lakh this year. He also owns about 20 acres of agricultural land in his home constituency, Shikaripura and a house worth Rs 97 lakh in Raj Mahal Vilas Extension in Bangalore.

Below Khandu and the new Yeddyurappa is the less than Rs 10-crore club. It begins with Parkash Singh Badal whose declared wealth was only Rs 9.20 crore in 2007, though the Badal family has reportedly been in the transport business since 1947.

Boys have their toys, but in spite of spending Rs 33 crore on helicopter travel across Punjab in the last three years, the Shiromani Akali Dal leader is a true son of the soil who owns only a Massey Ferguson tractor worth Rs 1.5 lakh. The Badals also reportedly have extensive business interests in the cable TV industry. According to published reports, they own 85 per cent of the multi-crore hotel Trident Hilton in Gurgaon.

The assets of N Kiran Kumar Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, including wife Radhika’s and son Nikhilesh’s, are at about Rs 8 crore. The 50-year-old Congress chief minister is a modest car fiend, with a Verna, a Scorpio, a Swift and even a humble Maruti 800 on call. BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik remains the little prince of his Orissa, worth almost Rs 8 crore in 2009, a significant part of it inherited from his fighter pilot father and Orissa colossus Biju Patnaik. Nagaland’s Neiphiu Rio who leads an anti-Congress alliance, was worth Rs 7.23 crore in 2008. Rio is an SUV lover, in keeping with the North-East penchant for tough drives.

He owns a Pajero, two Suzuki Grand Vitaras, of which one is registered to a dependent, and one regular Scorpio.

Rio has jewellery worth over Rs 10 lakh, including a ruby ring worth Rs 7 lakh. The 60-year-old Congress Chief Minister of Puducherry, V Vaithilingam, owns only an Indica car but has one tractor and two trailers to his name.

The middle class zone begins with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi: none of the remaining 22 chief ministers is richer than Rs 5 crore. The 75-year-old Gogoi, who hopes to lead the Congress to a third successive term in office next month, owns two cars, a Honda City and a Swift. Sikkim’s Chief Minister, 60-yearold Pawan Kumar Chamling, was worth Rs 3.82 crore in 2009; not counting, as he admitted in his affidavit, the Rs 35 lakh he would harvest from maturing insurance policies. The Congress chief minister of Goa, Digambar Kamat, was worth Rs 3.23 crore in 2007.

It seems Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s is the most pampered of political wives: more than Rs 1 crore of the Rs 3.74 crore of wealth he declared in 2009 was in jewellery and ornaments.

It’s quite apt that the 63-year-old Congressman from the Jat heartland also possesses a rifle and revolver, making him one of India’s only two armed chief ministers.

The other is Mukul Sangma, the 46-year-old Chief Minister of Meghalaya, who was worth Rs 3.42 crore in 2008. The Congress leader is also a gun lover, declaring a .32 revolver in his assets. He’s pretty wired too, for he owns a high-end laptop worth Rs 1,40,000.

The assets reflect the socio-economic cartography of India: the power of the ruling landed gentry with tractors, arms and SUVs while the wives feel happiness in the security of precious metal and stones.

Omar Abdullah, the young Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, is snapping at Hooda’s heels on his Ducati 999. A sporty type, he was worth Rs 3.49 crore in 2008, his other vehicle being a Gypsy King. Good going for a boy whose first motorcycle was a Hero Honda and who learnt driving on a Premier Padmini. Payal, his wife, is the richer of the two; she owns a flat in Delhi’s swanky West End, as well as land and a factory in Himachal Pradesh.

Mizoram’s Congress Chief Minister Pu Lalthanhawla (Rs 2.29 crore in 2008) is followed on the assets ladder by Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at Rs 1.5 crore in 2010 and Arjun Munda, the third time 43-yearold BJP chief minister of Jharkhand at Rs 1.33 crore in 2009. Munda is another chief minister whose wife is richer than him, according to his affidavit to the Election Commission during a byelection this year. The chief minister has deposits adding up to Rs 3.51 lakh in four banks, while his wife Meera has over Rs 8.09 lakh in the same banks. Munda also owns 70 grammes of gold worth Rs 1.33 lakh, and Meera 390 grammes.

The base of the pyramid has chief ministers whose net worth is less than Rs 1.5 crore: Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan (BJP), Delhi’s Sheila Dikshit (Congress), Himachal Pradesh’s P K Dhumal (BJP), Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot (Congress), Chhattisgarh’s Raman Singh (BJP). The remaining six chief ministers have less than Rs 50 lakh in personal wealth; three are Communists and two are from the other extreme of the political spectrum. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, whose wife is far richer than he is, can count on only Rs 5,000 cash in hand out of his total assets of about Rs 46 lakh. Gujarat’s Narendra Modi says his wealth added up to about Rs 42 lakh in 2007, making him relatively poor chief minister of a rich state. Uttarakhand’s Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is the other poor BJP chief minister, worth only Rs 37.30 lakh in 2007. Communist chief ministers V S Achuthananadan (Kerala) and Manik Sarkar (Tripura) are in the bottom three, worth Rs 16 lakh and Rs 8 lakh respectively. The poorest Chief Minister is a Congressman: 63-year-old Okram Ibobi Singh of Manipur, who says in a 2007 declaration that he’s got about Rs 6 lakh which includes the value of his Ambassador car.

A January World Bank thesis states that in South Asia—dominated by data for India—total wealth grew by over 60 per cent, with the strongest increase in intangible wealth. Compared to these figures, the fact that our chief ministers have registered only marginal—if at all any— growth in their personal wealth in itself provides a wealth of information.

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