There’s no business like politics in India, come rain or shine. Here is the proof from a key civil society pressure group for electoral reforms that politicians have thrived, untouched by the slowing economy and rising inflation.
The average increase in assets of re-elected Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies between two elections (period of five years) was almost three-fold, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has revealed.
According to ADR data on 1,370 re-elected MLAs and 200 re-elected MPs, the average income and assets of India’s 100 richest legislators grew by 745% between two consecutive elections or five years. The hike in personal wealth for legislators in this category ranges from two to 25 times.
Such stupendous growth rates are more than double the average salary hike of chief executive officers (CEOs) of blue-chip companies in India.
Aon Hewitt’s annual salary increase survey released on Friday says the salary of CEOs of India’s top 87 multi-national companies increased by about 20% in 2012. The salaries of these top business managers have gone up by 60-80%.
The figures may appear staggering for many in the salaried class, but for some in politics they could border on the meagre.
For instance, the assets of Rajesh Shukla, a BJP MLA in Uttarakhand, have jumped by more than 2900% in five years: from Rs 87 lakh in 2007 to more than Rs 26 crore in 2012.
Shukla dismissed talk that politics had helped him grow his wealth. “My father was freedom fighter and associated with the Congress. Jan seva (social service) is in my genes, which is why I am in politics.”
In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, Subhash Pasi, Samajwadi Party legislator from Saidpur assembly constituency in Gazipur district, is also among the many politicians who have found the perfect business model. His assets grew from Rs 4.7 crore in 2007 to more than Rs 35 crore in 2012.
Parasnath, from the SP leader’s native village (Dihiya), remembers Subhash as a small contractor who migrated to Mumbai and struck gold, apparently after developing political contacts. This helped him start a real estate company. Now, his wife Reena Pasi runs a chain of educational institutions and brothers are in various local bodies in the state.
Venod Sharma, Congress legislator from Ambala (Haryana), suffered a major career setback after his son Manu Sharma was convicted of the murder of model Jessica Lall. The personal low, however, did not affect the hotelier’s professional growth. His wealth hurtled from Rs 9 crore in 2004 to Rs 87 crore in 2009.
Down south in Karnataka, the assets of Congress legislator (from Kanakpura) DK Shivakumar have soared north: from Rs 75 crore in 2008 to Rs 251 crore in 2013. The farmer-turned-builder and politician also runs several educational institutions on the outskirts of Bangalore.
In Meghalaya, civil contractor-turned-Congress MLA Comingone Ymbon has grown his personal wealth 20 times, reportedly cashing in on unregulated coal mining business.
No one in Ymbon’s village Shangpung Pohshnong, some 95km from state capital Shillong, knows how many mines he owns. "More than 50, or maybe more than 100," says fellow Jaintia tribesman S Siangshai. Ymbon reportedly acquired most of the mines after becoming a legislator in 2008.
Most of the coalmines in the northeast state use unscientific means such as rat-hole mining, allegedly using child labour.
Anil Bhairwal, national coordinator of ADR, finds the meteoric rise in the personal wealth of elected representatives quite unusual. "The easiest way to make quick money in India is by getting elected. Once that happens, the high seat appears to provide easy access to decision makers, thus helping business grow. It is a case is direct conflict of interest."
Bhairwal said ADR’s data provided limited but useful insight on how politics had turned into business in India.
A few leaders, however, have bucked the trend. The personal wealth of Manik Sarkar, who became Tripura chief minister for the fourth successive term in March, has dipped between the last two elections.
The ADR, established in 1999 by a group of professors from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, keeps a hawkish eye on elections and works for increasing transparency and accountability in the political and electoral system.
With inputs from Bangalore, Dehradun, Lucknow, Guwahati and Chandigarh.