I would happily recommend a pay hike for Mallikarjun Kharge; I wouldn’t give a penny more to Sachin Tendulkar.
When the new Lok Sabha took shape two years ago, Kharge got an unenviable job. He had to lead a party whose strength had come down to a fourth of its size in the Lok Sabha. Somehow he makes the Congress appear bigger than the sum of its MPs.
Tendulkar, on the other hand, has hardly been there in the Rajya Sabha, never mind that the Rajya Sabha is where the action is. Not the bat-on-ball action, but he could have tried to be a good parliamentarian.
Maybe the MPs are showing that wit has not altogether gone out of Parliament, with the demise of the likes of Piloo Modi of the Swatantra Party. Why else would they recommend a hefty hike in their pay at the end of the colossal waste that was the budget session?
If they are serious, there ought to be a system to assess performance. Yes, even MPs’.
Make that especially MPs’. Their job was never about the money to begin with. In fact, it should not even be seen as a job. Just like journalists’. One can make much more money selling soap than by writing. And the worst kind -- MPs and journalists -- are those that justify their being corrupt by pointing to the low pay.
In that they sound like Mark McCluskey, the cop in The Godfather who thought he could take bribes because he was a good cop and provided protection to the people in his precinct. After all, he had four sons to put through college. Few cried when Michael Corleone gunned him down, along with drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo.
The thing is, McCluskey knew cops’ pay; his father was one. If he thought it was too low, he could have chosen to do something else.
If you think journalism does not pay, sell soap. If you think MPs’ salary is low, stick to whatever else you can do for more money. If you want to be in politics to serve the people, serve the people.
That will require you to be a good parliamentarian, asking questions, raising issues, participating in debates, shaping public policy, and addressing your people’s grievances.
For evidence that it is not about the money, look no further than Bhagwati Devi. An unlettered woman from the Musahar caste, the poorest of the poor, she held her own against the urbane Brinda Karat while debating the women’s reservation bill in 1997. In the process, she sensitised a lot of people to the plight of her caste.
Ram Vilas Paswan strikes just the wrong chords when he says lawmakers will not be able to work for the public if not given money. He should look at the unspent amounts of the local area development funds. And he should delink fulfilling personal needs from the needs of the public.
Can Paswan, or other MPs list how their attempts to serve the public have been thwarted because they are not paid enough salary? Maybe they wouldn’t have to clamour so hard to get a hike if they worked hard to serve the public. In that case, maybe the public would clamour for an increase in their salary.
Ask around and see how many people snigger when told about MPs asking for more salary. And to those who are sympathetic, ask their profession -- they might be political journalists.
It takes a business journalist to call a spade a rusted shovel, and point out that Mukesh Ambani, who runs India’s largest private sector company, has not given himself a salary hike in eight years. In that time, his company, Reliance Industries, has doubled its net profit. Talk performance.