Monday, January 4, 2016

MPs who have lost the nation's trust should not decide on their salaries or on a new building

They say the calendar has changed, that a new year has come into being. There is no sign of it in the way we live our lives. The same problems and vexations, the same cynicism and double standards from those who rule us, the same amoralities and selfishness continue to determine our lives. But also, thankfully, the same hope that tomorrow will somehow be better and that some day soon we shall overcome. Without that strand of optimism it would be impossible to live under a brand of politics that has gone unashamedly evil.

For now, we can still mark a mood shift by switching from intolerance debate to insensitivity debate. Our far-from-esteemed Parliament closed the year with one of its worst sessions in history. The cost of the washout was enormous. It takes Rs 2.6 crore to run the two houses for just one hour.

Just at this scandalous juncture, our far-from-esteemed MPs came up with two brainwaves: Double their salaries and allowances, and build a brand new Parliament House. This is what the poet meant when he said Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good. The Indian politician, irrespective of the colour he flaunts, never wastes time thinking of what he can do for the country; he spends every waking moment figuring out what he can make the country do for him. The new proposals for MPs and for Parliament House underline the tyranny of the elected.

The AAP and the BJP, both elected, are today's most vicious enemies in the political arena. Yet they think and act alike when it comes to raiding the treasury. In early December the Delhi Assembly passed a bill raising MLAs' salaries 400 percent in one go. This, alongside generously increased allowances, would make Delhi MLAs the highest paid in the country. Within weeks, Parliament followed suit, a committee recommending 100 percent increase in MPs' salaries and a host of increased allowances and VIP privileges.

Ironically, the parliamentary committee was chaired by Yogi Adityanath, best known for patriotic thoughts such as "those who are against yoga must be drowned", and "Shahrukh Khan is no different from Pakistani terrorist Hafees Saeed". Apparently he is an expert on democracy's finances as well. Apart from doubling an MPs' salary, constituency allowance and secretarial allotment, he even recommended exemption for MPs from payment at toll-plazas. Strange are the ways in which an elected politician's mind works, whether he is sanyasi or freebooter, criminal or dynast.

Insensitivity is also behind the revival of the proposal that a new Parliament House be built. The Speaker used an interesting phrase to justify the proposal. The present building, she said, was showing "signs of distress". The whole country has been showing signs of distress at the way Parliament reduced itself to a shadow of what it was meant to be. Sanjay Gandhi began the process by bringing in street rowdies whose job was to shout down members he disliked. Thereafter blocking of complete sessions became an established practice, justified in the best constitutional and intellectual terms by Arun Jaitley when he was leading the blockade for the opposition. The idea was taken to farcical levels by the Congress in the last session. Are we to have a modern high-tech Parliament House so that it can be disrupted in greater comfort?

Our Parliament House is 85 years old. The British Parliament building is 145 years old, though it was repaired massively after bombings in the 1940s. Three years ago they started talking of "temporary relocation" to carry out large scale renovation that could take up to five years -- to fix leaking bathrooms and eliminate rats that have been found. But no one is talking of a new Parliament building. The magnificence of the Palace of Westminster on the banks of the Thames is not replicable. So is the sweeping grandeur of Delhi's circular masterpiece.

The attempt should be to preserve this architectural wonder and use it judiciously. We now have 790 MPs, a number that cannot be justified on any ground of democracy. A system that will keep MP strength at 500 will not only serve democracy better, but also reduce corruption and allied activities significantly. Similarly, giving power to MPs to decide their own emoluments is neither democratic nor moral. An independent body like a Pay Commission must deliberate this publicly before decisions are taken. The present generation of MPs and MLAs have forfeited their trust and become a burden. To pretend otherwise would be to deceive the country.