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The average Lok Sabha MP is worth Rs 1.4 crore

A higher percentage of less-educated MPs are richer and have more criminal cases against them than those with higher educational attainments. The Public Affairs Centre's analysis of the background and assets of 541 members of India's parliament suggests that money and muscle power continue to bring in the votes

As citizens of a democracy how much do we really know about our elected representatives? The Election Commission of India (EC) has for the first time given us an opportunity to learn more about our MPs through affidavits that have to be filed by all persons standing for election. Dr Samuel Paul and Professor M Vivekananda of the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) in Bangalore have now undertaken a comprehensive analysis of the EC's collection of affidavits from elected members. They have systematically assembled and analysed the data from the affidavits of the 541 Members of Parliament who were elected to the Lok Sabha during the general elections of April 2004. Despite the incomplete answers in some of the documents, interesting patterns of their background emerge from the analysis. The disaggregation by parties, states and other criteria yield rich insights into the strengths and weaknesses of India's current Lower House of Representatives. The findings of the study are presented below.

Money and muscle power, not educational degrees, bring in the votes

The analysis found clear evidence that a larger proportion of our less educated MPs are wealthier than the ones with more formal education and are even ahead of the latter in terms of their criminal record.

Of the 132 MPs who are undergraduates and below, over 30% have criminal cases against them compared to 21% of the rest. Their average value of assets is close to Rs 2 crore each compared to less than Rs 1.4 crore for the more educated. Criminal cases are also found to be more among MPs in the 36-45 age-group.

While this does not mean that all MPs with lower educational qualifications are rich or criminally-inclined, a higher percentage of them are richer and have more criminal cases than those with higher educational attainments. This begs the question - are the less educated among the MPs elected because they are richer and have more criminal links than the rest of the members? Do political parties woo them because they compensate for their low education with their economic and criminal clout?

High educational qualifications are a minor factor in the electoral stakes. The analysis found that those with a higher education and a low asset base are poorly represented in the Lok Sabha.

The educational attainments of our MPs are impressive. Nearly three-fourths of the new Lok Sabha members have declared that they possess graduate or postgraduate degrees, while a mere 6% do not even have a matriculate. At 21.5%, a law degree is the dominant educational qualification. The analysis found that there is a negative relationship between age and education -- the younger MPs possess higher educational qualifications.

The money game

Taken as a group, our MPs have total assets valued at Rs 878 crore (excluding cars for which no value is given). The average assets of a Lok Sabha MP are valued at Rs 1.64 crore. When the non- SC/ST MPs are considered, the asset value per person rises to nearly Rs 2 crore.

Over 50% of the elected MPs have an asset value of over Rs 50 lakh each. Over 27% have a financial value of over Rs 1 crore.

Surprisingly, it is the less educated MPs who are the best-off financially. The per capita assets of those with undergraduate education or less amount to Rs 1.93 crore while graduates and post-graduates have average assets of Rs 1.37 crore.

The single major asset category is buildings (36.3%). Three out of four MPs (74.6%) own agricultural land. But further analysis shows that one out of five MPs have agricultural assets that account for over 50% of their total immovable assets. Thus only a small proportion of them have strong agricultural ties.

At 45%, the ruling Congress Party has the largest proportion of MPs with assets exceeding Rs 1 crore, although they account for only 30% of all Lok Sabha members. Their assets also account for 52% of the assets of all MPs.

Even the runners-up (those who polled the next-highest votes, based on data from two states) are persons with large monetary assets, indicating that financial wealth is truly the entry barrier in the electoral game.

Only one in ten MPs have reported assets below Rs 10 lakh. Fittingly, the two communist parties, the Communist Part of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), (CPI-M) have the largest proportion of MPs with assets less than Rs 10 lakh.

The age factor

Youngsters may constitute a major chunk of India's population but the average age of Lok Sabha members is a more-than-middle-aged 53 years. One-third of them are in the age-group of 46-55 years. Senior citizens above 65 account for 14% while 'youth' (below 35 years) accounts for a mere 6.5%.

The two communist parties and the southern party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have the largest proportion of MPs aged 66 years and above.

Regional differences

As expected with a country as large in size and as homogeneous as India, there exist stark regional differences with regard to all the factors under analysis.

According to the EC data, politicians with criminal links appear to be concentrated in a few states. Four states -- Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand -- which account for only 30% of the elected MPs have over 50% of all MPs with criminal cases against them that could attract severe penalties (5 years' imprisonment or more).

On the other end of the spectrum, MPs from Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttaranchal and Jammu and Kashmir have no criminal cases pending against them.

Himachal Pradesh leads the states with respect to the education level of its MPs: all its MPs are graduates. Assam with 86%, Kerala (84.3 %), and Tamil Nadu (84.2 %) are next. Haryana and Uttaranchal have the highest number of MPs who have not finished schooling with 20% each.

The highest concentration of MPs with financial assets in excess of Rs 1 crore are from Punjab (69.3%), Andhra Pradesh (47.6%), and Maharashtra (41.7%). West Bengal (28.6%), Orissa (28.6%), and Kerala (26.3%) have the most MPs with assets less than Rs 10 lakh per person.

The states with more than 20% of their MPs belonging to the senior citizen category are Assam, Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal and Uttaranchal. Meanwhile, the highest proportion of young MPs (below 35 years) come from the states of Haryana (20%), Jammu & Kashmir (16.7%) and UP (15%).

Party report cards

In terms of their MPs' educational achievements leading performers among the political parties are the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) with 82.6% graduates or more, the Orissa-based Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with 82%, and the Communist Party of India (80%).

The right-wing Shiv Sena (58.3%) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with 67.5% are at the other end of the spectrum. Two of India's largest national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, are middling performers with 74% and 71% respectively.

As noted earlier, Congress MPs account for more than half of the total assets of MPs though they comprise less than 30% of the number of MPs in the Lok Sabha and the highest proportion of Rs 1 crore-plus MPs. Additionally, one out of 10 Congress MPs has assets of over Rs10 crore. One-third of Samajwadi Party MPs and Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam MPs also have assets exceeding Rs 1 crore or more.

Fittingly, neither of the country's two major leftist parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) nor the Communist Party of India (CPI), have any MP worth Rs 1 crore. Of the MPs with assets below Rs 10 lakh, CPI(M) leads with 31%, followed by Biju Janata Dal (27.3%), Bahujan Samaj Party (23.5%) and CPI (20%).

The largest proportion of MPs with substantial agricultural assets are found in the RJD (43.5%) and the BSP (35.3%). This proportion is much lower for Congress MPs (18.6%) and the BJP (24.1%). No agricultural land is owned by 70% of the CPI MPs, 57% of the MPs in CPI (M), and one-third of the Shiv Sena MPs.

Interestingly, the proportion of MPs below 35 years is higher in the newer parties such as the BSP (26.3%), Shiv Sena (16.7%) and RJD (13%). The Congress and BJP, on the other hand, have only 4.8% and 5.8% in the youth category.

There are no criminal cases registered against 83% of the Congress MPs and 80% of the BJP MPs. The RJD leads in the proportion of criminal cases (43.5%). As regards criminal cases with severe penalties (5 or more years' imprisonment), again the RJD leads with 34.8% of MPs, while the BSP with 27.8% and Samajwadi Party with 19.4% follow. The proportion of Congress MPs who fall into this category account for 7.6% of the total, while BJP MPs account for 10.9%.

MPs from the scheduled castes/scheduled tribes

In terms of educational achievements, the SC/ST MPs are almost as qualified as MPs belonging to other castes and communities -- almost 70% of the SC/ST MPs are graduates compared to 74% among the rest. However, the proportion of SC/ST post-graduates at 33% is higher than the proportion of 30% among the rest.

However, in terms of monetary assets SC/ST MPs lag behind their colleagues -- the average value of their assets is Rs 58 lakh, much lower than the average asset value of other MPs (Rs 1.98 crore). One out of 12 SC/ST MPs is worth Rs 1 crore or more compared to one out of three among other MPs. One out of five SC/ST MPs has assets below Rs 10 lakh while only one out of 16 among other MPs fall into this category.

SC/ST MPs have a larger proportion without the stamp of criminal cases (83%) in contrast to the rest (75%). SC/ST proportion of MPs with criminal cases of a severe kind (5 years imprisonment and above) is only a little over half (7.5%) the proportion for the rest of the MPs (13%).

In terms of outstanding debts and government dues, SC/ST MPs are more or less similar to the rest of the MPs (about 52%). The major difference is that the amounts involved are smaller.

How far are MPs representative of the population?

Only one out of 12 Members of Parliament (8.3%) is a woman. One out of four (26.7%) belong to scheduled castes/scheduled tribes (SC/ST). Meanwhile, the northeastern states of Assam and Uttaranchal are the only states that have not returned any women MPs. The CPI is not represented by any women MPs.

How do women MPs compare with the men?

Women MPs are much younger than their male counterparts -- over 44% of female members are less than 45 years while only 26% males are less than 45 years. Their education levels are higher compared to the male MPs. Eighty-two per cent of female members are graduates and above as against 72.5% of male MPs.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) has no women MPs while the DMK (18.8%) and Shiv Sena (16.7%) lead in the proportion of women MPs. There are no women MPs from Assam and Uttaranchal.

Policy implications

The findings of the PAC analysis give us a more comprehensive picture of our representatives in the new Lok Sabha The challenge is to search for ways to control the negative tendencies and enhance the strengths.

A striking finding is the dominance of the richer classes in the electoral arena. That only 6% of non-SC/ST members have assets below Rs 10 lakh indicates the power of money as a barrier for entry into politics.

The only other group that has won seats despite lower assets are SC/ST MPs, only because they have reserved constituencies. This indicates that if election financing is not reformed, this trend will only worsen, making it even more difficult for qualified persons without a large asset base to enter politics.

The links between low education levels, money and criminality among our elected representatives are also cause for concern. How does one stop political parties from giving tickets primarily to those who have money and/or muscle power?

The representation of women MPs at only 8% of the total is an appalling record, especially when they compare more favourably than their male counterparts on several parameters. Whether reservation is the only way to correct this imbalance is another crucial issue for consideration.

InfoChange News & Features, October 2004