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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Is the New York Times Bigoted in its Attitude Towards India?


Is the New York Times Bigoted in its Attitude Towards India?

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 27th October 2011

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

Please visit http://www.leftbrainwave.com for more articles by Dr. Seshadri Kumar

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I don’t think I would have ever believed it if someone told me 10 years ago that I would be writing an article with this title.  Indeed, at that time I was living in the USA and used to read the New York Times regularly on the web.

But at that time my main concern, living as I was in the US, was with American politics and news, and some world news, often of the Middle-eastern variety.  I was not very much in touch with Indian news and did not particularly seek out news on India by western media outlets.  I was content to know what I could through conversations with family members in India.

But now I live in India, know what is happening in India, and am in touch with my Indian friends living in the land of the free and the home of the brave – and now is when I realize that many of them get their news of what is happening in India through American news outlets like the NYT.

On the face of it, this is very good to know, as the NYT has a great reputation as one of the top newspapers in the world with very strong journalistic traditions and organizational ethics.  That is probably still true for most of the news that comes in the NYT.

But, I am sad to say, the newspaper has a strong anti-India bias.  The strong journalistic traditions, attention to detail and accuracy, and ethics that I had come to expect of the NYT have been sorely lacking in the matter of news and commentary about India.  The newspaper facilitates this mostly by encouraging and promoting op-ed columnists with an India-bashing mentality who write poorly-researched stories that achieve only the purpose of projecting their own bigoted thinking. 

Personally, I could just ignore all this as specious nonsense, but I find that many Indians, without the benefit of personal experience, tend to take all this at face value, trusting in the journalistic excellence of the newspaper and believing that, if the NYT approves a piece, it would have passed certain basic checks.  This is unfortunately untrue, as I will show in the rest of this article.

Let us see some examples of what I have said above.  Taken individually, one can think of each of these pieces as simply an exception of some journalist or writer expressing some extreme viewpoint of his.  But taken together, they show a pattern of concerted India-baiting that is malevolent in the extreme.  You will understand this when I show you some of the examples of the writing from these articles.  No editor in his right mind can ignore such stuff unless it is deliberate.  If a newspaper promotes and celebrates bigoted authors repeatedly, it stands to reason that the newspaper has a bigoted viewpoint and cannot blame it on individual contributors – especially when there is nothing on the other side to balance things!

Sumedh Mungee’s Blog “Why I Left India - Again”

This article came to my attention through a friend who posted it on his facebook page.  It is ostensibly the true story of an Indian who spent 10 years in the US after leaving India for higher studies and then decided to try to make it in India, having been enamoured by the India projected by Thomas Friedman in his writings and books.  Apparently, this person found that he could not tolerate the India he was seeing, particularly, “what he was turning into” and, three years after his move to India, decided to move back.  The implied statement made was that India was turning him into a nasty person, so he decided to go back.


What’s Wrong?

Now, there are many things that are horribly wrong with this article.  There is nothing wrong in the author describing his experiences in India.  What are wrong are the conclusions he comes to, which are sweeping generalizations about Indians.  I do not fault NYT for allowing Mr. Mungee to express his experiences; but when sweeping, bigoted generalizations are printed as though they are gospel, I find it very disturbing indeed.  The net effect on the person who does not know the reality in India is to make him or her carry a very negative, untrue impression of the country and its people.

They Got It From the Maid!

Let’s take some examples.  First, the author says that three months after their return, a friend told him that his two children got sick with amoebiasis – and they thought they got it from their maids – and so our author decided to have a separate set of dinnerware for his maid because he thought it was more hygienic???  Is there even any logic in this? 

First off, how do you get amoebiasis?  Through unclean food or water.  If dishes are not properly washed, you are going to get sick, whether you ate in them or you maid did.  So, if there is a problem, you would do better to see how well your maid is washing the dishes.  Having her eat in different plates is not going to solve the problem. 

The author’s response is actually more indicative of deep-seated caste biases in the author’s mind – the kind that makes you think that people can transmit diseases to you by just being in contact with you – and is symptomatic of the worst social disease in India, namely untouchability.  Clearly, being in the US for 10 years has not really transformed our friend.  But rather than acknowledge that he is a nasty person, what does he do?  He claims that India made him an ogre.

They’re All Liars

The author goes on to say that he refused an emergency loan to his driver of just Rs. 500 because his previous driver scammed him into giving him money for a broken leg of a son who did not even exist.  So one person cheated our friend and he assumes - get this - that “they are all liars.”  What this incident serves to show, more than anything, is the fixed notion in the author’s mind that poor people are essentially dishonest.  He has one bad experience and what does he do?  He stereotypes an entire class of people (numerically the largest economic class in India).  

Also, going by the general information supplied in the article, this chap was probably very very well off in India.  He probably would not mind spending Rs. 5000 on a dinner for two at the Taj.  But he had to think so hard to give his driver Rs. 500 for an emergency loan.  So what if the driver were to cheat him?  What is the loss to him?  What this incident reveals more than anything is the ugliness in the author’s mind.

Shouting at the Poor Hawker

The author further goes on to talk about an incident where he flew into a rage against a poor hawker for blocking his car.  Let me ask him, would he fly into a rage at any person in the US for blocking his car?  Why does he feel he can do this in India?  And what is India’s fault in his behaviour?  Is it just that “everyone else is doing it”?  If that is the excuse, it is a poor one.  Does he not have a brain?  If anything, since the American system forces you to be polite in situations such as these (if you blared your horn at a pedestrian crossing the street, and a cop saw you, he’d probably ticket you), you would expect Mr. Mungee to show more politeness and restraint than his Indian counterparts, but clearly ten years of living in the US has not left any mark on him.

Look Inside You

The problem in this entire story is not India; it is Mr. Mungee.  What he is essentially saying is that because others behave badly in India, his natural tendencies to behave badly, his innate class-based boorishness, and his deep-rooted caste biases, all come to the fore, whereas in the US, such behaviour would not be tolerated.  He has no inner compass to tell him what is right or wrong; his only way to act is based on how others act around him.  His years spent in the US have not taught him, for example, that all people are equal; they have only taught him that he must not speak insultingly to poor Americans or else others may pull him up.  He has never examined why they do things differently in the US; he has just followed behaviours because they are fashionable. In the same way, it is fashionable among many rich people in India to display their caste and class biases, to scream at poor people, and to show no respect for the innate worth of people but only to fawn at their external appurtenances. 

So, of course, he comes to India as a rich person with a high position, and he behaves in the worst possible way, the way that many (not all) rich people behave in India.  He should remember Cassius’ famous admonishment to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, in not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Why Was This Article Allowed?

I could go on, but I think you see my point.  Any editor with a conscience would see this article as a vituperative rant against India, couched in a “poor me” sort of way, and promptly have said that this kind of smear attack on an entire people is not appropriate for a newspaper of the NYT’s standing, but NYT chose not to.  If I were the NYT’s editor, even if I were to allow the publication of this article, I would have required changes in it that made it clear that it is not that India forces you to be this way.  You can be different and make a difference. 

I do not object to the widespread caste and class based discrimination being portrayed – there is a lot of caste and class discrimination in India, and I don’t have a problem with free speech.  But to have malicious speech, to imply that India forces you to be mean, is wrong.  The fact that NYT publishes such articles without editing or commentary is very disturbing indeed and says something about the newspaper’s intentions.

The Strange Writings of Manu Joseph

Manu Joseph writes regularly for the NYT and the International Herald Tribune.  All of his articles have some common characteristics: they are loaded with sarcasm, are poorly researched, are full of broad generalizations that break down under even the slightest investigation, and are full of invective against India.  Mr. Joseph is unable to see a single good thing in India.  Let me analyze one of his articles here.

Attack on Anna Hazare – an Unbalanced, One-Sided Perspective

Mr. Joseph’s recent article on the current problems faced by the anti-corruption movement headed by Mr. Anna Hazare,


highlights all of these characteristics.

The article has no balance and consistently presents a one-sided view of the issue.  For one, it does not acknowledge the ground-breaking and popular nature of the protest against corruption.  Never have Indians stood up as one to protest against corruption before, and this article neatly ignores all that.
 
It also ignores the well-known truth that any Indian living in India knows – that corruption is forced upon most Indians, especially poor Indians, in every government office by officials demanding bribes for the simplest of things, such as a ration card for needy people to get subsidized food.  Instead, a glib statement such as “India’s favourite hypothesis – that it is India’s politicians who have created a corrupt society, not the other way around” is casually slipped in to be taken as truth by unsuspecting readers.  Indians who live in India are fully aware of how hard the political class works to preserve and increase mechanisms to help them earn money through graft.

Unprofessional Statements

The article is also short on professionalism and makes statements like “One of the most important people who has Mr. Hazare’s ancient ear is Kiran Bedi, a serious woman with short hair combed sideways and clever eyes full of meaning.”  What kind of nonsensical language is this from a journalist?  Which professional writer talks about people, even people he doesn’t like, with completely subjective and pointless statements like “clever eyes full of meaning”?  What does that even mean?  What is the relevance of the “short hair” to the article?  I don’t expect such an article to pass muster at the editor’s desk at the NYT, but clearly they did not care.

No Attention to the Facts Relating to the Principals

If you actually believed what Mr. Joseph has said here, you would conclude that the entire anti-corruption movement was a farce perpetrated upon the people by unprincipled people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Joseph does not seem to want to acknowledge the real sacrifices Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, etc., have made in their careers and how hard they have worked for a better India, for reasons only he knows. 

Just look their names up on wikipedia. For instance, Mr. Kejriwal is one of the prime architects of the right to information (RTI) act, which has done more than anything in the last 30 years to improve transparency in government.  Mrs. Bedi has a track record of achievement and service that most cannot dream of.   They did not become leaders of the anti-corruption movement by accident.  They were chosen by Kejriwal and Anna to be part of the movement because of outstanding records as upstanding citizens.

Overstating the Problems

Let us look at the specific allegations Mr. Joseph talks about. Yes, Kiran Bedi made a mistake. Period. She also made a mistake when she tried to justify it. That does not discredit everything else she has done for the good of society for 40 yrs. 

Bhushan's comments on Kashmir have nothing to do with the anti-corruption movement. Mr. Joseph misleadingly compares Anna's reluctance about a plebiscite in Kashmir to his desire to have a plebiscite on the Jan Lokpal bill. Most Indians, not just Anna, do not want a plebiscite on Kashmir because the entire Hindu population of Kashmir has been driven out by terror and the valley is infiltrated by terrorists. Even the Indian government does not want a plebiscite in Kashmir for the same reason.  The two issues are very different.
 
So, does saying no to a plebiscite in Kashmir and saying yes to a plebiscite on Jan Lokpal make Anna two-faced?  Only if you are concerned only with superficialities and do not want to consider the issues carefully.  But then, for Mr. Joseph, mud-slinging is the objective, not careful analysis.

To mention Swami Agnivesh’s allegations in his article, while acknowledging at the same time that "he hasn't provided any clinching evidence," is simply mischievous and innuendo.  If “he hasn’t provided any clinching evidence,” why should Mr. Joseph mention it?  Because his purpose is not journalism, but mud-slinging.

If Mr. Joseph had tried to say that Team Anna was having some problems, that would be legitimate.  It is true that Team Anna is having some problems, and a genuine and serious discussion on that would be very welcome.  But this is not a genuine and serious discussion - it is based on innuendo and mud-slinging.  Mr. Joseph is on a mission to smear the credibility of Team Anna and destroy them, as his last paragraph clearly shows: “The eventual destruction of the anti-corruption movement would not be such a calamitious development.”

Corruption is Not a Serious Problem???

Also, at the end of his article, Mr. Joseph flippantly states that “Corruption is not the most serious problem in India, as the middle class makes it out to be. For one thing, it has killed fewer Indians than conflicts over religion and associated ideologies.
 
This is a worthless and inaccurate statement.  For one, you do not judge a problem solely by how many people it has killed.  The loss and deterioration of quality of life due to having to deal with corruption on a daily basis are tremendous.
 
Secondly, corruption HAS probably killed more people than religion in India, by denying basic facilities to people, such as clean water, clean air, clean and nutritious food, housing, basic medical care, by the creation of substandard infrastructure in roads, bridges, vehicles, and railways, leading to road and rail accidents.  Countless children have died during childbirth in India because hospitals are so poorly equipped with even the basics.  So many children die in India because of malnourishment, because the funds allocated for them are diverted by corrupt politicians to their pockets.  Hundreds of people die each year because of entirely preventable railway accidents, because the money earmarked for upgradation of railways never reaches the intended use.  I could go on and on.  So, no, Mr. Joseph, corruption IS a very serious problem.  And it kills more people than religion.

Glib Generalizations, Dismissive and Sarcastic Statements

If there is one constant in Mr. Joseph’s articles, it is the use of glib generalizations in the most dismissive and sarcastic way, without any regard for the underlying truths of the matters he writes about.  If this were the first article by Mr. Joseph and the editorial board at the NYT did not know this, they could be forgiven, as you don’t expect them to verify every detail of what their articles contain for veracity. 

But Mr. Joseph has been doing this consistently, and people have written extensively about his bias and inaccuracy.  I point to a very cogent, well-argued article against another of Mr. Joseph’s articles here:


Other Examples from the NYT’s India Ink Website

There are many other examples one can cite.  Some are very subtle in their put-downs, but the put-downs are there nonetheless. 

The Article on Indian Sweets

An example is this article on food, an innocuous topic – what could be controversial in that?


On the surface of this, this is an interesting article about a person who is blending Indian and western sweet-making ideas, and I welcome both the article and the idea that the confectioner thought of.  But here is what bothers me.  

Look at the very first line of this article:
“Indian mithai, or sweets, have never been on the top of my must-eat list: the overly sugary taste of ladoos and burfis, often made with ingredients of suspect quality, do little for me.

Firstly, if a truly representative Indian is writing this, they would not think that the sweets were “overly sugary,” although I am aware from my interaction with my American friends that many Americans might find Indian sweets so.  But this article is supposed to be written by an Indian, and an Indian expert on sweets.  So such comments do not make sense.

But a bigger problem is the last phrase: “often made with ingredients of suspect quality.”  On what basis does Shivani Vora make this statement?  Does she have a shred of evidence to back this up, or is this just a free-for-all session of India-bashing? 

I personally know of many sweet shops in India.  I have lived in Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalore, and have spent time in Chennai and visited Kolkata, and I can vouch both for the taste and quality of the sweets that many of these fine shops make.  I know for a fact that the owners of many of these establishments take pride in the purity of the ingredients they use.  Would Ms. Vora dare to make such statements if there was a genuine fear that these establishments were to take legal action against the NYT for besmirching their fair reputations?
 
It is bad enough that she made a statement like this.  But how did an editor not catch this?  If I were an editor and I saw a baseless statement like this that could expose me to legal action, I would promptly delete it.  What does this say about the attitude of the NYT?

The Mumbai Blackout

Here’s another example: an article on a recent, unexpected, unusual, blackout in Mumbai, caused by a fire in an electrical substation:


For the most part, the article is fine, as it details the problems residents of South Mumbai had when an electrical fire caused a 35 hour blackout in that area, of which the article itself says, “But, unlike in the rest of India, where anybody who can afford a generator has one, many businesses and residents in Mumbai do not keep one at hand. Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is located, ensures the city gets an uninterrupted supply of electricity, even as other parts of the state go without power for long stretches of the day.

Huh??  Where did that leap of logic come from?  You have an infrastructure problem if things break down frequently.  By the author’s own admission, this doesn’t happen.  It hasn’t even happened twice in a row in a short period of time.  How, then, does the author conclude that this incident proves that Mumbai’s infrastructure is inadequate? 

Don’t things every break down in other parts of the world?  In 2003, the entire north-east of the US and Canada suffered a blackout (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_2003).  Should we infer that the infrastructure of the US “does not match its global ambitions”?

You don’t need to be an expert in Indian affairs to understand that as an editor.  A good editing job should have immediately caught the faulty conclusion and changed it; yet the NYT couldn’t be bothered to correct this.

Conclusion


Taken individually, each of these is an incident that one could conceivably ignore as an oversight by an editor or an overreaction by an author; taken together, it points to a malevolent anti-India attitude, where anyone and anything that projects India and Indians as inadequate, struggling, incompetent, and unethical is encouraged and nothing on the other side of the scale is presented.

So the next time you read a New York Times article on India, beware!  There may be more to it than meets the eye!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Criminalization of Indian Politics - Part 1


The Criminalization of Indian Politics – Part I

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 23rd October 2011

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

Please visit http://www.leftbrainwave.com for other articles by Dr. Seshadri Kumar

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Introduction and Motivation

My interest in this subject started with the whole Om Puri/Kiran Bedi controversy that happened during Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption fast at Ramlila maidan in New Delhi in August 2011.  During that event, on one memorable evening, Team Anna activist Kiran Bedi mocked politicians as hypocrites, and actor Om Puri railed against politicians, calling them such things as “anpadh” (illiterate), “ganwar” (ignorant), and “lootere” (robbers / thieves).  An angry parliament soon after decided not to take these insults lying down and issued “breach of privilege” notices against Kiran Bedi, Om Puri, and a few others.

While my initial reaction to this was to look at the legality of these notices, and I have written extensively on that point (see, for example, http://www.leftbrainwave.com/2011/09/are-breach-of-privilege-notices-sent.html and http://www.leftbrainwave.com/2011/09/does-parliament-have-right-to-issue.html), I also wanted to know the answers to some questions:

1.      How criminal, indeed, are our politicians?
2.     How true, exactly, was Om Puri when he called MPs lootere and anpadh?

ADR – The Association for Democratic Reforms

So I started searching the internet for answers.  And I found some great stuff online at the website of an organization called Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) (http://www.adrindia.org).  Here they have collected information on various facts, including the declared assets of all MPs and MLAs, the pending criminal cases against our MPs/MLAs, and many other facts worth knowing about our honourable representatives, based on affidavits signed by the honourable members themselves.

While I found the website itself very useful, I wanted to look at the data a bit closer, so I asked ADR to provide me some of the raw data, which I could mine for more information, which they were kind enough to do.  I have been mining that data for more trends.  But before I present that research, I first wanted to highlight the excellent work that ADR has been doing as essential background reading so people give credit where it is due.

This first part article is based chiefly on this ADR report: http://www.adrindia.org/files/High%20level%20criminal,%20financial%20&%20educational%20analysis%20LS%202009.pdf.  While it is a great report with excellent research, it suffers from one major deficiency, viz., the data is presented in tabular rather than graphical form.  I have always believed in the old maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so my chief contribution in this article is to convert their report into graphical form so people can easily capture what is in the report, as well as provide some commentary.

High-level Trends

An overall picture can be understood by absorbing the following points:

·       The number of Lok Sabha members of the 2009 House with pending criminal cases against them is a whopping 162 out of 543, or nearly 30% of the entire house.  This is an increase of nearly 27% from the corresponding number (128) in 2004.

·       The number of LS members in 2009 with serious pending criminal cases is 76 out of 543, or 14%, an increase of 31% over the 58 members in 2004.

·       The total number of pending criminal cases against House members is 522 in 2009, compared to 429 in 2004.

·       The total number of serious IPC (Indian Penal Code) charges was 275 in 2009, as opposed to 296 in 2004.  (see Appendix for what is considered “serious.”)

·       The last mentioned statistic is the only ameliorating one in the series of dismal trends.  It indicates a reduction in violent crime among the charges attributed to the honourable members, and indicates a shift towards other, “lesser” crimes, such as false statements under oath, promoting enmity between different groups, giving false evidence, etc.

·       There were 156 crorepatis (valued in excess of Rs. 1,00,00,000 = $200,000 at the current exchange rate) in the 2004 LS, compared to 315 in the 2009 LS, an increase of 159, or 102%.

·       302 MPs, who were elected in 2004, contested for re-election in 2009.  Their average asset value in 2004 was Rs. 1.92 cr. and in 2009 was Rs. 4.8 cr., an increase of Rs. 2.9 cr, or 289%, which comes to an annual ROI of 60%.  Clearly, politics is the best investment in India.

·       The average asset value of an MP rose from Rs. 1.86 crores in 2004 to Rs. 5.33 crores in 2009, a 186% increase.

·       Wealthy candidates had a significantly higher chance of winning elections
1.      32.65% of the candidates worth Rs. 5 crores or more won
2.     18.47% of the candidates worth Rs. 50 lakhs to Rs. 5 crores won
3.     6.28% of the candidates worth Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 50 lakhs won
4.     Only 0.43% of the candidates worth less than Rs. 10 lakhs won

Analysis by Party and by State

Figure 1 shows the percentages of MPs from each party facing criminal charges.
 Figure 1.  Percentages of Party MPs Facing Criminal Charges (Lok Sabha 2009)


The data labels on the bars show how many MPs each party has.  The top two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, have 21% and 38% of their MPs facing criminal charges.  Of all parties with 3 or more MPs, the Shiv Sena has the largest percentage of MPs facing criminal charges (82%), followed closely by the RJD (75%) and JD (S) (67%).

Figure 2 shows the corresponding percentages by state.  Jharkhand leads the pack at 57%, followed closely by Maharashtra at 54%, Bihar at 45%, Gujarat at 42%, and UP at 39%.  The picture changes somewhat when only serious criminal charges are being considered, as can be seen in Figure 3.

When considering only serious criminal charges, UP leads the pack with 28%, followed very closely by Gujarat at 27%, Maharashtra at 21%, Karnataka at 18%, AP at 17%, TN and Bihar at 15%, and Jharkhand at 14%.

For those interested, the ADR report also gives a list of the top 35 MPs with the most criminal cases against them.

Figure 2. Percentages of State MPs Facing Criminal Charges (Lok Sabha 2009)

Figure 3.  Percentages of State MPs Facing Serious Criminal Charges (LS 2009)

Still a Nation of Kings and Queens

The second part of the ADR Report deals with the effect of money on politics, and the facts are frankly damning.  The reader can probably already gauge that from the summary in the section titled “High-Level Trends,” but a look at a detailed analysis is even more stunning.

Figure 4 shows the percentage of MPs from each party who are crorepatis.  For an American, a crore might not be a huge number, but in India a crorepati is a very rich man based on what he can buy with that money (think of a millionaire in the US.)
Figure 4.  Percentage of Party MPs Who are Crorepatis

It is amazing to see that of the MPs from the ruling party, the Indian National Congress, nearly 71% are crorepatis, clearly highlighting the influence of money on politics.  More than half of the MPs from the second largest party in the Lok Sabha, the BJP, are crorepatis. 

With the notable and glaring exception of the CPM, which frankly tends to bolster their claim to be a clean party as far as corruption goes, every other party has more than 35% of their MPs in the category of crorepatis.  The exception of the CPM is highly notable when one considers that, before their historic defeat earlier this year, the CPM had ruled in West Bengal for more than 30 years, certainly plenty of time for their politicians to build up huge fortunes if they were corrupt.  For a long time, the CPM was also in power in Kerala.  Many Indian politicians have amassed huge fortunes in a much shorter span of time in power. (See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhu_Koda).

Among all parties with a significant presence (at least 5 MPs) in the Lok Sabha, the Shiv Sena is the wealthiest group of representatives in percentage terms – almost 82% of their MPs are crorepatis.  The Shiv Sena is closely followed by the RLD, which has 80% of its MPs in the crorepati category, and the NCP (Sharad Pawar’s party), which has 78% of its MPs in the elite category.  The DMK is not far behind at 72%. 

The two dominant parties in the most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, both have more than 60% of their MPs in the super-rich category, while the National Conference in J&K is also very well-off, with 2 out of 3 MPs being crorepatis.  

Seven parties – the Shiromani Akali Dal, Deve Gowda’s JD (S), the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Vaiko’s MDMK in Tamil Nadu, the Sikkim Democratic Front, the Haryana Janhit Congress of Bhajan Lal, and the Assam United Democratic Front – are represented exclusively by crorepatis.

Figure 5 shows the percentage of MPs from each state who are crorepatis.

Figure 5.  Percentage of State MPs who are Crorepatis

Kerala, West Bengal, and Chhatisgarh have the lowest percentages of crorepati MPs, with 25, 26, and 27% respectively.  The first two figures match with the low crorepati numbers of the CPM party, which administered WB exclusively for more than 30 years and was the ruling party in Kerala before the last elections.  Orissa comes a close fourth, with only 29% of crorepatis.

At the other extreme, 8 states/union territories are represented exclusively by crorepatis: Punjab, the National Capital Region of Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chandigarh, Puducherry, Daman and Diu, and Lakshadweep.

Not trailing far behind are Haryana, with 90%, Karnataka, with 89%, Uttarakhand, with 80%, Maharashtra with 79%, Andhra Pradesh with 76%, and Himachal Pradesh with 75%.  The other states with 50% or more crorepatis in their state MP list are Uttar Pradesh with 65%, Tamil Nadu with 64%, Rajasthan with 56%, Madhya Pradesh with 52%, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, and Meghalaya, each with 50% of their MPs being crorepatis.  Only 8 of the 29 regions in Figure 5 have a minority of crorepatis in their MP list.  Clearly, this is a game for rich people to play.

Figure 6 shows the tendency of the Indian legislature to be dominated by the super-rich by showing the average asset value of the MPs from each party.



Figure 6.  Average Assets of Party MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009)

Six parties dominate this skyline: the Assam United Democratic Front, having MPs with an average asset value of Rs. 30.4 crores, the Telugu Desam Party, with MPs worth, on average, Rs. 30 crores, the Nationalist Congress Party and Janata Dal (S), both with per capita MP asset values in excess of Rs. 18 crores, the Shiromani Akali Dal, whose members are worth on average Rs. 16.7 crores, and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, whose MPs are worth, on average, Rs. 14.7 crores.

The ruling national party, the Indian National Congress, follows immediately with a per-MP average asset value of Rs. 7.15 crores.  Given that the INC is the largest party in the Lok Sabha, with 206 out of 543 members, this is very significant indeed.  Their main rival, the BJP, with 116 MPs, has a per-capita MP asset value of Rs. 3.46 crores.  Among the other major parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, each have per-capita MP asset values in the vicinity of Rs. 5 crores.

Of all the major parties, it is again the communist parties that come out as the least wealthy.  The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India rank near the bottom of the list, with per-MP asset values of only Rs. 38.5 lakhs and Rs. 26.2 lakhs respectively.

Figure 7 shows the distribution of the average asset value of MPs of the 15th Lok Sabha, sorted by state.

Figure 7.  Average Asset Value of State MPs in 15th Lok Sabha

Haryana, with its agricultural landlords, dominates the skyline, with MPs worth, on average, Rs. 18 crores, followed by Andhra Pradesh with Rs. 16 crores.  Meghalaya and Punjab follow, with Rs. 13 crores and Rs. 11 crores respectively.  Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and NCR follow closely with per-MP values of Rs. 8.34, Rs. 8.07, Rs. 7.36, and Rs. 7.15 crores respectively.  Uttar Pradesh, with the most seats in the house, has a per-MP value of Rs. 4.89 crores.  Of the 10 states with the most representation in the Lok Sabha, only West Bengal has a per-MP asset value of less than 1 crore.

The ADR report, for those interested, also lists the top 35 crorepatis in the 2009 Lok Sabha.

Education Levels

I started this article talking about Om Puri’s comment of all parliamentarians as “anpadh” and “ganwar,” so it is just appropriate that I conclude with a discussion on the educational levels of our MPs.  The ADR document also lists the educational levels of our MPs. Figure 8 shows this in graphical form.


Figure 8.  Education Levels of MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009)

One thing is clear from this plot.  Our MPs, at least if the information furnished by them voluntarily in their affidavits is correct, are not “anpadhs” (illiterates).  Almost 50% of the members have a Bachelor’s degree education, either in the arts/sciences or in engineering/medicine, an additional 24% have a post-graduate degree, and nearly 4% have a doctorate degree (Ph.D.)  In addition, 10% have a 12th standard education (equivalent of high school in the US) and another 8% have a 10th standard education, which I would term as a minimal level of education to understand issues.  Add all that up, and you see that 94% of our MPs are fairly literate. 

So Om Puri is wrong at least on the “anpadh” part.  Our MPs are literate, and quite so; some of them are incredibly intelligent and accomplished; they even have 21 PhDs in their midst.  As for “ganwar,” Mr. Puri clarified what he meant by that – not that it means someone who hails from a “gaon” (village), but one who does not make smart decisions – and no amount of education can really make you smart in that sense.  As they say, common sense is very uncommon, but determining this is rather subjective, so we can reserve judgment on that point.

As for his “lootere” remark, well, go back and re-read the statistics about the number of MPs facing criminal charges, and decide for yourself if he was right or wrong.  It is true that the honourable MPs have not been convicted of those charges, but is it a horribly unjust thing for a person to think that these people might be guilty?  When you think of daily life, you will probably agree with me that if one of your neighbours is taken to court and if charges are pressed against him for some serious crime, you tend to believe the person was probably guilty – even though the law may not have pronounced them guilty yet.  Many would right away say they wouldn’t want anything to do with that person any longer.  Whether Puri had the right to call MPs  “lootere” is something I will not opine on here – that is something each person must decide himself or herself after looking at the evidence.

Discussion and Conclusions

Analysis of the excellent data collected by ADR clearly reveals some patterns:

1.      Crime Statistics. Roughly 30% of all Indian MPs of the Lok Sabha have criminal charges pending against them.  About 14% have serious criminal charges pending against them.  The number of members facing criminal charges has also increased dramatically since the last Lok Sabha.  This is a very serious matter.
 
a.     Innocent Until Proven Guilty?  One can make the point (and, indeed, the Constitution has considered this) that one is innocent until proven guilty.  However, the common wisdom also has it that where there is smoke, there must be fire.  The thought that nearly a third of the people who rule over us and make decisions concerning our future might be compromised in some way or another cannot be ignored, and weighs heavily on the Indian public.  Whether or not a court has deemed these MPs guilty, the court of public opinion holds them so.  The general opinion of the man on the street is that these people are probably guilty and have escaped punishment only by using their inordinate wealth and influence to stay out of prison.
 
b.     Fast-Track Process to Clear Cases.  The only remedy for this (and it must be implemented soon) is to have a fast-track court process all cases related to sitting MPs.  The solution that some have advocated of not allowing a person with a criminal charge against him to run for office is misguided, because a perfectly good and honest person could be disqualified from running for office by a malicious false case laid against him or her just before an election.  Instead, a rule should be passed that within 3 months of the election of any MP or MLA, a fast-track court should come to a verdict on whether the accused is guilty or not.  An extra 3 months should be given to fast-track the case in higher courts in case any appeals are made – right up to the Supreme Court.

2.     Inordinate Wealth of MPs.  The monetary worth of the members of the Lok Sabha shows that this is primarily a rich man’s playing field.
 
a.    What is the Source?  Members of Parliament worth crores of rupees are an obvious invitation to a disproportionate assets investigation, and it is a matter of great surprise that all these crorepati MPs have not been investigated by the CBI or other investigative agencies.  To be sure,  some of them are high-paid professional lawyers, and it is conceivable that they made this kind of money arguing cases for wealthy clients, but we already know that the percentage of MPs with professional degrees (under which a law degree would fall) constitute only about 25%.  Given that only a fraction of those MPs will actually be lawyers, and also that the said lawyer MPs are presumably busy with the people’s work and not arguing cases, what explains the fact that 58% of all MPs in the current Lok Sabha are crorepatis?  It is known that the actual salary of an MP is not very high (see, e.g., http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-08-21/india/28313978_1_indian-mps-constituency-allowance-three-fold-hike, according to which the actual “salary” component paid to an Indian MP will not exceed Rs. 20 lakh a year, even with the revised guidelines).  In the past they were even more poorly paid (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/300-salary-hike-but-some-mps-want-more-45822).  How, then, did they accumulate so much wealth?

b.     Do They Represent Us?  The fact that 58% of the current Lok Sabha members are crorepatis is a matter of great concern because, by virtue of being crorepatis, they no longer represent the average Indian.  To take an analogy, a constituency of Dalits will never be happy with an upper-caste Hindu being their representative; a constituency of Muslims will never be happy with a Hindu (or vice versa) being their representative; a constituency of Tamils will never be happy with, say, a Bihari being their representative; in the same way, poor and middle-class Indians cannot and should not accept ultra-rich MPs as their representative.  Why?  For the same reason that the Dalits cannot accept the upper-caste Hindu as their representative.  How will the representative understand the concerns of his constituency if he does not experience any of the problems that his constituency faces?  Why should an MP who is worth Rs. 10 crores care whether the price of petrol is Rs. 50 or Rs. 200 per litre?  What difference will it make to him?

c.      Politics as an Avenue to Affluence.  What makes this problem worse is that politics is seen as an avenue to get to the ultra-rich level.  So even if the MP is a good representative of his district when he enters, by multiplying his assets at an annual rate of 60%, he quickly stops identifying with them.  As Pavan Varma, in his book, “Being Indian,” brilliantly points out (see http://www.hindu.com/mag/2004/04/25/stories/2004042500310100.htm), democracy in India has worked not because of any fundamental belief among Indians in the value of freedom and participative politics, but because the Indian democratic system has been rightly seen to be the fastest way of acquiring power and pelf.
 
d.     Regulatory Mechanisms.  We need to combat this, and to do this we need effective ways to fight corruption and improve transparency in government.  The Jan Lokpal bill (or at least, an equivalent mechanism that doesn’t have large loopholes) is a good mechanism to try to enforce transparency and eliminate corruption.  Government should be seen as serving the people, not as a way of enriching oneself.

3.     The Need for Electoral Reform.  The clear statistics that electoral success is influenced very strongly by personal wealth means that electoral reform is more critical than ever before (what Americans call campaign finance reform).  The reason that elections cost huge amounts of money is that large numbers of votes are simply bought by parties by paying off illiterate villagers and poor people, who live on such limited means that their vote is not as valuable to them as a few hundred rupees.  There need to be strict limits on election spending which need to be carefully monitored so that elections are earned and not bought.

4.     Distribution of Criminal Conduct and Wealth Inequity.  No political party seems to have a monopoly on crime and wealth.  The Congress and BJP, the two major national parties, both have alarming statistics on crime (about 21% of Congress MPs facing criminal charges, about 38% of BJP MPs facing criminal charges) and wealth accumulation due to power (50% of BJP MPs being crorepatis and 70% of Congress MPs being crorepatis).  So, before someone like Mr. Advani goes around the country talking about a Rath Yatra to remove corruption, he needs to take a look at the statistics on his own party.  He will then not need the yatra, which is sort of like the cat chasing its own tail.  There are only two other consistent things one can say from the data.  One, the Shiv Sena has the dubious distinction of having both the highest percentage of its MPs facing criminal charges (82%) as well as the highest percentage of crorepati MPs (again, 82%).  Two, the communist party MPs seem to have accumulated the least wealth from their tenure in power.

Much needs to be done, and Indians need to rise as one in demanding change and doing whatever is necessary to achieve that change.  The agitation of Anna Hazare, whatever one thinks about its means, the actors involved, and the demands, is still a positive step.  Never have the common people risen like this before to demand change.  We need to build upon this positive step to achieve a truly functional democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Finally, as a parting remark, I encourage more people to look at the different reports and statistics available at the ADR site and educate themselves on the reality of our parliamentary democracy.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the folks at ADR for helping me in this continuing work by sharing their raw data with me and for their help in understanding their methods.


Appendix: Indian Penal Code (IPC) Definition of Serious Crimes

121
Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India
121A
Conspiracy to commit offences punishable by section 121
122
Collecting arms, etc., with intention of waging war against the Government of India
123
Concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war
124
Assaulting President, Governor, etc., with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power
124A
Sedition
153A
Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony
171B
Bribery
171C
Undue influence at elections
171D
Personation at elections
171E
Punishment for bribery
171F
Punishment for  undue influence or personation at an election
171G
False statement in connection with an election
171H
Illegal payments in connection with an election
171I
Failure to keep election accounts
172
Absconding to avoid service of summons or other proceeding
177
Furnishing false information
181
False statement on oath or affirmation to public servant or person authorized to administer an oath or affirmation
191
Giving false evidence
192
Fabricating false evidence
193
 false evidence
194
Giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence
195
Giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of offence punishable with imprisonment for life or imprisonment
196
Using evidence known to be false
197
Issuing or signing false certificate
198
Using as true a certificate known to be false
230
Coin defined
231
Counterfeiting coin
232
Counterfeiting Indian coin
233
Making or selling instrument for counterfeiting coin
234
Making or selling instrument for counterfeiting Indian coin
235
Possession of instrument, or material for the purpose of using the same for counterfeiting coin
236
Abetting in India the counterfeiting out of India of coin
237
Import or export of counterfeit coin
238
Import or export of counterfeits of the India coin
239
Delivery of coin, possessed with knowledge that it is counterfeit
240
Delivery of Indian coin, possessed with knowledge that it is counterfeit
241
Delivery of coin as genuine, which, when first possessed, the deliverer did not know to be counterfeit
242
Possession of counterfeit coin by person who knew it to be counterfeit when he became possess thereof
243
Possession of Indian coin by person who knew it to be counterfeit when he became possessed thereof
244
Person employed in mint causing coin to be of different weight or composition from that fixed by law
245
Unlawfully taking coining instrument from mint
246
Fraudulently or dishonestly diminishing weight or altering composition of coin
247
Fraudulently or dishonestly diminishing weight or altering composition of Indian coin
248
Altering appearance of coin with intent that it shall pass as coin of different description
249
Altering appearance of India coin with intent that it shall pass as coin of different description
250
Delivery of coin, possessed with knowledge that it is altered
251
Delivery of Indian coin, possessed with knowledge that it is altered
252
Possession of coin by person who knew it to be altered when he became possessed thereof
253
Possession of Indian coin by person who knew it to be altered when he became possessed thereof
254
Delivery of coin as genuine, which, when first possess, the deliverer did not know to be altered
255
Counterfeiting Government stamp
256
Having possession of instrument or material for counterfeiting Government stamp
257
Making or selling instrument for counterfeiting Government stamp
258
Sale of counterfeit Government stamp
259
Having possession of counterfeit Government stamp
260
Using as genuine a Government stamp known to be a counterfeit
274
Adulteration of drugs
275
Sale of adulterated drugs
292
Sale, etc., or obscene books, etc.
292A
Printing etc. of grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended for blackmail
293
Sale, etc., of obscene objects to young person
294
Obscene acts and songs
295
Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class
295A
Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs
299
Culpable homicide
300
Murder
301
Culpable homicide by causing death of person other than person whose death was intended
302
Murder
303
 murder by life-convict
304
 culpable homicide not amounting to murder
304A
Causing death by negligence
304B
Dowery death
305
Abetment of suicide of child or insane person
306
Abetment of suicide
307
Attempt to murder
308
Attempt to commit culpable homicide
324
Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means
325
 voluntarily causing grievous hurt
326
Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means
343
Wrongful confinement for three or more days
344
Wrongful confinement for ten or more days
359
Kidnapping
360
Kidnapping from India
361
Kidnapping from lawful guardianship
362
Abduction
363
 kidnapping
363A
Kidnapping or maiming a minor for purposes of begging
364
Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder
364A
Kidnapping for ransom, etc.
365
Kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person
366
Kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage, etc.
366A
Procreation of minor girl
366B
Importation of girl from foreign country
367
Kidnapping or abducting in order to subject person to grievous hurt, slavery, etc.
368
Wrongfully concealing or keeping in confinement, kidnapped or abducted person
369
Kidnapping or abducting child under ten years with intent to steal from its person
370
Buying or disposing of any person as slave
371
Habitual dealing in slave
372
Selling minor for purposes of prostitution, etc.
373
Buying minor for purposes of prostitution, etc.
374
Unlawful compulsory labour
375
Rape
376
 rape
378
Theft
379
 theft
380
Theft in dwelling house, etc.
381
Theft by clerk or servant of property in possession of master
382
Theft after preparation made for causing death, hurt or restraint in order to the committing of the theft
383
Extortion
384
 extortion
390
Robbery
391
Dacoity
392
 robbery
393
Attempt to commit robbery
395
 dacoity
396
Dacoity with murder
411
Dishonestly receiving stolen property
412
Dishonestly receiving property stolen in the commission of a dacoity
413
Habitually dealing in stolen property
414
Assisting in concealment of stolen property
415
Cheating
416
Cheating by personation
417
 cheating
418
Cheating with knowledge that wrongful loss may ensue to person whose interest offender is bound to protect
419
 cheating by personation
420
Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property
421
Dishonest or fraudulent removal or concealment of property to prevent distribution among creditors
463
Forgery
465
 forgery
466
Forgery of record of court or of public register, etc.
467
Forgery of valuable security, will, etc.
468
Forgery for purpose of cheating
469
Forgery for purpose of harming reputation
470
Forged document or electronic record
471
Using as genuine a forged document or electronic record