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How to earn Rs 50 crores in 5 years

By: B Shantanu
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…actually I don’t really know. But perhaps Behen Mayawati-ji may have some tips to share.

This is a subject with such rich pickings (pun unintended) and I am seriously considering a series on “How to earn Rs XYZ crores X years” focused on politicians (- feel free to write in with tips and information).

But I digress. Back to Mayawati-ji. Going by her recently declared assets, at 51, Mayawati-ji has roughly earned an average of Rs. 1crore each year since she was born. Considering her modest background and education, this is an extraordinary achievement.

To give Mayawati-ji her due (courtesy Tavleen Singh ), “she has the courage to declare her assets and this makes her in a weird sort of way more honest than ninety percent of our politicians“.

According to some reports ( here ), her assets in 2004 were a little over Rs. 1.67 crore. If true (and it certainly is a much more “believable” figure), the increase is even more astounding than the amount. However, other reports suggest that by 2004, she had already amassed about Rs. 11 crore.

Mayawati-ji herself has said that “Each penny is accounted for and explained before income-tax authorities” and that the bulk of her assets were acquired over the past three years as “gifts” from party workers who were agitated after she was “framed” by the BJP in the Taj Corridor and the disproportionate assets case.

So should we applaud her instead of condemning her?

In anunusual take on this issue, Chandra Bhan Prasad wrote, “If we agree that Mayawati’s political movement is part of a transformative process, then we should have no moral problems about her assets.”

I beg to disagree. While I am all in favour of improving the lot of Dalits and under-privileged amongst us, does this have to necessarily involve compromising our integrity or changing definitions of morality?
Tavleen Singh writing in ”Maya a trend-setter” wonders whether “it was only because Mayawati is a Dalit leader that she is coming in for such special censure when it comes to corruption“? Perhaps it is, I don’t know. Does that make it OK though?

Mayawati-ji is actually in an unenviable position since she has no children to park her wealth with.

The affidavit that candidates need to sign declaring their assets only requires declaration of assets owned by individual, his/her spouse and “dependent children”. Thus if the offspring are above 21, their assets need not be declared - of course this is a nice loophole for most candidates whose children are above this age. (Sadly, “Rahul Baba” does not fall in this category).

But the declaration is not really useful unless the Finance Ministry or the CBI decides to investigate the assets and whether they have been truthfully valued (and declared in full) or not. It is not enough to have candidates file affidavits since there is no penalty for non-disclosure or partial disclosure.

That apart, the declaration of assets is really only a half-way measure since it does not require candidates to declare “how” they acquired these assets. Of course the CBI has the power to investigate cases of “assets disproportionate to known sources of income” but we all know how it usually ends.

In her post on this issue, Nita writes mentions how “The need for political funding is in fact the root cause of corruption” - I cannot agree more.

In fact I have written before how this is probably the faced by the new political formations like the Bharat Punarnirman Dal, Lok Paritran etc.

Nita suggests a system of disclosure of campaign financing along the lines of Japan, US, UK and other democracies.

I am not sure if that is enough (or even if it will be enforceable). What it might do is to change the nature of contribution to “donation in kind” rather than cash (- which of course happens at present too).

And “donations in kind” are notoriously hard to value and easy to under-estimate and hide.

As Nita mentions, we do have a law that requires, funding beyond the limit of Rs. 10,000/- to be disclosed - This is such a ridiculously low figure that it is almost guaranteed to be breached. Similarly there is a limit on spending but as far as I know, no one has ever been accused, tried or convicted of violating these norms. The thumb rule “cost” to run an election campaign for Lok Sabha varies between Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 5 crore ( - I have this on good authority). Clearly the guideline is routinely violated.

So is there any hope? I believe there is…but several things need to fall in place before that can happen….More on this as the series unfolds.

P.S. Could it be that the money Behenji has raised is actually meant for the party? or perhaps to finance her
future campaign for 7, Race Course Road?

B Shantanu

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