For Your Favourite Millionaire
By P. Sainath
17 April, 2004
be there is something to Chandrababu Naidu's claims of women's emancipation
in Andhra Pradesh after all. A strange form of this is manifest in the
poll-time declaration of assets filed by the State's top political leaders.
In many cases, the stated wealth of a leader's wife far exceeds his
own. Mr. Naidu himself leads the way. He is worth a modest Rs.1.6 crores.
His wife is worth more than 12 times as much at Rs.19.3 crores.
The Telugu Desam
Party (TDP) Lok Sabha hopeful from Narsraopeta is also outdone by his
spouse. She is closer to the Rs.10-crore mark. Her husband reports a
mere Rs.7 crores. The wife of an MLA from Anantapur district is worth
a full Rs. 1 crore more than her husband. The Telangana Rashtriya Samithi
(TRS) MP candidate in Medak owns almost nothing, compared to his wife's
Contrast that with
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani who at Rs. 1 crore is doing a lot
better than Mrs. Advani is. Or film star Govinda in Mumbai who owns
more jewellery than his wife does. His personal collection clocks in
at Rs.1.83 crores, eclipsing his wife's paltry Rs.32 lakhs. (It could
be argued, of course, that men in Andhra Pradesh are given to marrying
women of great wealth. But that's another story.) All in all, women's
property rights do not seem to be doing too badly in Andhra Pradesh.
Not if we go by these declarations of assets.
The press in Andhra
Pradesh has seen much good-natured humour over the declarations. Many
reports sympathise with their "very poor" leaders. More so
in the case of stalwarts who have announced their worth in tens of lakhs
of rupees. When all the world knows the true numbers to be in crores.
Yet these doctored documents do throw up many vital facts. Some of which
help us understand better the vicious and violent battle for the party
Several of those
contesting have held some kind of office before. This might be at just
the mandal level. Yet, even there, they seem to have acquired huge assets.
In quite a few cases, obscure little men at the mandal level have declared
their worth in millions of rupees. Several had no great source of income
before holding elected office. (Unless they were contractors of some
sort.) A share of what they have made is now invested in the hope of
higher office. They've figured out this much: nothing makes more money
like more money.
As one of the State's
better-known investigative reporters puts it: "It has [been] proved
possible to amass crores in a very brief period. The more so in a State
throwing thousands of crores at `development.' That money translates
mostly into contracts. So you have a very large number of contractors
contesting elections. They can afford it. In fact, they can't afford
not to. The polls are a serious investment in moving to the higher league."
Many, watching how this is done, are spurred to enter the arena themselves.
Andhra Pradesh has
raised over Rs.50,000 crores in loans in the past nine years. That is,
the period of Mr. Naidu's tenure. Close to a third of that has come
from external agencies such as the World Bank. And a good bit of this
greases the process of primitive accumulation on in the State. Even
`drought relief' translates into contracts. As do food-for-work programmes.
And thus into money and assets.
Anantapur, for instance,
is one of the State's poorest districts. It has seen more farmers' suicides
than any other part of the country. Severe drought has also plagued
the district. Yet there are perhaps more luxury vehicles and SUVs per
capita on the roads here than in many big cities. (Including hundreds
of air-conditioned Tata Sumos and Spacios, Scorpios and Qualises.) The
greater the money coming in for `relief' and `development,' the swifter
the expansion of this fleet. (The Hindu Sunday Magazine, July 13, 2003.)
Most of the fancy cars here are owned by contractors and builders.
If you are an elected
representative you can guide many contracts towards yourself. (Or your
wife.) On the other hand, if you are a contractor, it makes sound sense
to get yourself elected. Getting to be an MLA or MP also helps you get
permission to build, say, half a dozen engineering colleges. Education
is a multi-billion rupee business. The merging of the contractor-elected
representative is moving ahead very fast in the State.
That begins to explain
in part not just the size of assets declared, but also the desperation
to contest the polls. There is too much at stake. Getting elected is
a form of contract renewal. If you do not manage it, you could lose
your source of income. It also explains how costly the purchase of your
`ticket' can be. And how so many are able to afford it. The more so
in a State where a `ticket' can sometimes cost upwards of Rs. 20 lakhs.
Where a candidate's campaign spending in a single Lok Sabha constituency
can be well over Rs. 2.5 crores. (And up to Rs. 1 crore or more in an
Add to this the
groupism and caste contours of Andhra Pradesh politics and you have
an explosive mix. Almost no other State has seen such a large number
of attacks on party offices during the `ticket' allotment process. These
were not an onslaught by rivals. Just violence from those who feared
their own parties would deny them the ticket. There have been nearly
a dozen such attacks, often smashing the party office. (And some public
property for good measure.)
Barring the Left
parties, all have tasted this fate. In Kurnool, Congress party workers
torched their own office after their leader was denied the ticket. TDP
men in Gudivada ran wild at their office after a former MLA was turned
In Hyderabad, violence
erupted at the Congress headquarters, the mis-named Gandhi Bhavan. Irate
ticket-seekers ransacked the BJP office in the State capital. If the
TDP office in the city did not suffer the same fate, it was because
of the huge police presence there to guard the party from its own members.
This did not, however, prevent rival TDP groups from clashing within
and outside the office. TRS men had to be physically restrained outside
their president's house in Hyderabad.
In one incident,
a regional TDP office was ravaged by a poll-hopeful fearing he would
be denied the ticket. In fact, he got it, along with a dressing down
from Mr. Naidu who seems to have asked him what the point of the destruction
was. Local journalists say his answer was special: "Anyway,"
he replied defensively, "this office was built mainly with my money."
Much of `his' money came from contracts on public works.
There is a less
funny side to the growing clout of money power in the polls. The media
here scoff at the level of assets declared. They point to the fact that
plots of land in prime locations valued at crores are listed as worth
only lakhs of rupees. Even allowing for under-valuation, many candidates
are worth crores officially.
The larger question
is: what sort of character will a legislature full of such people have?
It is quite likely
that most if not all of those elected could be worth,
on an average, between Rs. 50 lakhs and Rs.1 crore. (A conservative
estimate.) How representative will they be of voters whose annual average
income does not exceed Rs.12,000? And is much less at the lower levels
of society. Even as the wealth of those up for office (or in it) shoots
up, that of the voters does not. A look at the growth of per capita
income across all States in the 1990s makes that point. Andhra Pradesh's
rank in per capita growth was lower than it was in the 1980s. The gap
between electors and the elected widens.
However, much of
this is true of other parts of the country as well. What sort of legislatures
will we have? How true will they be to the issues of millions of poor
Indians? Nearly 60 years ago, journalist and media critic A.J. Liebling
wrote: "I think almost everyone will grant that if candidates for
the United States Senate were required to possess ten million dollars,
and for the House one million, the year-in-year-out level of conservatism
of those two bodies might be expected to rise sharply. We could still
be said to have a freely elected Congress. Anybody with ten million
dollars (or one, if he tailored his ambition to fit his means) would
be free to try to get himself nominated, and the rest of us would be
free to vote for our favourite millionaire or even to abstain from voting..."
Liebling's own country
turned his wit into reality decades ago. But he could have been writing
of the current Andhra Pradesh elections. Or of money power and the polls
in India as a whole. Your voting rights could increasingly mean your
right to vote for your favourite millionaire.
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