Econ Mom starts liking politicians

Friday night. We were watching Singham, with Ajay Devgan in full form, the lil one gleeful, hubby dozing between fights and me cringing every time some goonda broke one more limb on my TV screen. Hmmm, my allergetic reaction to the violence apart, I must say that it’s kinda nice to see this one man army taking on the corrupt Jaykant Shikres of this bad, bad world.

Even while watching Lil One ape all the fight moves impeccably and punch some invisible baddies in my living room, my mind was hovering uncomfortably to this new assignment I am handling. Because this new assignment has to do with politicians and corruption and efficiency of their working. And let me confess, much as I am learning a lot of new stuff pertaining to the subject matter of the assignment, I am also learning some uncomfortable truths about my own self and my biases whilst handling it.

Ok, first about the assignment. This is a kind of a political economy thing, where amongst other things, we have to work out measurable criteria to see how well politicians at the centre are performing and work out who the more efficient MPs are. Now, the first time we ever looked at the assignment, our team automatically switched back to the basic criteria of measuring the usual performance indicators: Attendance record of the MPs, number of criminal charges against them etc. These would form the first set of “negative” criteria to kind of reduce the list of the 545 MPs from the Lok Sabha to something, more manageable. The tone at the meeting was (rather gleefully) that these two criteria themselves should be able to help us to reduce the number of MPs down to 200; the sub-conscious level ideation being that politicians in India are basically crooks, and pros at bunking the boring sessions of the Parliament.

Heehee. Having grown up on a steady and masala diet of Hindi films full of lewd, leering, pot bellied and totally corrupt Mantris who eventually get bashed up by either common men with uncommonly big biceps or by Strider type of police officers without any back up and/or reporting hierarchies, I was thinking that getting even data on 200 MPs with decent attendance and clean records would be tough. And it’s not only the films. It’s also all those family gatherings and celebrations that Indian kids get to attend, with the males discussing politics pompously. As a child, I remember all the elders arguing vociferously about political issues and much as they would look furiously to and argue loudly against anyone who didn’t agree with their political views, on one view there would always be unanimity. “All politicians are crooks,” someone would say and the tension would break, generally making way for hot samosas and ice-creams over this newly found amicability over the corrupt quotient of the Indian politician.

Thank God for the corruption! How else would have Bollywood survived? Just think! We would have been poorer for never having seen (with awe bordering on incredulity) the dhai kilo waale haaths of Deols and the Shettys. The great Indian family gatherings would be reduced to mere gossip sessions. And most importantly, we would have had good roads, good power supply, good infrastructure…what would then happen to the millions of people who get employed today building the same roads multiple number of times? I am sure that if Lord John Maynard Keynes were to visit India, even he would be overwhelmed and moved to tears by how very literally our politicians seem to have taken him “The government should pay people to dig holes in the ground and then fill them up.”

All in all, you see, I was fairly sure that the negative list would work quite negatively against the MPs and we would be left with only a hundred or so people, who would then become our initial candidates to qualify as “efficient”.

Imagine my surprise, when the Lok Sabha data revealed the following details. Of the 546 MPs in the LS, there are 485 MPs that have an attendance record of more than 50%! What a pleasant surprise! That means that nearly 89% of our MPs attend the Parliament at least half of the time. This is good indeed. And it gets better.

On www.myneta.in, it is possible to get data on whether there are criminal charges pending against any of the MPs. Now, out of the 485 people with healthy attendance, there are 157 people who have criminal charges pending against them. That gave me a list of 328 MPs who had good attendance AND clean records. Impressive! I also came across data on whether Mantrijis have a PAN card or not and interestingly found that of the 328 winners, only 5 didn’t ahm…have PAN cards. Well, our list reduces to 323 MPs.

Clean decisions require a clean conscience. Well, think of the following situation. An MP has a stake in some food processing units and now becomes part of a Parliamentary Committee on Food Processing Industry in India. There could be a situation where he/she influences the policy in a manner that gives that helpful push to the units he has a stake in. This kind of a situation is called as a “conflict of interest” and it is now getting mandated that all MPs in both houses make declarations so as to avoid conflicts of interest. Again, I was very thrilled to see that there is a database on which we can check which of the Rajya Sabha MPs have given these declarations, though, such a database, sadly, is not being maintained for the MPs from the LS.

The 323 MPs with PAN and clean records and good attendance also take part in debates and discussions and ask a healthy number of questions in the Parliament. When I reported the statistics back to the team, there was great indignation and angst, to say the least. What! After getting scores and scores of bad movies dedicated to them, the politicians have done quite the volte-face and have, in their usual fashion, turned the statistics against us! How corrupt!

The humor in the shock apart, it was good to see these statistics. It is good to see that changes are coming through. It is good to see that more than 75% of our representatives are at least graduates. It’s good to see that norms for transparency are being set in both houses. For the first time, something about politicians is making me smile.

When I tried telling my Lil One later that night that not all politicians are bad, his reaction was typically Singham. “Ataa maajhi satakli,” he said.

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