This may sound like a poor joke, but Ketan Tanna did stumble upon some MPs who are honest
To the common man, an honest member of Parliament would seem like an amusing oxymoron. MPs have always been gawked at for their swagger, upwardly mobile living standards and, of course, sprawling bungalows in Lutyenâ€™s Delhi.
Strangely though, there are some MPs in this country of cynics and self-proclaimed fatalists who are as financially strapped as their constituency. Difficult as it is to believe, these MPs are also reasonably comfortable with their middle-class and even lower middle-class status. They ride buses, travel by trains and own less gold and property than a police constable.
All of them have a common thread. They unobtrusively go about their business of public service, and nothing much else. And they are so poor that even sniffy opposition members feel kind enough to give it to them. A more solid testimony of their lack of streetsmart would be impossible to find.
In Gujarat, for instance, where a fair majority of MPs live in air-conditioned zones of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat, BJPâ€™s Mansukh Vasava continues to live in a small house at Rajpipla.
He built this place from the compensation he got in 1986 as one of the Karjan Dam-affected families of tribal-dominated Rajpipla and Bharuch districts of south Gujarat. This project-affected person today is representing Bharuch in the Lok Sabha for the third consecutive term.
Despite being an MP, his lifestyle resembles that of his constituency members. He lives like a tribal and travels in Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation buses. When it is time for him to attend Parliament in New Delhi, he takes a bus to Vadodara to catch a Delhi-bound train.
â€œI have been elected to work for the welfare of adivasis and the downtrodden. That is what I have been doing,â€ says the incredulously unassuming Vasava. The MP, who lives in a joint family, has accounts in two nationalised banks of Rajpipla, with fixed deposits worth Rs 73,000 and Rs 30,000.
But on second thoughts, he is not all that poor. He owns an Armada van, though he uses it only to touch base with his electorate.
In the mandatory declaration of assets and properties, which all aspiring MPs have to file before elections, Vasava revealed that he has Rs 15,000 as cash and his wife Saraswati Rs 5,000. That was before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
Many though would say that paper declarations can be misleading. In Bihar, for instance, gangster Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, a four-time MP from Purnea, claims he has no car of his own. Improbably, he has been accused of masterminding many kidnapping cases. Maybe he took the bus.
In Vasavaâ€™s case though, his political opponents have never passed a single adverse remark. In fact, Hasmukh Patel, a senior member of rival Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, describes him as a â€œlow-profile and dedicated workerâ€.
In Ahmedabad, Vasava has his unique match in
Pravin Rashtrapal, a Congress member of Rajya Sabha. His lone source of income is his pension and interest from his fixed deposit of Rs 7 lakh, which he received as post-retirement benefit. Rashtrapal, who served the Central government for more than three decades and was even elected to Lok Sabha, continues to live in a two-bedroom flat in Ahmedabadâ€™s oldworld Shahpur area.
He drives his ancient Maruti 800 to commute within Ahmedabad. He often takes the city transport bus. And like Vasava, he takes the Gujarat State Road Transport buses whenever he visits his constituency, Patan, in north Gujarat. He has a share in ancestral property at Dehgam, and has been given a plot of land in Gandhinagar at a concessional rate by virtue of being an MP. The market value of the land is Rs 1.32 lakh.
Here, the story gets even curiouser. This MPâ€™s wife has gold ornaments weighing around 40 tolas or 400 grams. And, he has a single bank deposit of Rs 54,000. No wonder Kashiram Rana, former Union textile minister and a senior BJP leader, describes Rashtrapal as â€œsimple, unassuming and a bold trade unionistâ€.
In Maharashtra, finding such radical MPs is a tough call. Respective chiefs of various political parties openly chuckled when asked to name a second-time MP who was honest and lived frugally. â€œBy the time they are in the second term, they are not poor,â€ a senior functionary of BJP said, knowingly. Subhash Desai of Shiv Sena did not even get back, nor did Congressâ€™ Gurudas Kamath.
After much digging, two MPs of Maharashtra emerged as relatively honest.
This is not to say that the rest are rolling in wealth. It is just that information about them was hard to come by. Shiv Sena MP from Osmanabad, Kalpana Narhire, continues to live a
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in her small house.
Narhireâ€™s worldly goods are listed on three pages of the affidavit filed with the Election Commission. Her possession includes a truck and Ikon car valued at Rs 4.2 lakh, and bought with a loan of Rs 2.95 lakh. Her jewellery is worth Rs 45,000. Her land and apartment are valued at Rs 3.9 lakh.
Opposition Congress MLA from Tuljapur Madhukarrao Chavan concedes that Narhire lives a simple life. â€œI cannot say much about her work. She is lucky though,â€ he says, tonguein-cheek.
A BJP MP from Chandrapur, Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, too, has a grudging admirer in Bhadrawati Opposition Congress MLA, Sanjay Deotale. â€œHe has a decent image. His background is very simple and I have not heard anything about him making money.â€
Lal Muni Choubey of BJP, who is representing Buxar constituency for the past five terms, appears to be the poorest. As property. he has a small plot of land in Phulwari near Patna and nothing else.
(With inputs by Anil Pathak in Ahmedabad, Faizan Ahmad in Patna and Ashish Tripathi in Lucknow)