COLUMN - Unity in war and wage

(T Bhanu is a veteran financial journalist with more than thirty years of experience across three leading Indian newspapers. The views expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of Reuters)

File photo of the parliament building in New Delhi, February 16, 2006. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

By T Bhanu

The noted political commentator was reacting to the demand for a wage hike for our Members of Parliament:

“Our MPs spend, or at least they are supposed to spend, considerable time nursing their constituencies and, of course, attend Parliament session where they put their histrionics and lung power to test. Out of Parliament House, their voice croaks and out of Parliament they become voiceless…”

“And yet, some of the more enterprising among them squeeze in and find enough time working the mines or collieries, even doing sundry jobs, making a big sacrifice and embracing a punishing schedule. For, they too have wants and families and children to look after. Just like us. Indeed, some miners are majors with a lot of business interests, but that is a minor aberration.”

“No one can, therefore, grudge if our Hon. MPs ask for a reasonable hike in their pay. For making the laws, they get a measly Rs.16,000 per month, the kind of money that boys in courier companies are paid these days, whereas a Secretary to Government earns as much as Rs.80,000 for pushing the files, mostly with the common noting `please ascertain the position’. You might say that the comparison is odious, but if this is not reverse disparity, what else is?”

I interjected to say that I have no particular view in the matter except that I know that MPs enjoy several special privileges and fringe benefits, including the allotment of beautiful bungalows during their term.

“Poor MPs. Unlike the babus, they have no union to represent their case. Fortunately, the political parties they represent understand their hapless plight and they have unanimously rallied behind them,” the commentator said. Though the Cabinet has postponed a decision worried over the timing, its sympathies are with the poor MPs, he added.

“I only wish our MPs and political parties show this rare spirit of solidarity whenever the government faces any crisis, which is anyway not too infrequent,” I pointed out. “At least, we are as united in wage as in war.’’

“People expect too much out of their elected representatives, forgetting for a moment that they too are ordinary mortals. Just like us. The problem gets exacerbated in a democracy where people, we are told, are supreme. They expect their MPs to be omnipresent, call on them and redress their grievances at all time. Is it humanly possible for, say an MP, or a minister for that matter, digging earth deep in the forests and carting iron ore, legally or otherwise, to be also present in his constituency at one and the same time? And if the lawmaker makes it a habit to keep off his electorate beyond a reasonable time, then you know the consequences - he might even lose his deposit in the next election,” the commentator said.

“The point is they take such trouble and risks and yet they are sometimes punished ruthlessly by the people who elected them in the first place. Have some mercy on those who have no service rules and job guarantee as the government servants!”

Clearly, the political commentator was all for the government to increase MPs’ wages, without realizing that he had already stirred a hornet’s nest. Maybe, it is the turn of the Government secretaries to nudge their ministers for a salary hike, if only to maintain that they are a class apart, belonging as they do to an exclusive club.