MPs in Public Dock

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The debate over the raise in salary sought by MPs is demonstrative of two things. One, it is eloquent on the trust deficit of the people by and large in the performance, capability or commitment of politicians. There are too many people, especially amongst the rather cynical urban, middle class, professionals and intelligentsia. They generally seem to think MPs are country bumpkins and buffoons, who have landed these important seats in the highest seats of power of a democratic polity by virtue of their appeal to the illiterate masses, and not their calibre as leaders. Two, and in the same breath, it also shows how mean the Indian middle class can be. How can the men and women that the country has elected to lead the nation be paid far less than the men and women in the bureaucracy. They belong to the same government establishment, and in a government system in which salaries are like medals worn by various hierarchies of government functionaries, how can MP salaries be put far down the ladder – literally at the very bottom, especially after the implementation of the 6th Pay Commission recommendations for Central government employees, followed by comparable pay hikes for state government employees as well? In any case, this debate is rather redundant in many ways, for ultimately the matter will be decided by those who wield the real power under the present dispensation, and the MPs would have their way. At best, the protests would be reduced to the mere act of placing on record dissenting opinions and nothing more.
But the debate did serve one purpose. It was a reminder to the politicians of the shortfall of public expectation placed on them. If they were sensitive enough, they would take note and indulge in some serious collective soul searching. The consensus that comes of such an introspective exercise should also be encoded at least as a code of conduct of those who have been given the charge of making law for the country. There is no point for guessing, but the foremost of these codes would be accountability, as indeed had been pointed out repeatedly by discussants in the media, both electronic and print, many of them almost with unwarranted irreverence. Apart from taking active part in the law making exercise, the MPs must also show their commitment to the development and welfare of their individual constituencies, and for this they are empowered variously, including with the not so lean MP local area development fund entrusted in the hands of each of them.

We think there ought to have been no argument at all on this count at least. Legislators must have salaries comparable to the bureaucracy. The three pillars of democracy must be put at a par in terms of salaries and other service perks. This is in a way anticipating a similar demand for a salary raise by the judiciary as well. This would no doubt again make things much more complicated for the judiciary does not end with the Supreme Court and the High Courts. There is a whole hierarchy of courts going right down to the revenue courts. Again, what can be expected are the same snobbish criticisms from the same urban intelligentsia of how corrupt and undeserving these functionaries of another important wing of the democracy have become in all these years. Not only has corruption tarnished their image almost beyond salvage, but to a large extent, the institution as such has been bogged down by a dreadful mediocrity. But then again, these allegations can virtually be levelled at practically any and every institution under the government roof today. Few if any in the government continue to thirst for achievement, much less breaking new grounds in matters of public governance. Fewer still remain bothered by the moral or material weight of non performance. Achievements and failures thus have ceased to be any incentive to move forward. Our point however is, if one institution has had a substantial salary raise, some parity will have to be maintained by raising salaries of other parallel institutions of the same polity. If there had been no raise for the bureaucracy we would have agreed totally that legislators too should also not have a raise. What ought to be remembered is also what experiments after experiments on performance incentive have proven that while jobs requiring little cognitive skill do show significant improvements with the attractiveness of monetary rewards, jobs that do require higher cognitive skills however do not. On the other hand, creativity sometimes even decline on account of complacency with the fattening of the pay packets.

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