What do we know about our MPs? Some of us may know an individual MP or two. We know that some of them are rich and others have criminal cases against them. But we do not have a total picture of the backgrounds of the MPs who constitute the august body of persons that enacts our laws and policies. What are their strengths and vulnerabilities? Will their capabilities, backgrounds and past conduct be an aid or hindrance in the effective discharge of their duties? How do the MPs from the different political parties and states measure up in terms of these attributes?

Complete answers to these questions may never be available. The Election Commission of India (EC), however, has for the first time given us a window through which we can at least get some partial answers to these important questions. A comprehensive aggregation and analysis of the EC’s collection of affidavits from our elected lawmakers is the only way to assess and interpret this valuable information.

At the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) in Bangalore, we recently completed such an assessment. We have systematically assembled and analysed the data from the affidavits of 541 MPs elected in May 2004 to the Lok Sabha. Despite the incomplete filings in many cases, interesting patterns on MP backgrounds emerge from the analysis. Disaggregation by parties, states and other criteria yields rich insights into the strong and weak spots in the recently elected Lok Sabha. (numbers: 1 crore = 10 million, 1 million = 10 lakh)

14th Lok Sabha, 541 MPs

• Over 50% of the MPs have assets of over Rs. 50 lakhs.

• A larger proportion of our less educated MPs are richer than their well schooled counterparts.

• More among the richer MPs have more criminal cases than those with higher educational attainments.

• Women MPs possess higher education levels than their male counterparts, but they account for only eight per cent of the total.

• Younger MPs have higher education levels than the rest, but they are only a minority.

• Four states, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand account for over 50% of all MPs with criminal cases that could attract severe penalties (5 years’ imprisonment or more).

• The two communist parties and DMK have the largest proportion of senior MPs aged 66 years and above.

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The overall picture

• The educational attainments of our MPs is impressive. Nearly three fourths of the members of the new Lok Sabha have declared that they possess graduate or postgraduate degrees. Only about 6% fall below the matriculation level. Law is the dominant educational background (21.5%). There is a negative relationship between age and education. It is the younger MPs who have attained higher education levels.

• Are our MPs “aam admi”? As a group, our MPs have total assets valued at Rs. 878 crores (excluding cars for which no value is given). On an average, an MP has declared assets worth Rs. 1.64 crores. When the non- SC/ST MPs are considered, the asset value per person rises to nearly Rs. 2 crores. Over 50% of the MPs have assets per person of Rs. 50 lakhs. Over 27% are crorepathis. Only one in ten has reported assets below Rs. 10 lakhs. The runners up (those who polled the next highest votes) in this election were also high asset persons (based on the analysis of two states). Jewelry accounts for only a small proportion of total assets. The single major asset category is buildings (36.3%).

• Surprisingly, it is the less educated MPs who are the richest in terms of asset values. The per capita assets of those with undergraduate education or less amount to Rs. 1.93 crores while graduates and post graduates have average assets Rs. 1.37 crores.

• Three out of four MPs (74.6%) own agricultural land. But further analysis shows that one out of five MPs have agricultural assets that account for over 50% of their total immovable assets. Thus only a small proportion of them have strong agricultural ties.

• Are they too old to serve? The average age of our MPs is 53 years. One third of them are in the age group of 46-55 years. “Seniors” (above 66 years) among them account for 14% while “youth” (below 35 years) accounts for 6.5%.

• Are they law abiding citizens? Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of the MPs has reported criminal cases against them. One out of 12 among these members have cases that could attract penalties amounting to imprisonment for one year or less. One out of two among them (over 50%), on the other hand, have cases that could attract penalties of imprisonment of five or more years. There is a regional concentration in terms of criminal cases. The states of Bihar, U.P., Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh that account for only 28% of the MPs have over 50% of the members with the high penalty criminal cases.

• A larger proportion of the less educated MPs have criminal cases against them than their colleagues with higher education. Whether there is any causal connection between education, assets and criminality is not clear. Criminal cases are also found to be more among MPs in the age group 36-45.

• Do they repay their loans? Nearly half of all MPs have reported outstanding debts to public financial institutions. Outstanding debts in excess of Rs.10 lakhs were reported by 13.6% while debts below Rs.1 lakh were reported by only 5.4%. The total outstanding debt of these MPs amounts to Rs.41.3 crores.

• Do they pay their dues? Dues to government departments were reported by 13.8% of the members. Dues are in excess of Rs.1 lakh for 8.4% of the MPS. Their total government dues amount to Rs.7.3 crores.

• Are they representative of the population? Only one out of 12 MPs (8.3%) is a woman. One out of four (26.7%) belong to scheduled castes/scheduled tribes (SC/ST).

Education, Assets, Criminal background

Of the 132 MPs who are undergraduates and below, over 30% have criminal cases against them compared to 21% for the rest. Their average value of assets is close to Rs.2 crores each compared to less than Rs.1.4 crores for the more educated. This is not to say that all MPs with low education levels are rich or are crime prone. But more among them are richer and have more criminal cases than those with higher educational attainments.

The question to ask is whether the less educated among the MPs get elected because they are richer and command criminal links than the rest of the members. Do political parties attract them because they compensate for their low education through their asset power and criminal prowess?

How do the Parties Compare: Leaders and Laggards

• The political parties that lead in terms of their MPs’ educational attainments are Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) with 82.6% graduates and above, Biju Janata Dal (82%), and the Communist Party of India (80%). Shivsena (58.3%) and Bahujan Samaj Party (67.5%) are at the other end of the spectrum. The BJP is in the middle with 74% and Indian National Congress has 71%.

• The Indian National Congress MPs account for 52% of the total assets of MPs though they comprise only less than 30% of the number of MPs. Congress also has the highest proportion of crorepathi MPs (45.5%). One third of the Samajwadi Party MPs and of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam are also crorepathis. One out of 10 Congress MPs has assets of over Rs.10 crores.

• Neither the Communist Party of India (Marxist) nor the Communist Party of India (CPI) has any crorepathi MP. Of the MPs with assets below Rs.10 lakhs, CPI (M) leads with 31%, followed by Biju Janata Dal (27.3%), Bahujan Samaj Party (23.5%) and CPI (20%).

• The largest proportion of MPs with substantial agricultural assets are found in the RJD (43.5%) and the BSP (35.3%). This proportion is much lower for the Congress MPs (18.6%) and for the BJP (24.1%). No agricultural land is owned by 70% of the CPI MPs, 57% of the MPs in CPI(M), and one third of the Shivsena MPs.

• The largest proportion of seniors (above 66 years) are found in CPI (20%), DMK (18.8%) and CPI (18.6%). Both the Congress and the BJP have about 16% of seniors. The proportion of MPs below 35 years is higher in the newer parties such as the BSP (26.3%), Shivsena (16.7%), and RJD (13%). Congress and the BJP, on the other hand, have only 4.8% and 5.8% in the youth category.

• There are no criminal cases registered against 83% of the Congress MPs and 80% of the BJP MPs. RJD leads in the proportion of criminal cases (43.5%). In respect of criminal cases with severe penalties (5 or more years’ imprisonment), RJD leads with 34.8% of MPs, BSP with 27.8% and Samajwadi Party with 19.4%. The proportion of Congress MPs who fall into this category account for 7.6% of their total and BJP MPs account for 10.9%.

• Of the total outstanding debts of MPs from public financial institutions, 45% is accounted for by Congress MPs though they comprise only less than 30% of all MPs. BJP is next with 23% of the total. But larger debts (in excess of Rs.10 lakhs) have been incurred by Shivsena MPs (41.7%), followed by DMK (20%), Congress (17.9%), and BJP (12.5%). Substantial proportions of CPI MPs (80%), CPI (M) MPs (66.7) and BSP MPs (66.6%) reported no outstanding debt.

• The pride of place on account of government dues to be paid goes to RJD MPs (52.2%). These MPs account for 69% of the total government dues. RJD also leads in the proportion of MPs that owe dues in excess of Rs.1 lakh (34.8%), followed by Congress MPs (13.8%), and BJP MPs (6.6%). No government dues are reported by CPI (M) and CPI MPs.

How do the States Compare?

• Himachal Pradesh leads in the education level of its MPs (100% graduates). Assam (86%), Kerala (84.3 %), and Tamil Nadu (84.2 %) are next. MPs below matric level are the highest in Haryana and Uttaranchal (20% each).

• The highest concentration of crorepathis among MPs is in Punjab (69.3%), Andhra Pradesh (47.6%), and Maharashtra (41.7%). West Bengal (28.6%), Orissa (28.6%), and Kerala (26.3%) have the most MPs with less than Rs 10 lakh assets per person.

• The states with more than 20% seniors among their MPs are Assam, Karnataka, Punjab,West Bengal and Uttaranchal. The highest proportions of young MPs ( below 35 years) are found in Haryana (20%), Jammu & Kashmir (16.7%) and U.P. (15%).

• Outstanding debts of over Rs.10 lakhs are owed by over 30% of the MPs from Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh,, Karnataka and Punjab. Over 70% of the MPs from Haryana, West Bengal, Delhi, and Uttaranchal have no outstanding debt.

• Government dues in excess of Rs. one lakh are outstanding for one third of the MPs from Bihar, and Jammu & Kashmir. But MPs from Delhi top the list with 43% in default. No dues have been reported by MPs from Kerala, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Chattisgarh.

SC/ST MPs: How do they compare with the rest?

• In terms of education, the SC/ST MPs are at about the same level as other MPs. Almost 70% of the SC/ST MPs are graduates compared to 74% among the rest. The proportion of SC/ST postgraduates at 33% is higher than the proportion of 30% among the rest.

• The average value of assets owned by SC/ST MPs is Rs.58 lakhs, much lower than the average asset value of other MPs (Rs. 1.98 crores). One out of 12 SC/ST MPs is a crorepathi while one out of three among other MPs is a crorepathi. One out of five SC/ST MPs has assets below Rs 10 lakhs while only one out of 16 among other MPs fall into this low asset category.

• SC/ST MPs have a larger proportion without the stamp of criminal cases (83%) in contrast to the rest (75%). SC/ST proportion of MPs with criminal cases of a severe kind (5 years imprisonment and above) is only a little over half (7.5%) of the proportion for the rest of the MPs (13%).

• In terms of outstanding debts and government dues, SC/ST MPs are more or less similar to the rest of the MPs (about 52%). The major difference is that the amounts involved are smaller.

How do Women MPS Compare with the Men?

• Women MPs are much younger than their male counterparts. Over 44% of female members are less than 45 years while only 26% males are less than 45 years.

• Their education levels are higher compared to the male MPs. 82% of female members are graduates and above as against 72.5% males.

• Communist Party of India (CPI) has no women MPs. DMK (18.8%) and Shivsena (16.7%) lead in the proportion of women MPs. There are no women MPs from Assam and Uttaranchal.

Policy Implications

The findings presented above give us a more comprehensive picture of the new Lok Sabha that cannot be had from statements about individual MPs or about one or the other attributes such as criminality. Some of the findings are counterintuitive and offer us insights into the patterns of strengths and weaknesses of our elected representatives, collectively. The challenge is to search for ways to control the negative tendencies and enhance the strengths. At the very least, the findings should make us sit up and think about their policy implications.

• A striking finding is the dominance of the richer classes in the electoral arena. That only six per cent of non-SC/ST members have assets below Rs.10 lakhs signals the power of the money barrier. The only other group that has won seats despite lower assets are SC/ST MPs, only because they have reserved constituencies. It shows how if the election financing is not reformed, this trend will only get worse, making it even more difficult for qualified persons without a large asset base to enter politics.

• Knowledge and understanding are important for MPs whose primary role is to deal with complex policy making and legislation. It is in this context that the apparent links between low education levels, money and criminality among our elected representatives are worrisome. Are the less educated valued for their money or muscle power by some of the parties? It is not clear what policy can do to change this scenario. Parties need to reflect on the implications of the patterns revealed by our findings.

• Debts owed to financial institutions and government dues are more amenable to reform through policy change. Persons with persistent defaults in terms of dues should be prevented from contesting elections. Defining the limits for disqualification is a matter of detail.

• Women MPs at 8% of the total is an abysmally appalling record, especially when they compare more favourably than their male counterparts on many attributes. Whether reservation is the only way to correct this imbalance is another important issue for reflection.