Watching the sea of shining happy faces at the BJP’s parliamentary board meeting in Central Hall last week prompted the thought: does a seat in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha for the next five years really bring such happiness? There was also, for dramatic effect, a tear or two to be wiped away, but, generally, India’s members of Parliament should be a happy lot. For one, they are the only legislators in the world who get to decide their own salaries and perks. Secondly, they are entitled to a pension even if they mark their attendance in Parliament for just one day! Then, of course, there are the perks—the patronage, being wooed by all and sundry, including businessmen, granting of favours, the clout, the houses in Lutyen’s Delhi, no queues, and all those freebies, including use of public-sector facilities and influence to appoint heads of PSUs and state corporations.
Here’s the ultimate happy pill: an MP actually earns more, in actual terms, than the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi will get a monthly salary of R50,000, a sumptuary allowance of R3,000 (for food and personal expenses), a daily allowance of R2,000 (R62,000 a month) and a constituency allowance of R20,000. His gross monthly income will be R1.35 lakh, equivalent to a middle-level manager in the corporate world. In 2010, Indian MPs voted themselves a threefold hike in their basic salary to R50,000 and doubled the constituency and office expense allowances. MPs now receive a monthly income of R1.4 lakh (a salary of R50,000 plus constituency allowance of R40,000, office or stationary allowance of R40,000 a month and a daily allowance of R1,000 when attending Parliament). There are additional perks like free petrol, free telephone calls, free housing in the most exclusive areas of the capital with furniture, water and electricity paid for. They get 34 free air tickets for themselves and a companion to travel with anywhere in the country or first-class on Indian railways. Their wives can travel free from their city of residence to Delhi eight times a year and an unlimited number of times by rail. That does not include the R2 crore a year for development of their constituencies. Essentially, the major perks are pelf and patronage. In India, the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew 300%! Moreover, these salaries and perks are tax-free. MPs’ salaries are