It is the first good cheer she has had since the debacle in the UP election but amid the familiar self-congratulatory posturing by the BSP’s spokespersons it is important to remember that the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the disproportionate assets case against Mayawati is purely a let-off on technical grounds.
The court’s judgement that the CBI erred in investigating Mayawati’s assets from 1995 when it was only asked to look into the money trail for the Taj corridor case in 2003 is entirely about the intricacies of legal procedure and certainly not a general declaration of innocence. Not yet.
The only thing the Supreme Court looked at was the scope of the CBI’s investigations and in any case the original Taj corridor case is still ongoing in the Allahabad High Court.
Mayawati may have got a reprieve on a point of law for now but the larger issue that this case has indirectly focused attention on is the peculiar tendency of Indian politicians to somehow always succeed in making exponential additions to their personal wealth when in power.
Irrespective of the fortunes of particular cases, this is the real issue. Consider this: according to her own declaration at the time of her nomination to the Rajya Sabha earlier this year, Mayawati claimed that her total assets amounted up to Rs 111 crore. This is a 100 per cent increase from five years ago when she had declared assets worth Rs 52 crore.
This itself was a huge increase from the Rs 1 crore value attributed to her assets in 2003 by the CBI. Mayawati claims of course that her vast wealth came from contributions by party followers but the sheer scale of the money involved is surely enough to raise questions.
What explains these huge spikes? The only other such parallel for huge increases in personal wealth among politicians is that of Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh who earlier this year declared his assets at Rs 365 crore, up from just Rs 9.18 lakh in his name that his father had declared in 2004.
There is obviously a lot of love and affection floating around politicians when in power. This is not about Mayawati alone. According to data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms from declarations made by MLAs themselves, the average assets of Uttar Pradesh MLAs who re-contested elections in 2012 increased by over 200 per cent when compared with 2007.
Put simply, an average MLA in Lucknow was worth Rs 98 lakh in 2007; by 2012, he or she was worth more than Rs 3 crore. The rise in incomes and assets is even more pronounced for BSP MLAs, while their party was in power.
The average party MLA in Uttar Pradesh was worth Rs 61 lakh in 2007. By 2012, the net-worth of a BSP MLA has gone up to Rs 2.3 crore (274% hike).
Is it not legitimate to ask how such accretions in personal wealth are possible? These are sobering figures and they offer two vital clues about our politics: first, that increasingly only richer candidates are getting party tickets (particularly in less significant parties like the Congress or RJD in Uttar Pradesh) and second, that when in power, politicians are making much more money, as demonstrated by the growth in their self-declared assets.
Even if some of this is through genuine donations by wellwishers, there is an awful lot of money floating around in the system. In investigating the Watergate scandal, the Washington Post’s reporters Woodward and Bernstein were told by their legendary whistle-blowing insider ‘Deep Throat’ to just ‘follow the money’. Perhaps the time has come for us to follow that advice too.