The declaration of the financial assets and liabilities, as also the educational and criminal backgrounds, of candidates was hailed as a decisive and even necessary step in cleaning up our dirty rotten electoral system. But how useful has the filing of affidavits been beyond titillating the masses? And is the Election Commission using it to ensure accountability?
On the one hand, you have the hilarious spectacle of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the imposing two-by-one scion of the erstwhile Mysore royal family, shamelessly declaring that all he possesses by way of a vehicle is a Maruti Zen. And, boy, what a tough little car that must be.
On the other hand, you have the very revealing sight of an R.V. Deshpande moving heaven and earth and everything else in between so that no journalist can use the Right to Information Act and lay his hands on his statement of assets and liabilities filed before the Lok Ayukta.
But what do you make of Kanimozhi?
The 39-year-old daughter of Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, a product of one of his three wives, who has been nominated as the DMK candidate for the biennial Rajya Sabha elections, has bravely declared assets of Rs 8.5 crore.
Yes, Rs 85,000,000.
Kanimozhi says she has bank deposits of Rs 6.58 crore and a commercial building on Mount Road worth Rs 1.61 crore. Besides, she owns shares valued at Rs 3.5 lakh in Westgate Logistics (P) Ltd, a Madras-based stevedoring and terminal handling company. In addition, she says, she owns a Toyota Camry valued at Rs 18.7 lakh, jewellery worth Rs 3.61 lakh, and Rs 15,000 in cash.
Under-declaration of assets and liabilities is a national, maybe even an international, trait. (Like, a commercial building on Mount Road worth Rs 1.61 crore. Tell us another.)
Still, assuming that Kanimozhi is being as straight and honest as her father and brothers (and let us not forget their impressive cousins) the simple question that arises is: how does a little known poet, who formerly worked as a sub-editor at The Hindu, end up possessing Rs 8.5 crore in assets at the beautiful age of 39?
Do short poems pay so well?
Does The Hindu pay sub-editors so well?
Sure, Kanimozhi’s assets (financial) are not the only ones that arouse suspicion. Virtually every politician’s affidavit seems to suggest that he was laughing his guts out while filling out the mandatory form. But the point is what is the EC doing about such flagrant cases which reek of the obvious? And what is the whole point of collecting all those affidavits if it is not put to good use?