Is an MP’s loyalty only worth Rs 25 crore in 2008?

The grisly sight of law-makers being bought out like horses to shore up governments is an old story, as anyone acquainted with the Veerappa Moily tapes from the early 1980s will vouch. But it seems to be fast becoming a national epidemic; a legitimate, almost acceptable, way of saving the government of the day.

In Karnataka, if MLAs are being purchased like insurance policies to help the BJP government of B.S. Yediyurappa on a rainy day; in Delhi, MPs are being rounded up to help the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh in his hour of need next Tuesday.

Everyone, it seems, is naked in the augean stable of Indian politics.

The CPI’s AB Baby, Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan, told a public meeting on Monday that the going rate for MPs was around Rs 25 crore to help save the UPA government during the number count. This was, of course, denied with due self-righteousness by Congress media mavens like Jayanti Natarajan and Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

And, as if on auto cue, Amar Singh produced a mandatory slip of paper for the cameras to claim that Mayawati was buying up MPs for Rs 30 crore to achieve the opposite: to bring down the UPA government.

Either way, though, buying and selling is happening.

Mail Today, the tabloid newspaper owned by the India Today group, has a story in today’s issue in which two SP MPs, Akshay Pratap Singh from Pratapgarh (”They asked me to take Rs 25 crore and stand by the Opposition or face the consequences”) and Munawar Hasan from Muzaffarnagar (”Men carrying suitcases were knocking at my [Delhi residence] door”), confirm the worst fears of Bardhan.

Munawar Hasan, a rebel SP MP who has decided to vote against the UPA government, in what looks like a telephone conversation, tells the paper:

What you told me last night has been confirmed by A.B. Bardhan. He is also talking about Rs 20 crore to Rs 25 crore being exchanged. Have they fixed an amount?

Yes, they must have decided to fix a rate.

Who are these people?

Those who want to save the government. Who else? You think about it yourself, who else would try to save the government?

I want to know who this man was who had met you and what did he tell you?

He said he was a chartered accountant of a company. He said he worked for big companies and his name was Rupesh Kumar. He said he could make all arrangements.

What amount did he quote?

Whatever I told you.

Rs 20 crore to Rs 25 crore?

Yes.

What did he look like?

He was good looking, tall and handsome, looked like a big manager of some company.

What did he say?

He said there was no problem. He said he could do it and asked me to trust him.

What could he do?

He could make the money possible.

By itself, the transcript does little to confirm the rumour. But it throws up some questions: Like, is an MP’s loyalty only worth Rs 25 crore when MLAs seem to be extracting a lot more from their suitors in the States? Or is the Left out of touch with reality in their estimation of MPs’ worth too?

Is Rs 25 crore just for casting the vote on D-day or for continued loyalty during the remainder of the UPA regime? Will a party or its moneybags make the mistake of giving cash after the JMM episode singed P.V. Narasimha Rao? Or are the Samajwadi MPs indulging in a bit of bluster to increase their bhaav?

There is an additional bit of irony in all this.

The Indo-US nuclear deal may be the best thing since sliced bread. And Manmohan Singh may be intregrity personified.

But the fact that to save both, criminals have had to be hauled out of jails, criminals have to be promised cabinet portfolios, the sick and ailing have to be brought in on stretchers, that truant film stars have to be dragged away from overseas locations kicking and screaming, and that lawmakers have to be purchased like this, tells its own story.

Or is everything par for the course when it comes to cause and country?

This piece also appears on rediff.com