Why MPs and MLAs want to jump the queue?

“I am a second time MP. I have completed my ninth year in Parliament. How can they say that they were not able to recognise me?” An agitated BSP MP Ashok Kumar Rawat, who first entered Lok Sabha in 2004 at the age of 29 years, thundered before a Parliamentary panel last September. The panel was hearing him on his complaint against Jet Airways that it did not accord him at Bangalore airport the “desired facilities and courtesies” that a lawmaker is entitled to.

Popular, he is in his constituency and there could be no doubt about it. Rawat won a second term with a margin of 23,292 votes from Mirsikh, the birthplace of mythological figure Maharishi Dadhichi who gave his bones to Gods to make the deadly ‘Vajra’. Dadhichi’s ultimate sacrifice was the theme used by artist Savitri Khanolkar when she desgined country’s highest gallantry medal Param Vir Chakra.

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Rawat may not be a modern Dadhichi. His profile does not put him in the gallery of infamy like many in Parliament and Assemblies. He has assets worth just Rs 19 lakh and no criminal cases. That is incredible news from a second-term MP coming from Uttar Pradesh! His attendance in Lok Sabha is 86 per cent and participated in 42 debates besides asking over 800 questions. But isn’t this arrogance of power that he feels himself important and believe that people should know him across the country? Hasn’t this young MP fallen into the same trap his elders in politics had stooped into by believing that politics means privilege? His and the recent case of RJD chief Lalu Prasad raise a series of questions on the propriety of lawmakers utilising privileges at a time they as a class are being targeted for their actions that do not conform to the perception of common man.

Prasad is now allowed to continue to stay in a bungalow allotted to him as an MP, five months after he was disqualified as a lawmaker for being convicted in fodder scam. The central government, which has off late earned the common man’s wrath, has turned compassionate (!) that it accepted his plea that if allowed to stay, his wife Rabri Devi could continue to get treated at AIIMS and his grand children’s education at a posh school Sanskriti is not disrupted.

Why are our MPs and MLAs so touchy? Why do they need to jump the queue? Why a man of modest means be fussy about not getting a VIP lounge in an airport or why a disqualified MP be allowed to continue in his bungalow? Why a former MP should continue to avail facilities for which he is not entitled to?

In its report tabled in Parliament on February 21, the Parliamentary Committee on Violation of Protocol Norms and Contemptuous Behaviour of Government Officers with Members of Lok Sabha, found fault with the way the airlines treated Rawat. The MP had not stopped there and sought that he was a victim of bias against Dalits. But the panel was clear that no such violation took place and threw his allegation in the dustbin. The panel also noted that the denial of desired assistance to Rawat was due to his incomplete booking record. The airline had apologised for the treatment meted out to the MP.

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Rawat’s complaint led to five meetings of the panel and another by the Civil Aviation Secretary with airlines in December last year to ask the operators to adhere to the guidelines in dealing with VIPs at airports. Later when media reported about the fresh move, the Aviation Ministry was at the receiving end of criticism.

One cannot be blamed if he wonders whether India could have avoided the downgrading by the US aviation regulator if it had moved with the same speed with which the Ministry scrambled to address the concerns of MPs — within a week after the Secretary appeared before Parliamentary panel he called the meeting with airlines. It is not the MPs alone even some retired top officials of Aviation Ministry enjoy privileges at the airports. The problem arises when our lawmakers and policy pundits give preference to their privileges rather than issues concerning the sector.

Rawat, being a frequent flier, is entitled to certain freebies even if he is not an MP. In this case, he was not fighting for the consumer but massaging his own ego. His fight was for a privilege he could not avail after he did not fill up his form intimating that he is an MP. A slip by him led to a complaint and subsequent five meetings of a Parliamentary panel, which has senior members like JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and senior BJP MP Ananth Kumar as members.

In Prasad’s case, it is not human compassion but political and electoral compulsion that came into play. Does a common man get such kind of a compassionate treatment from the governments? We have seen numerous times that the system being circumvented to serve the purpose of the powerful. Only recently, the Supreme Court reiterated that lawmakers’ privileges do not give them a licence to attain immunity on anything and everything.

The problem is that the lawmakers, once elected, fall into the same trap and become part of the same rotten system they ought to change. They are supposed to make life easier for common man but they end up making their own life easier. You may differ with Rahul Gandhi on everything but for this – power is poison. When will our lawmakers understand that power could be poison?

(The article appeared in Deccan Herald on March 11, 2014)

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