Parliament Houses of Power

corp.jpgRecently, we had new representatives as Members of Parliament (MPs) from different states, and these names were enough to make statements. The new breed of MPs may not be high-profile corporate bosses like Vijay Mallya and Rahul Bajaj, but they are bosses in their own right, in the boardrooms of powerful business organizations and more than capable of sneaking in their respective corporate agendas.

The nomination of N.K. Singh and Y.P. Trivedi (closely associated with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited – RIL) is an indication how business interests are operating in a new way in the parliament. It is not just the high-voltage Reliance men who may enter the precincts of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. Many more business houses have their ‘delegates’ inside the parliament as well.

Elections that were held on March 26 for 56 Rajya Sabha seats, paved the way for Mukesh Ambani‚Äôs three trusted lieutenants to Rajya Sabha. The Janata Dal (United) is backing N.K Singh, chairperson of the Bihar Planning Board and a fellow at the Reliance-backed Observer Research Foundation. Singh’s scholarly connection with the Observer Research Foundation may escape the notice of an unsuspecting eye. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is backing Y.P.Trivedi, its party treasurer, also an independent director on the RIL board.

Earlier, the Birlas had a lobby in parliament because of their connection with the Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru. Now it seems that business organizations, in notable quantity, are smuggling in their representatives in parliament to serve their interests, in ways both overt and covert. The Reliance man is ostensibly going to represent a state which, by his own admission, he visited for the first time in his life only two months ago.

There are ‘surrogate’ MPs who may dodge public scrutiny about their links with business houses, but are firmly ensconced with such groups. They may not be in high-powered positions but they are part of business organizations that rely on them to promote their interests. The trend gives an indication of the fact that earlier the business houses would get an individual MP to get their work done and later pay them for it. Now, they directly get their nominees in, who then get themselves attached to Standing Committees and Parliamentary Consultative Committees. They therefore get to work directly with the minister or the ministry and are in an advantageous position to influence decisions that can affect the unit with which they are attached.

This trend of a heavy presence of business nominees in the upper house has become more pronounced because of the Office of Profit Bill. The legislation bars MPs from occupying any government positions but does not restrict them from holding offices in corporate organizations. An ironical, highly glamorized bill that bars a person from holding a position in public but gives a free hand in holding a relatively highly lucrative position in private sphere. This flinches in the eyes of every wise duck and therefore, the Office of Profit Bill should include the private corporate sector as well. Or else, what began as a trickle of Rajya Sabha MPs with strong business house connections will soon widen into a stream, which is even bigger and stronger in terms of power to push the plush interests of the corporate world.

Saurabh Sharma

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