Move Indian parliament to Tihar: A modest proposal

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through New Delhi or travel across states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with politicians, followed by three hundred, four hundred, or six hundred supporters, all holding placards and shouting slogans.

These politicians, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling the streets to beg sustenance for their party bosses and financiers, who either turn thieves in their efforts to gain power, or gain power in their efforts to turn thieves.

I think it is agreed by everyone that this prodigious number of criminals – or alleged criminals, that is – is in the present deplorable state of the Indian republic a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these polititicians – or alleged politicians, that is – sound, useful citizens, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

It is to that end that I introduce a modest proposal to combine the premises that today house our august state and federal governments with those that are home to our other most laudable models of efficiency and probity, namely, our jails. The suggestion is so obvious that I must beg forgiveness of anyone who may have made it before, of course. But permit me a small indulgence, and allow me to lay out my own reasons, insofar as they may be different, if not more convincing, than your own thoughts on the matter.

Presently, the great nation of India spends millions of dollars, and perhaps squadrillions of rupees, for the acquisition and upkeep of bungalows and offices for these legions of politicians. In many cases, too, their lot is so poor and humble that they are compelled to stay on in these lodgings well after their term of service has ended. Often, they are forced to seek relief from the courts when the rapacious state seeks to repossess these dwellings, so desperate their circumstances have become during the time they were compelled to serve the people as advocate, representative, and – I daresay – moral conscience.

This outrage simultaneously adds to the state's financial burden and subtracts from its reputation, as the government must pay for the judges, the courts, the houses, as well as its own lawyers, all for the purpose of evicting our most loyal public servants. As recently as November, for instance, it came to light that one such public servant had been practically driven from her home – or the one that had been allotted to her free of cost – and forced to vacate the premises in a scant ten years with little concern for the difficulty of arranging a moving company on such short notice.

At the same time, the same government spends millions of dollars, and perhaps squadrillions of rupees, to house, feed, educate, retrain, and rehabilitate the inmates of dozens of central and state prisons – which many of those self-same politicians consider as a sort of holiday retreat, rejuvenation center, or home-away-from-home. In the ongoing state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur, for instance, around a quarter of the candidates are facing criminal charges of one sort or another (including rape and murder, in some cases), according to National Election Watch. And in Uttar Pradesh alone, no fewer than 10 first-movers are actually conducting their campaigns from behind bars, according to the Indian Express. Among the sitting state assemblies and the honorable members of the central parliament, the percentage is about the same. Why provide these government servants with two residences, at the expense of the state, when for all the officers of the bureaucracy and employees of state-owned public sector units, one dwelling is enough?

There would, of course, be many other savings and efficiencies associated with this modest proposal. Once upon a time, parliament met for nearly half the year (that's a whopping 50 percent of the work done by you and me), but now the people's representatives only represent them for about 65 out of 365 days, in a perfect world. And that perfection occurs less and less. In the 2010 winter session, for example, productive work was conducted on just 6 percent of the days parliament was meant to be in session, according to the Patna Daily, with the rest of the time spent on shouting, storming out of the hall, throwing objects of varying sizes and weights, and traveling back and forth from home and party headquarters.  Daily News & Analysis calculates that each lost day cost the citizenry around $400,000 – an amount that could also be saved if parliament house and Tihar jail were one and the same, as the attractions of downing tools would be considerably reduced and the prospect of storming out eliminated altogether. 

This amendment to the housing and fooding arrangements (to adopt the local parlance) for India's elected representatives might also serve to reduce the frequency, duration and expense of election campaigns, which everyone acknowledges have become a bread-and-circuses type affair of free booze, paid “supporters,” interminable speeches, Paris-Dakar style road rallies and empty promises. While the legal limit for this pollapalooza is a mere $32,000 per constituency,  the latest estimates say that's barely enough for tea and snacks, and $100,000 would be an easier figure to pretend to honor. Meanwhile, in Punjab, the cost of doling out free booze to encourage voters has become so prohibitive that campaigners have begun opting for heroin instead – which in any case is more effective in creating the great delusion that one candidate differs substantially from another.

So, too, by moving the offices of the government behind bars, the cost of working to put its chief actors behind bars could be eliminated, and many lawyers and judges shifted on to more productive employment. The present so-called “2G telecom spectrum scam” is one such example, where one can only speculate at the cost of the deliberations over whether former telecom minister A. Raja will continue to reside in the capital's Tihar Jail or shift to a palatial mansion paid for by the state, his political party, or his constituents. If he was living in his present cramped but (one assumes) not too uncomfortable room in Tihar anyway, that vexing question, and its associated costs, could be eliminated, as well. Apart from the financial benefits, this would also alleviate the backlog of millions of cases clogging up the country's court system. Judges would no longer have to seek psychological help to deal with stress, and could take up healthy and productive hobbies, such as needlepoint.

Additional cost savings might be achieved through applying for carbon credits and selling them on one of the international exchanges, as has been done to brilliant effect by the sponge iron business and suchlike. By eliminating the travel to and fro the jail premises, the law courts and the legislatures throughout the country, the country could apply for a rebate for the fleets of SUVs, white Ambassadors and police vehicles that would be taken off the roads, as well as the emissions reduction associated with the removal of the frequent jams and bottlenecks caused by VIP motorcades. Notably, this would also improve the people's opinions of public officials and eliminate certain negative images that have stuck to the country, such as “Indian Stretchable Time.” People would begin to appear at weddings before the baarat (the groom's party) shows up — usually on a brilliant white horse, but every so often on an elephant, or, when a statement needs to be made, in a helicopter. Road rage incidents would drop to a minimum. And the only remaining obstacles to smooth functioning of our streets and highways would be religious groups that insist on blocking the road to give away free food and those poor people who, because of continuing shortcomings in the public distribution system for subsidized wheat and rice, lack sufficient energy to dodge out of the way of speeding vehicles.

I welcome any additional thoughts on the practicability and financial benefits of this scheme.

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