Mahesh Vijapurkar

Navjot Singh Sidhu, former cricketer and now minister in Punjab’s new government has opened up an interesting issue: can a minister earn an income by doing his normal work. In this case, by appearing in a comedy show on television. His rationale is he needed for it was his source of income and didn’t want to live by corruption.

The Attorney General of India, Mukul Rohatgi had told a TV channel that Sidhu is a minister, thus a public servant paid a remuneration. He is not supposed to accept payment or do any other work. Therefore, his work on a TV comedy show would be against a code of conduct. As a minister, Sidhu has taken an oath to perform only public duty.

On the other hand, the Punjab’s Advocate General, Atul Nanda sees no hurdle in Sidhu continuing with his comedy show and is contradictory to the lengthy opinion aired on news TV. Amarinder Singh, chief minister had been quoted earlier that should he be allowed, then the portfolio may have to change – from culture, local government, archives, and museums. It is not clear why.

Apparently, the remuneration aspect apart, a minister doing anything else than being a minister 24x7 was not acceptable. Unless, I assume, Sidhu, because of his perceived contribution to an upset Congress win in the Assembly elections, gets a ministership without portfolio. That would perhaps free him of some responsibilities and leave him time to fly to Mumbai for shooting.

The nub is whether what Sidhu wants to continue with was an office of profit, why under law, is a position in the government, and being a minister is not an office of profit. Sidhu was not seeking such an office by continuing with the comedy show where he has to sit on a huge ornate sofa, deliver his trademark witticisms known as Sidhuism, and laugh exaggeratedly. Sidhu is right in his insistence.

After all, what the country lacks though sorely needed, is part time politics and politicians. To me, Sidhu saying what he did in his free time was his and no one’s business is music to the ears. If a politician did his job honestly and ensured that governance did not need politicians’ intervention by way of patronage, or interference, this would be a better country. Half the time the politicians are busy gaming the system.

If a minister has to intervene to make sure that a well was dug in a village, or someone was transferred from one zilla parishad school to another, or a policeman from one police station to another, there is something seriously wrong. That has sapped the energy of the administrations and we continue to countenance that. The 24x7 politics is because the system does not work or is being gamed all the time.

However, if one looks at the wealth that politicians accumulate within short time of getting elected to legislature, leave alone occupying a ministerial chair, there has to be a source. This applies to even the lowly ranks in the political hierarchy of municipal offices, of being a corporator. However, even the affidavits filed with election authorities indicate the assets, not how they were earned.

Which means, some business is being done. It may not be incorrect to assume that the business may be of a kind which would be a straight case to attract the attention of the law. That this tribe has no compunction in declaring – perhaps under-declare – their assets and the existing election laws do not require the disclosure of source of their incomes. Remuneration paid to elected representatives cannot add up to those numbers.