After surrogate ads is it time for surrogate Rajya Sabha MPs?

By Monobina Gupta, IANS

New Delhi : After surrogate advertisements for alcohol and cigarettes, this could be the onset of an age of surrogate MPs in the Rajya Sabha.

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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 parliament,” says a veteran Left MP who spoke on condition he was not identified.

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 parliament, says Kuldip Nayar, former Rajya Sabha MP, veteran columnist and former high commissioner to Britain.

Elections to 56 Rajya Sabha seats will be held on March 26. At the end of it Mukesh Ambani is likely to have at least three of his trusted lieutenants – N.K. Singh, Y.P. Trivedi and Parimal Nathwani – taking care in the house of his vast and varied corporate interests. 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. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is backing 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. What is happening now is business organizations, many more of them, are smuggling through their representatives in parliament to serve their interests, in ways both overt and covert,” says the Left MP.

Singh’s scholarly connection with the Observer Research Foundation may escape the notice of an unsuspecting eye, but not so Nathwani’s ties with India’s largest private sector company. Nathwani is president of RIL and related to one of Mukesh Ambani’s closest aides. He reportedly has the support of 12 Jharkhand MLAs, whose identities or party affiliations he has refused to disclose.

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, say independent MPs and knowledgeable political observers. They may not be in high-powered positions but they are part of business organizations that rely on them to promote their interests.

MPs critical of the trend say 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,” says Nayar.

“This trend of a heavy presence of business nominees in the upper house has become more pronounced because of the Office of Profit Bill,” says the Left MP.

The legislation bars MPs from occupying any government positions but does not restrict them from holding offices in corporate organizations. “The Office of Profit Bill should include the private corporate sector as well,” argues Nayar.

Or else what began as a trickle of Rajya Sabha MPs with strong business house connections will soon widen into a stream, say MPs and others who are warily watching the corporate inroad into legislative business.