ONE feels sorry for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Nothing seems to be going right for it. Poll after poll suggests that UPA is slipping very badly on the corruption front. A New Indian Express – C Fore 2011 poll indicted Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for being responsible for inaction on the corruption front. A Hindustan Times – C Fore 2011 poll similarly found that 49 per cent of those polled thought the government was not serious about fighting corruption. A Lenson News website showed that 58 per cent of the respondents thought that the incumbent UPA government is “the most corrupt government ever”.
One supposes that if several other polls are similarly undertaken, the results will invariably be the same. The UPA government has lost public support. Hindustan Times (May 22) asked voters several questions. Actually two pages (12 and 13) were completely devoted to the questions and answers and all the answers showed that the people have lost confidence in the UPA. The IE-C Fore poll was just as damning. Who did the voter think is responsible for inaction on the corruption front? 41 per cent thought that it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh! 24 per cent gave the credit to Sonia Gandhi while 35 per cent blamed coalition partners. Very, very revealing.
The New Sunday Express (May 1) had more fascinating information to convey. According to the paper, the total wealth of India’s 30 Chief Ministers was around Rs 236 crore and the average wealth of a Chief Minister was Rs 7.8 crore, but only Rs 3.7 crore if Mayawati and Karunanidhi were taken out of the equation. Mayawati’s assets are worth Rs 87 crore. Some wealth, that. How did she earn that amount? Ask no questions, get no lies, say the wise. In the year 2007, her assets were worth Rs 52 crore. In four years that sum has grown into Rs 87 crore. That is a 67 per cent increase in three years. She is modest; her assets in gold and diamond jewellery is a poor Rs 1 crore. Reportedly she paid Rs 26 crore as income tax. Additionally, the CBI had found that Mayawati had 41 agricultural plots, 16 residential plots, seven shops, three orchards, one mansion in her ancestral village built on a 30,000 square yard plot. Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Minister is poorer, compared to Mayawati. His worth is only Rs 44 crore but his two wives are worth about Rs 36 crore, making them the richest among CM wives. One wife, Dayalu, is worth Rs 17.34 crore and another, Rajathi, Rs 18.68 crore.
Compared with our politicians, our film stars are doing very poorly. According to Hindustan Times (May 22) the Bachchan family rakes over Rs 150 crore each year in ads and movies. Amitabh Bachchan charges for endorsements close to Rs 30 plus crore a year, with an added bonus of Rs 20-30 crore for Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). His son Abhiskeh charges per brand anything between Rs 2 to 5 crore, which is chicken feed. His wife Jaya earns from films and endorsements only a few lakhs. Ad Guru Prahlad Kakkar is quoted as saying: “The Bachchan family presents a great mix of endorses to choose from. Aishwarya offers an international flavour, Amitabh offers a mass appeal to the Indian heartland, and the urban consumers related to Abhishek”. It would be nice to know what our other film stars like the many Khans earn. One can be sure they will all beat Mayawati who is placed among India’s top 20 taxpayers.
The poorest among these earners must be Sachin Tendulkar who, according to DNA (May 22) reported a total taxable income of Rs 18.5 crore in 2002-2003. Tendulkar had received Rs 5.92 crore in foreign exchange towards sports sponsorship and advertisements from ESPN Star Sports, Pepsico and Visa. Tendulkar had claimed deduction under Section 80 RR. That Section allows a special deduction to authors, actors, artistes, playwrights and sports people in respect of income earned in foreign exchange from the exercise of their profession. As DNA noted, Tendulkar won’t have to pay tax on income earned from advertisements because not only is he a cricketer, he is also an “artist” in front of the camera. That at least seems to be the verdict of a Mumbai bench of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal.
The media understandably is interested in how much other people earn but is remarkable silent on how much today’s journalist stars do. This columnist began his career with an offering of Rs 16 per month as salary as a reporter but what was in 1941. Presently, one understands, editors get a healthy six figure salary – and forget the perks. Not once in over six decades was I ever offered a gift and at least on two occasions, two of India’s senior most politicians complained against me with the editor. But that was a different kind of world where a reporter’s coverage was not on sale and paid news was unheard of and one did not even dream of getting a ‘cover’ at a press conference containing cash. Today, one understands, one can expect anything between Rs 500 to Rs 2,000 in that ‘cover’, if one can believe published reports.
It is often sickening to see semi-nude pictures of girls flaunted in colour in otherwise serious national dailies. Some of us have strange ideas about journalism.