The second Covid wave has made many parliamentarians feel helpless as they have to function for a second year without any money for their constituencies. While opposition MPs have been vocal in demanding the restoration of the annual grant of Rs5 crore, the silent sufferers have been the BJP MPs, especially those in opposition-ruled states.
When coronavirus made its first appearance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had cut salaries and allowances of MPs and also announced suspension of MPLADS for two years, saving Rs400 crore a year. It was a bitter pill, but MPs were hopeful that after the pandemic was controlled, the fund would be restored this year. But, despite public demands by the opposition and BJP MPs privately telling senior ministers, the scheme remained suspended.
The MPs’ feeling of neglect increases when the local area development fund is being released by several state governments. MPs are tired of their supporters grumbling that the legislator, and even corporators in some cities, are getting funds from the state government or corporations—while members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have zero funds for their favourite projects.
In Uttar Pradesh, which has the most BJP MPs, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has ordered the release of the first instalment of MLA/MLC area funds. The only Lok Sabha member in the state who has announced spending is Congress president Sonia Gandhi. She asked the district authorities in her constituency Rae Bareli to use Rs1.17 crore out of her fund (balance from previous years) for Covid relief. BJP-ruled Karnataka has also released the first tranche, even as the state’s 30 BJP MPs—including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman—have no fresh allocation. Maharashtra which, again, has a huge BJP contingent in the Lok Sabha, enhanced the annual funds for its legislators, as did Telangana. Rajasthan has said that 60 per cent of MLA fund is for vaccinations, while MLAs can use the balance for health infrastructure and other development activities.
The MPLADS scheme was introduced in 1993 by prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, whose government had survived thanks to defection. As every successive government up to 2014 was a coalition, the scheme was a compulsion and the size got bigger. But as Modi enjoyed absolute majority, the importance of MPs was somewhat reduced. Even last week, when BJP president J.P. Nadda asked party ministers and MPs to undertake Covid relief work to mark seven years of Modi’s prime ministership, several MPs were reluctant to do so knowing they had no funds in their kitty to meet the demands of their constituencies.
In BJP-ruled states, MPs who have a good equation with the chief minister get extra support for their constituencies. The BJP has a double-engine arrangement of ruling state government and majority party MPs in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The single-engine states for saffron MPs include Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Delhi, Punjab and Telangana. In Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, the parliamentary presence of the BJP is nil. While the opposition’s clamour rises, the ruling party MPs can only pray and hope that Modi would loosen the purse strings for preferred programmes of parliamentarians.