The widespread criticism of a proposal by a parliamentary committee to double lawmakers’ salaries is utterly misplaced. Given the demands of the job, the modest cost to the government of such a raise, and the salaries in other sectors, the suggestion to double their salary to Rs 1 lakh is entirely reasonable. If we want to attract the best minds to politics, we need to pay them well.

Indian MPs are poorly paid, even counting the perks of housing and other amenities. Both they and the nation would benefit from an increase in their salaries, one that is in fact bigger than the one proposed.

But such an increase “isn’t merited by their job performance,” said an editorial in The Times of India. On Twitter, jokes about “useless” politicians did the rounds.

In early July, the government also rejected most of the recommendations submitted by the Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament, headed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s Yogi Adityanath, according to newspaper reports quoting unnamed sources. The panel had also recommended that the government raise lawmakers’ travel and other allowances.

Tough job description

Consider what an MP is expected to do. He is supposed to discuss laws and the finer points of morality and the public good. An ideal MP should therefore be someone who combines a formidable command over the key political, economic and social issues of the day with an intimate understanding of the day-to-day problems of diverse sections of society. An ideal MP should also be highly articulate in speech and writing, and have excellent organisational skills that enable him or her to implement policies effectively.

In other words, an ideal lawmaker’s job description is probably among the most daunting. Yet such a job does not pay what most averagely educated professionals earn in their late 20s, after a few years' experience. Going by just the demands of the job, therefore, MPs’ salaries are pitifully low.

Some people, including those from Left parties, argue that in a poor country MPs’ salaries should be modest. This is a poor argument! A developing country, whose problems are huge and complicated, needs the best minds in such positions. A developing country in particular must pay competitive salaries to public servants because it, more than developed countries, needs competitive public servants. So New York state might not suffer if its governors are not stellar but a good chief minister in Bihar can do wonders for the state.

A raise won’t cost much

What would the proposed increase cost the exchequer? Not much. If the panel’s guidelines were followed for both houses of parliament, the total cost would not be more Rs 8 crore a year, a tiny fraction of the government budget of more than Rs 10 lakh crore that lawmakers vote on every year.

Clever, talented and honest people at the best universities will begin thinking about a career in politics only when it guarantees them a standard of living that is on a par with one they can easily get in other professions.

Our policy of paying below-market salaries to public servants compels them to use their political clout to amass wealth through corruption and cronyism, pursue another profession in parallel or accept a frugal, Gandhian lifestyle. Most politicians choose the first two options.

Attracting the best

Singapore has long recognised the need for lawmakers’ salaries to be competitive. In 1994, a report of the city-state’s prime minister’s office said that “while a high income should never be the motivation for a person to become a minister, paying realistic salaries that do not impose an unrealistically large financial sacrifice on those contemplating political office will reduce one significant obstacle to able Singaporeans entering politics.

“Salaries must be competitive,” it said, “so that people of the right calibre are not deterred” from entering politics. The report advocated pegging ministerial pay to that of leading professions, such as accounting and law.

NR Narayana Murthy, a co-founder of the software company Infosys, noted in a lecture that “by not paying them [MPs] the salaries and incentives they deserve for the hard work expected of them, we are unwittingly pushing them to do things they shouldn’t be doing”.

Today, smart, educated professionals who wish to get into politics full time cannot expect an upper-middle-class lifestyle from an honest day’s work. So it is unlikely that the best of India will enter politics, and the dream of citizens looking up to competent and incorruptible public servants is likely to remain a dream.

Akshat Khandelwal's Twitter handle is @akshat_khan. He can be contacted at