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Our representatives - Democracy in peril

 

Today’s voter wants a piece of his MP in person and bothers little about the latter’s official duties.
August 15, 2010 16:59
Tags : Democracy in peril | MPLAD |MP or MLA | Parliament House |
 

 Our representatives - Democracy in perilRaghu Thakur,

Socialist leader and thinker

If there has been a visible change in the style of working as well as the integrity of the elected representatives of the people, I consider two or three incidents as the basic reason behind this. The voters have raised their expectations vis-à-vis their elected representatives. But these expectations are less concerned with the issues for which these representatives have been elected and more with the personal issues of the voters. 

Today, voters don’t give two hoots about what Bills their representatives present in the House or what issues they raise. They are least interested in issues pertaining to national and human interest. They are more concerned whether the MP or MLA can participate in a wedding in his house. They expect them to be present in their house on every major family occasion. For them, it becomes a status symbol. And if the elected representative has done his bit by participating in a family event, he does not have to give much thought to other issues.

Elected representatives have taken this as a red herring. They have understood the demand of the people and have found out that long-term responsibility is one thing that does not figure in that list. I have seen these representatives drawing up what they call a “source list”. These extensive lists have full details of social events that take place in the houses of influential persons in his constituency. The representatives participate in such functions almost religiously. This also helps them in other ways. It gives the impression that the representative is accessible and people-friendly. At times, when on a particular day, there is more than one such function, the family members of these elected representatives pitch in. Now a protocol list of sorts is prepared. It is obviously based on priority. The really important hosts are given top priority and the representative makes it a point to attend those functions personally. The lesser mortals get to host his wife and children. On any given day, the houses of these representatives appear unnaturally busy. One can see the cars running to and from their homes–not to fulfill that representative’s responsibilities and obligations, but to attend these functions. My assessment is that an average elected representative has to dole out close to 20 lakh per year on attending such functions and bringing gifts. Now there is a catch there. Since he is an MP or an MLA, he’ll have to carry a gift that suits his status. And for that, he needs money. Soon, it becomes a vicious cycle. But the purpose is fulfilled. The representative has successfully cultivated the image of an accessible representative. Who gives a damn about where the money for the gift came from. 

The MPLAD funds are utilised in such largesse. It also acts as the capital fund for the subsequent elections. Similarly, the voters also expect direct monetary benefits from their representatives rather than developmental work. The representatives also dole out contracts to oblige them. There are very few representatives who don’t take kickbacks or commissions in these tenders. If the prevailing kickback rate for an officer is 15 per cent, the corresponding figure for the elected representatives is close to 30 per cent. The voters have nourished this kickback system in such a way that it runs down to local bodies as well. 

Also, for the voters, an accessible representative means one who can get their personal work done in jiffy. Even if that work concerns a lowly clerk at the block level, people want their representative’s blessings to get the files moving. Representatives also don’t think twice before shooting off a letter to them. They are neither concerned about their integrity and dignity nor worried about transgressing their jurisdiction. While shooting off these letters, they have a clear idea as to where their letter would get things moving and where it will be treated merely as a piece of paper. Also, there is a sort of understanding between these representatives, ministers and bureaucrats. 

This sort of arrangement has evolved because of the changing nature of the expectations that voters have from their representatives. Parliament House has become the hub of brokering and liaison between these representatives and the government. Deals are struck in the chambers of the ministers. It is deplorable that both voters and their representatives have become corrupt. It is a warning bell for our democratic system. 

But it was not like that always. Every party had a popular base then and they used to think about the entire society. Even with all its failings, the Congress workers used to care for the concerns of every social segment and not just the section that used to vote them. But today, the voters are polarised on caste and religious lines. That is why there are political parties that think of themselves as guardians of a particular caste or community.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017