What does a MP actually do? On what criteria should we vote for her and how should we evaluate him?
As General Elections 2014 draw closer there is more than the usual pre-election excitement. The Modi versus Rahul show down, the unpredictability of Kejriwal, the positioning of the fringe players and the eternal hopefuls from the “Third Front” are dominating the talk in the pre-election season. The mainstream media however are not paying any attention to the performance of the MPs themselves apart from lamenting the waste of parliamentary time. This lack of attention to the role of the MPs is not surprising given the focus on personalities in our country; the focus is all on the national or state level leaders and whether they will be able to deliver seats in regions or states. Local problems and issues are swept under the need to simplify the issues in elections. The performance of a member of parliament over the last five years, his stance on various issues in and outside parliament are not even discussed. It is only when divisive issues like Telangana come up is there a focus on MPs of that region and their (un) parliamentary behaviour.
As far as citizens are concerned, mystery surrounds the role of their MPs. They appear to have an arms- length role as far as the day to day lives of their constituents are concerned. This belief has been strengthened over the years, although every candidate promises to make the constituency a model or a world class constituency if he is elected.
DAKSH, together with ADR, has conducted a survey across 525 parliamentary constituencies- with about 2,50,000 respondents randomized appropriately, making it the largest political survey ever in India- to assess people’s perceptions about the performance of their MPs. We asked two sets of questions: (a) what are the issues that are important to you when you vote in the elections and (b) how has your MP performed on those issues? Both these are clearly perceptions of the voter, but then voter is king and no political party or candidate will argue with that.
Some of the results have already been published. On a CNN IBN program, representatives of various political parties commended that scorecards are being published but raised the usual bogey- MPs should not be measured on perceptions, but on objective criteria, their performance in the Parliament should be measured and not necessarily on issues of local governance, x is a great parliamentarian, so how can she get a low score etc?
So, I go back to the original question- what does a MP do? A MP has in my view, a few roles: a) he represents the people of his constituency in the Lok Sabha and by virtue of that participates in policy making on all matters over which the Parliament has powers (and that is pretty much everything of significant importance in the country except those matters that are specifically given to State Legislatures); b) he can ask questions about the performance of the Union Cabinet and the central bureaucracy and hold them accountable and c) as a representative of his constituents he needs to represent their aspirations properly by interacting with them on a regular basis and providing leadership on issues relevant to the constituents. All these roles constitute an essential part of a MPs role- they are not mutually exclusive. A MP cannot assert when his performance is questioned that he should only be evaluated on one criteria. The DAKSH-ADR survey measures performance on item c) directly and items a) and b) indirectly. If a MP does a) and b) properly, the governance of the country will be good! If he does not do so, governance will be bad- it’s a simplistic explanation, yes, but in reality it is actually that simple! When the DAKSH-ADR scores are added to the performance of the MP in parliament, it gives a complete picture of how the MP has performed.
The more important aspect to remember is that a MP’s accountability is to the voter and the voter is the boss in democracy; as a voter I can only question my MP, MLA and local representative (either panchayat or municipal councillor) on governance issues, and I will do so as long as the governance of our country continues in the mess that it is in currently. We should also not forget that MPs and MLAs are doing everything they can to ensure the emasculation of local governance of villages and cities. Therefore, when it comes to measuring their performance they cannot point the fingers at someone else. It is their job to get that someone else to perform properly and to equip that someone else to perform properly. Only then can they cry hoarse if we seek accountability from a MP for improper garbage collection or bad roads!