Don’t google this. Who is your MP? What is his phone number? E Mail ID? Where is his office? Have you ever approached him (or her, in the sprinkling of constituencies that their parties deigned to give tickets to women) about your grievances? Has he reached out to you, ever sought your opinion on contentious issues? If you’ve drawn a blank so far, read on.
The fanfare that characterises the filing of nomination papers by candidates, splashed across newspapers and on tv channels raises several important questions for us voters. Did we see these faces in the neighbourhood in the last 5 years? Or was it only in 2014? Did we see them in Parliament? Were they our voice in that institution? The run of the mill news coverage conforms to a template like the same old syllabus in schools. Details like the attendance of MPs in Parliament, the number of debates they participated in, do they have pending criminal cases, their assets declared and yes, whether they have risen in the last 5 years, if so, by what percentage. And presto, there’s a headline! Of course, these aspects are noteworthy. But the micro picture is often not looked at. If Parliament is in session for an average of a hundred days in the year, aside of regular Parlimentary Committee meetings, what about the rest of the year? This brings me to the crux of the matter. Just how have the candidates seeking re-election served the people in their constituencies?
Can a sweeper or even a CEO retain his job for not performing up to a certain minimum standard or meeting targets? Can a school student who fails in many subjects get promoted to the next class? Or a college student walk away with a degree without clearing arrears? Can shopkeepers refuse to take back defective goods? Can a borrower who defaults in loan repayment and ends up with an adverse CIBIL score get another loan easily? Why should it be any different for an elected representative in the marketplace of democracy?
As we have corporate style interviews by political parties, at least for the tv cameras, why shouldn’t manifestos be treated on par with the Prospectus of companies? Should the oath to “faithfully discharge the duty” be limited to their role inside Parliament?
It’s unfortunate that unlike countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, India does not have the Right To Recall. Varun Gandhi made an unsuccessful pitch for this radical move through a Private Members Bill in 2016. The Law Commission in its 255th Report had shot down the idea, calling it “an excess of democracy”, “difficult and expensive.”
Against this backdrop, it’s time civil society through Residents’ Welfare Associations upped the ante and did their bit to infuse a semblance of accountability. Candidates must be prepared to engage with these bodies, as long as they are apolitical, to get a first-hand account of the problems of the local people. While it may be six times more difficult for a Parliamentary candidate compared to an Assembly aspirant to start a dialogue (a parliamentary seat comprises 6 assembly segments) it’s worth a shot. If only these associations could rustle up a sort of town hall meeting with the candidates in the fray separately and conduct an informal interface on their credentials, priorities and promises, with, for instance, neighbourhood newspapers pitching in with coverage, our democracy will become a lot more meaningful and participatory.
The bid for a cushy 5 year career plan must not hinge on a candidate’s ability to exploit caste equations, piggyback on alliances and flex financial muscles. The willingness to engage with those they aspire to represent must be the main criterion. If they want our votes, let them not give us darshans from open jeeps, fake plastic smiles, fold their hands, flash their symbols and parrot cheesy lines. Let them walk the talk. This summer, I wish the heat is on. For the candidates.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)