Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rich MPs, poor people

Another election season is upon us. It’s a good idea to focus on more basic questions: Do political representatives make any difference, to the state they’re from, or to the castes they represent; how representative are our MLAs/MPs; does only money-power matter? Do representatives from poorer states tend to be relatively wealthier in comparison to their population, than those from richer states? Does being rich ensure electoral success or is it tied to the performance of the party? Using data from Empowering India initiative, Sunil Jain seeks some answers in his column in Business Standard.

Now that election season is upon us, we’ll be bombarded by all manner of analyses, pre-election surveys on voting behaviour, post-election analyses on whether people voted their caste or just cast their vote; and so on. Till then, it’s a good idea to focus on more basic questions: Do political representatives make any difference, to the state they’re from, or to the castes they represent (are OBCs in Bihar any better off after 15 years of Lalu-raj?); indeed, are our MLAs/MPs even representative in the true sense of the term; does only money-power matter?

As for whether our MPs/MLAs are representative of us, the answer is mostly a ‘no’. By and large, the poorer the state, the richer the MP/MLA. One way of rationalising this is to say that political leaders have always belonged to the aristocracy — one look at the education levels of our MPs/MLAs, however, makes it clear this is not the case here. That this should happen, though, is no surprise — the poorer a state, the higher the chances of it being badly governed, and so the greater the scope/need for MPs/MLAs to have the power to dispense favours. Visit the Liberty Institute’s website (http://www.empoweringindia.org/new/home.aspx) if you want a lot more data, to construct and run econometric models especially.

  • Maharashtra has amongst the highest per capita incomes in India (if you leave out small states like Delhi) and, on average, its MPs declared assets of around Rs 110 lakh in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, ranging from Rs 64 lakh for the Shiv Sena to Rs 191 lakh for the Congress Party (Rs 65 lakh for Shiv Sena MLAs to Rs 133 lakh for Congress MLAs). Surprisingly, however, Andhra Pradesh, which has a 30 per cent lower per capita income, has MPs whose average assets are around 4.5 times as high at Rs 490 lakh (TDP MLAs in Andhra had an average asset-base of Rs 190 lakh and the figure was Rs 116 lakh for Congress MLAs); Punjab MPs are the richest (its per capita income is around a tenth lower but its MPs are around six times as wealthy with average assets of Rs 672 lakh).
  • Gujarat MPs/MLAs are the paragon of virtue when it comes to their wealth (the state’s per capita is around 8 per cent lower than Maharashtra and its MPs have assets which are around 40 per cent lower). Poorer states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Madhya Pradesh are the real shocker. Bihar’s per capita income is a fifth that of Maharashtra, yet its MPs are just a tenth less wealthy (Rs 101 lakh for Bihar versus Rs 110 lakh for Maharashtra) — Bihar MLAs, however, have assets that average around Rs 20 lakh as compared to three-four times that for Maharashtra MLAs. UP, similarly, has a per capita income that’s a little over a third that of Maharashtra, but its MPs are a third wealthier. Madhya Pradesh has a per capita income that’s 40 per cent that of Maharashtra, but its MPs are just 14 per cent less wealthy.

Read the full story here:
Business Standard

Lets go out and vote: It will make a difference

I believe, going out and voting for someone, anyone, is much better option, than just saying No. Even if our candidate gets less than 1% of vote, political parties will begin to look at us as a potential support base, and therefore more amenable to listen to us. If our preferred candidate secures 2-3% of the votes, he may be taken seriously, since he might be in a position to make or break the winner. If our preferred candidate secures 5% of the vote, other parties will sit up and take notice, and begin to woo us, and our candidate. And if we put up a candidate whom we believe in, and try to campaign to widen the social-political support base, and secure 10% of the votes, established parties will seriously seek us to join a coalition or an alliance, even when our candidate loses. And if we succeed in expanding further to 15% of the total voters, we will have a realistic chance of seeing our candidate win a multi-cornered contest. The advantages of going out and vote are much more real in today's political context, than we may actually think. With increasingly competitive political conditions, every vote single vote really counts, it will be taken note of by all the political contenders, quite irrespective of whether our own preferred candidate wins or loses.

* percentage of votes mentioned are out of the total registered voters in a constituency. If we assume a 50% turnout, then above numbers will seem to be even more realistic. A 15% of total voters will mean 30% of the votes cast, when the turn out is 50%.

~ Barun Mitra

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Civil Society Initiatives

Gone are the days when democracy and politics was only restricted to those chasing power, whose sole aim was to carry on the dirty business of robbing this country and its citizens. Awareness has spread like wild-fire. Somewhere the Mumbai terror attacks have produced passionate citizens who have come forward ‘to do something’. And this ‘something’ has finally left the confines of the thought or the living room conversations. This ‘something’ will pave the way for the change we all wait for.

Here is a list of a few of the growing number of citizens initiatives across the country whose objective is to encourage greater participation in the democratic process in various forms. With the tool of information technology and internet has greatly enriched and enhanced the range and scope of these initiatives.

Bombay Catholic

Democracy Connect

Engage - Elections 2009

Group of Groups Mumbai

India Democracy

Indian Elections

Indian Neta

Jaago Re! One Billion Votes

Mumbai Votes

MyMP - IRIS (Beta)

National Network of India

National Election Watch - ADR

No Criminals

Our MP: Indian MPs, Politics, democracy



PRS Legislative Research

Salaam India.in



Wada Na Todo: Holding the Government Accountable

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Say NO to the “None of the above” idea

In the aftermath of the terrorist strike in Mumbai on 26/11/2008, many people expressed their anger and frustration at the political leadership. An idea that has gained new currency has been the decade-old proposal to introduce a negative option in the ballot – “None of the Above”, or simply the ‘No Vote’, to express our lack of confidence in politicians as such. Even the Supreme Court has called for a larger bench to decide on a recent PIL filed by the PUCL, asking for the introduction of the ‘No Vote’ in the ballot. The Election Commission of India has endorsed the idea too.

But the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Thus, while sharing the sentiments of those who feel disfranchised and frustrated by politics as usual, I propose that we say NO to the idea of the ‘No Vote’. This is an idea that is not only undemocratic, but is actually anti-democratic in principle. It is based on a gross misunderstanding of our democratic institutions and electoral politics. Finally, the implications of the ‘No Vote’ have hardly been thought through.

I don’t look at democracy as a system where the majority rules. Rather, democracy is a system where minority views need to be protected so that they have the opportunity and freedom to persuade people and peacefully win others to their side, so that today’s minority view point has the potential to become the dominant opinion of tomorrow.

Let us extend the argument further. What would be the implications of such a ‘No Vote’ against the candidates contesting in the election in a constituency? Firstly, should the election be cancelled if the ‘No’ wins more vote than the candidates on the ballot? Or should re-polling be ordered only if 51% or more of the voters express lack of confidence in the existing slate of candidates? Suppose a fresh vote is ordered, should the previous set of candidates be allowed to stand again? In case the ‘No Vote’ turns out to be the dominant sentiment of the citizens in a constituency or a country, who would actually bear the responsibility for governance? Should the existing set of politicians just continue in office till the political deadlock over ‘No Vote’ is broken? Or should an un-elected bureaucracy or nominated technocracy be asked to take over the reins of political power?

We the intelligentsia, may not have the capacity to win the confidence of our fellow citizens, and win at the ballot. But that is no reason for us to try and delegitimise representative democracy, or worse, seek to depoliticize political democracy.

Read the full article here.