How to choose an MP worthy of your vote: A Bengalurean’s guide to voting

Our MPs should be able to present rational arguments, build consensus across the aisle and make progress on tough situations as our representative in the Lok Sabha.
How to choose an MP worthy of your vote: A Bengalurean’s guide to voting
How to choose an MP worthy of your vote: A Bengalurean’s guide to voting
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If you vote on the basis of caste, religion, region, party affiliation or personal loyalty to a leader, you can stop reading now; this guide is not for you.

If you vote to elect the PM and not the MP, this guide is not for you.

If you vote for an MP to represent you on the basis of the candidate’s background, profile, relevant experience, track record, etc, this might be useful for you.

Welcome to the Minority Club!

A majority of voters, unfortunately, are not like you and me; they will ignore the candidate and happily vote for a lamp post (derogatory term for candidates first used by Indira Gandhi) as long as it has the right symbol next to it on the ballot.

Let them. They have every right to exercise their franchise based on whatever criteria they choose.

Thankfully, our tribe, currently in minority, is growing fast. Especially in metropolitan cities where there is plenty of pent up frustration about lack of accountability in governance and institutionalised corruption.

In a few urban constituencies, this Minority Club can swing the election because the traditional ‘vote banks’ don’t work well in cosmopolitan cities. In any case, all major parties cultivate social groups, buy some votes, influence some voters using inducements – they essentially cancel each other out making the ‘swing’ vote critical.

What is an MP’s role?

There are two parts to this guide. First, let’s look at the role of an MP and then consider the criteria we should apply to choose a candidate.

We are electing a Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha. The primary role of an MP is legislation: to help make laws for the entire country. This involves passing new laws as well as amending existing ones. Apart from participating in the law-making process of the Lok Sabha, MPs can also become members of various standing committees of Parliament where serious deliberations are held before new policies are introduced in the Lok Sabha. Experts say the real work of Parliament happens in the standing committees, without the drama of live telecast. Standing committees have members from both ruling and opposition parties and hold extensive discussions with subject matter experts, civil society representatives and others. MPs with knowledge and interest in certain issues will be able to influence the legislation.

The secondary role is to represent the constituency in the Lok Sabha. Whenever there are serious issues such as natural calamities or accidents, the MP can raise the issue during Question Hour or Zero Hour (or as a written question) and demand urgent attention from the Union Government. MPs can identify policy gaps based on incidents in their constituency and bring them up for discussion and debate, and even introduce Private Members Bills.

Third, MPs have oversight on the executive – for example, supervision of central government schemes. An MP can walk into any department and seek information on how public money is spent and give instructions to bureaucrats when there are any lapses.

For a nation of 120 crore people, we have just 543 MPs. These MPs have enormous responsibility to uphold our constitution and make policy.

Voting guide for Bengaluru

Now, without much further ado, the voting guide.

Bengaluru is struggling because urban governance is broken. Lack of vision and planning are the main reasons our city is the way it is. Having MPs who understand the structural issues and have the ability to articulate and influence stakeholders will help us. India needs urgent reform in the areas of urban governance, including increased representation, decentralisation and citizen participation in local decision making. The 74th amendment failed and we need MPs that can amend it based on lived experience.

Bengaluru is the pride of India. In every single Lok Sabha session, the pressing issues of Bengaluru must be spoken about with conviction to draw the attention of the nation. We need MPs who are unafraid to speak up without hesitation and without worrying about their party line.

MPs have political powers granted by the constitution: control over executive, control over finance; they can question executive (officers) when they find discrepancies. The MPs we elect must have the ability to understand the functioning of departments, and the courage to stand up to officials and demand answers where things are broken.

Some subjects of public policy are shared between the Centre and state. For example, education and healthcare; we haven’t done well in these areas at all. An MP can play a key role in acting as a bridge between the state and the Centre, resolve issues and ensure public funds are being utilised as designed.

Issues that need priority

In Bengaluru the suburban train project was stuck for nearly 30 years – if it had been built when it was first proposed, by now it would have expanded similar to Mumbai, and our traffic and pollution wouldn’t be what they are today. However, due to the never-ending tussles between the railways and the state government, this project didn’t move until recently. Our MPs should be able to present rational arguments, build consensus across the aisle and make progress in such situations as our representative in the Union Government.

Many of our legislators have a poor understanding of federal structure and therefore do not raise their voice when central government schemes are designed in such a way that it disadvantages students (NEET, bank exams, for instance) of Karnataka. Major reform is needed in how the railways are run; states need to have political power. We must consider the candidate’s stand on these issues based on publicly available records.

Urban issues such as garbage management, disappearing water bodies and land encroachment are common to many big cities. There are plenty of studies based on years of experience running city corporations that suggest reforms such as longer tenure for Mayor, ward committees, and increased level of citizen participation. We can evaluate which of the candidates has spoken up about these issues in the past and is best positioned to bring positive change.

For assessing the incumbent MP, we can look at the attendance record, questions asked during the tenure and the nature of such questions, and how it compares to other MPs. If the current MP never mentioned Bengaluru in the Lok Sabha in the last five years, why should we vote for him again?

Finally, MPs have access to MPLADS – an annual budget of Rs 5 crore that an MP can use for constituency works. While I fundamentally disagree with the concept of MPLADS and believe it should be abolished, it is here to stay, and it is also one way to evaluate the incumbent MP. How did the MPLADs funds get used? What projects were given priority and who are the benefactors? Were the works completed? Does the MP maintain a record?

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. But I certainly hope it helps you think about how to choose a candidate worthy of your vote this time around. If a few thousand of us started doing this, it will make a big difference.

Aren’t parties important? Sure they are. But we tend to give too much weightage to parties and too little to candidates. If we start giving importance to candidates, even parties will field better ones.

The W word! Many of us find ourselves voting for some other candidate because the ‘best candidate’ is not ‘winnable’. This is warped thinking – voters decide who wins, not the other way around. This is also the reason political parties have no incentive to field better candidates. Just go out there and vote for who you think should represent you in the Lok Sabha.

Srinivas is a citizen activist and an occasional commentator on politics.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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