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  • kewal sethi

uncaging the mp

uncaging the MP

notwithstanding the poor reputation of the MP,(member of parliament), i feel that he is a victim of circumstances. look at the issue holistically.

what is his role in the democratic set up expected to be? he is to represent his constituency i.e. the people of his constituency. the true representation will only be there if he is in a position to convey their views to the higher authorities. but he is not able to do so because the political party to which he belongs has no forum where he can express his views. even if there was, he would not be able to do so because his survival in the politics is dependent upon the continued pleasure of the high command of his party. even if the electorate is happy with him, there is no guarantee that he will be allowed to contest again next time if he defies or is inclined to defy the high command. the candidates are chosen at the whim of the party bosses and seldom on the merits of the candidates themselves. the public, or for that matter, the workers of the party concerned have no voice in the selection of the candidate. the candidate has to hire or persuade the party members, or the public, to organize demonstrations in his favour when the central observers come looking for merits of different claimants. this costs money. it is also open secret that nominations can be purchased. after his nomination, he is expected to spend his money to get elected. he has to take care of finances to fight the election. all this expenditure leaves him poorer and he has to make up for it through his membership and all the opportunities that it presents. not only he is expected to recoup his expenses, he is also expected to contribute to the party funds. this leads to corrupt practice which thus feeds on itself.

the parliament does debate the issues facing the country which is its role in democracy. but the MP can neither express his views nor that of his constituents. he can only toe the party line whenever he is given a chance to speak by the party boss. even if he feels that the stand of the party in anti people, he cannot vote against it. this is because, should he vote against it, there is danger of his being disqualified under the anti defection act. he is like a bonded labour obliged to shout aye or to raise his hand (or press his button) at the command of his party boss.

of course, for the loss of his liberty to voice his views, he is compensated. first he is paid handsomely. secondly, he is given the power to boss over the bureaucrats. since this cannot be done in a straightforward manner, devious means are devised. one is the formation of the committees which are then allowed to tour all over the country in the name of on-the-spot verification and call the bureaucrats for evidence. he can then browbeat them into doing his bidding or otherwise give words to his frustration. the second methodology is to place at his disposal a large amount of money (known as local development fund) which he can spend at his discretion. even if it does not involve corruption, it is still a means to dispense patronage which can be cashed in term of votes or otherwise. another indigenous method is to give him the powers to dispense patronage. earlier it was in terms of recommending a certain number of telephone connections or allocating a certain number of gas connections. he could nominate a certain number of students for admission into kendriya vidyalayas. there were many such avenues. some of these have since dried up because of the open economic policy.

all this means that the people are left with no avenues to persuade their representative to convey their feelings to the policy makers. the policies are made without reference to the needs or demand of the public. the net result of this policy is outpouring of anger whenever an opportunity presents itself. the spontaneous demonstrations arising out of trivial causes can be traced to this frustration to genuinely make their voice heard. it can only be expected that if the present trend continues, in times to come, there would be more such outbursts.

what is the solution? the MP has to be made more answerable to his electorate than he is at present. the most obvious way to do this is to reduce the powers of the party boss. one of the electoral reforms can be to provide for changes in the procedure of nominating a person as candidate. this must form the basis of electoral reforms. let there be primaries in the concerned area for election of the candidate. the workers of the party would select their candidate. this will oblige the person concerned to listen to the views of the local party members and to express their views in the appropriate forum. to keep the electorate in the loop, the process should be open to public or, in other words, transparent. the candidate must declare his policies (mostly they will be in line with those of his party but he may have a local agenda also). they will form the basis for the members present in the primaries to decide between various candidates.

the second requirement is to repeal the anti defection act. this will take away the power of the party boss to impose his views on the members. if the member is not able to persuade in the party fora, he can put forth his point of view in the parliament. the reduction in dependence on the party bosses will increase his discretion and he will be more willing to learn the views of his voters and to express them freely.

a question will certainly be raised about the aya ram gaya ram phenomenon and the danger to stability of the governments (which is quite often illogically equated with safety of democracy). the answer is - has the act provided the security of tenure of the government. notwithstanding the anti defection act, there have been instances where the cross voting has taken place. the disqualification was stalled by the speaker of the vidhan sabha concerned by taking his own time for disposal of the party application for disqualification. on the other hand, there are cases where speaker has disqualified members instantaneously, against principles of natural justice, to save the government. these decisions have been challenged in the courts. by the time the courts pronounce a verdict, one way or the other, the purpose has been served.

the danger of instability is there but is it worth negating the very essence of the democracy. the real solution lies in having a mature electorate. if the unprincipled defector is punished with defeat, the malady can be controlled. but then a mature electorate can only be there when the locals have a say in selection of the candidate. which brings us back to the original proposal of holding primaries. when the candidate is their own, he can be disciplined also.

in short, if we have to uncage the MP from being bonded labour of his party boss and to reduce the level of corruption, we should do away with the anti defection act and, on the positive side, make it mandatory to hold primaries, in full public glare, to have a person popular at the lower level away from the high command to be the candidate of the party concerned.


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