Why I will not fall for the “Vote for PM” trick

Alright — so we’re all getting ready to vote throughout the country. Some states have already completed polling. Bengaluru’s turn is tomorrow.

How do you decide? This election, in particular, is seeing massive interest from all around the country. However, at least some of this interest is generated because of the silly way in which the Congress and BJP are continuing to differentiate themselves from each other, when the reality is far murkier.

See through the “vote for PM” distraction

First of all, on the BJP’s ‘Modi for PM” campaign, this country does not have a presidential system of government, at least yet! It will take a constitutional amendment to make that happen. Prime Ministers run a cabinet form of government, and the cabinet is formed from the party or the alliance that gets the largest number of MP seats in the Lok Sabha. Cabinets are where power is really shared in a pluralistic society such as ours. Whether we like it or not this is the system. Parliament is both the supreme legislative body of the nation and is also supposed to be a watchdog on the central government through its questions and debates.

The leader of the party with the largest seats typically becomes the Prime Minister. Also mid-way through a term, if the party in power decides to change heads, or if the leader resigns, then the prime minister also changes, even though the same party may remain in power. This has happened in the UK fairly recently. Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair as head of the labour party and prime minister, when the latter resigned.

In India, this time, the BJP declared Narendra Modi, CM of Gujarat as prime ministerial candidate last year, well before the elections. Also the language and the campaign made it look like Modi as PM will function and lead change like a US President.

Note this: A US president does not head a cabinet government formed out of Congress. US presidents appoint officials of their choice to head various departments of the US government, and that team functions like a cabinet reporting to the president. The president is a completely separate branch of power from the US Congress. In the parliamentary system this separation is weaker. Government itself is formed out of elections to parliament. Do not buy into this campaign of someone for PM.

For its part the Congress and the UPA did not respond formally to this with their own PM candidate. While formal and informal sources kept saying Rahul Gandhi will be PM, if the UPA wins, Gandhi himself has formally said he will be prime minister only if his MPs decide that. But the media, television media in particular has taken this presidential style comparison and blown it out of proportion. Constant coverage of “Modi vs Rahul” and then later “Modi vs Rahul vs Kejriwal”, wittingly or unwittingly, has only helped frame the elections discourse along the lines the BJP wanted.

So why this does matter when you decide to vote for your MP this election?

It matters because it can confuse the thinking of voters to see so many emotional messages on secularism, communalism, development, leadership etc., and very little of that focused on the stature, nature, record and calibre of their MP candidate itself.

If this election was only about who should be the prime minister or who should not, then the local MP candidate is unimportant, is it not? If that is so, why have an MP representing the constituency in Parliament at all? Just vote for a party and party head to run the country!

But let’s cut to the chase now. This IS a parliamentary system and the elections to Lok Sabha are not held for who will become prime minister.

Belittling parliament, belittling MPs

Do not let the rhetoric of a referendum on who will be a better prime minister or not decide the MP who represents you and your constituency in Parliament. Let it take your eye off the direct role MPs play in Parliament.

MPs are supposed to play key roles in debating national issues such as fuel prices, LPS subsides, price rises, funding for massive public transportation projects such as Metros and commuter rails, remediation of long-term injustices through new laws, etc. In doing this, they work with the local perspective of their own constituencies as well their broad experience and capacities as policy makers. Several key issues in the country that impact quality of life for instance involve Central Government decisions, and hence parliamentarians have the right to ask questions.

What has been happening in India is that all the major parties have successively over the years eroded the voice of independence in legislators, be it MPs or MLAs. Everything has become personality driven or party driven or driven by the compromises of coalitions having to stay in power. When parties issue whips for major votes in parliament, they take away the independence of MPs voting on key economic and social issues.

The BJP’s move therefore to run a campaign to vote for a single person as prime minister is indicative of India continuing to be on a slippery slope. In doing so, it has further belittled the voice of the individual MP.

Furthermore, we have seen Parliament being disrupted by almost all major parties, MPs behaving like hooligans and more. When this happens, everyone complains and the media wails that precious public money and time is wasted. Key bills are not passed and blocked. When you vote this time, note that all this is not merely because we elected the wrong or the right prime minister. That is because we elected the wrong MPs!

Cover photo on BJP candidate, PC Mohan’s Facebook page.

Imagine, when in the Whitefield suburb of Bengaluru, you see leaflets where sitting BJP MLA Arvind Limbavali introduces the sitting MP of Bengaluru Central P C Mohan to voters, and in the same flier, he implores people to vote for Mohan because that is a vote for Narendra Modi. In effect this is like saying do not judge your incumbent MP P C Mohan by his own performance in representing us in Parliament, but just vote for him because you want to bring in a so-and-so as prime minister.

This is belittling of our Parliament itself, and our MPs too – this must end. It can end this way.

Almost everyone disgruntled with current politics in India and asking for change is also saying that we need clean and capable people in politics. If you want such people in Parliament, how do you make that happen?

We want a better Parliament

Your power is with your vote in your constituency. Make that choice for your constituency based on all the candidates in front of you. Do not pick the Aam Aadmi Party just because of Kejriwal’s credentials, no more than you would pick the BJP for Modi’s world views. And no more than you would pick Congress in some faraway hope that ‘youthful Rahul’ will reform that party.

Keep the focus on one simple thing: this country needs better and better people to enter politics at all levels, from Parliament to state assemblies to panchayats, city councils and ward committees. This is the need of the hour. So we do not want the old snake oil or chimneys from the smoke-stack economy. We do not want people who revel in using caste, religious cleavages, corruption, language, and patronage, whether directly or indirectly, in their own parties or with allied parties.

Just use all available media published and candidate facts about themselves through affidavits to decide the best and most capable leader to vote for. There is a better chance more clean people will enter parliament this way than otherwise.  

And this, first and foremost, means a better parliament itself! What purpose does a general election serve if we keep electing the shoddiest legislators? A better parliament that runs less on mobs and disruptions in the well of the house and more on debate and accountability.

In fact that needs to be the goal of a parliamentary election, far more than having to choose simply between allegiances to a party-turned-dynasty, a “development-mughal” being promoted as prime minister, or a crappy alliance of equally corrupt regional parties.

Picking candidates and party manifestos

The good news is this. As it turns out, change is the flavour in the air and around the country, better candidates have gotten tickets from mainline parties this time than before, in addition to new-image parties in the fray. In Bengaluru, India’s southern beacon for the anti-corruption movement, several clean or ‘cleaner’ image candidates are running.

In fact in Bengaluru, it is bit of a conundrum. Voters appear to be faced with a choice of multiple ‘clean’ candidates in the Parliamentary races this time. This situation may be there in other cities too, especially the ones the anti-corruption movement was loud and visible. What does one do?

Pick the candidate whose party manifesto and ideology matches your ideas for India.

Or, pick the one whose leadership and persuasion skills you feel are most needed, because change-making and fighting corruption in the country is not just about being ‘clean’ oneself. It is about rising further in stature within the party itself, and being the force for change in one’s own party, whichever that is.

Or, pick one who has convinced you about being accessible to you and other voters and listening to you. MPs are notorious for not being accessible.

Also, when you are reading manifestos, look beyond the obvious. No party will say they are anti-development, once development itself is reduced to construction of roads, flyovers, (reckless) industrialisation, economic growth and jobs. What India needs is more democracy and more decentralisation of power.

Development, and more equitable development will come automatically if you strengthen democracy in the country first. To me democracy and rule of law is the means. Development is the end. We need to strengthen the means. Elections are good for that.  By distracting voters with ‘development’ promises, all parties have ensured that the real lack of democracy at local and national levels goes unquestioned.

In sum

Keep two last thoughts in mind.

One, anti-corruption is not an ideology in itself. For our society to progress, all parties will have come around to clean up their act, and our society itself has to embrace ethics as way of life rather than otherwise. Today, one party may trigger change by responding to the frustration of the people to win more seats. You can help trigger this change too by voting for good candidates everywhere, and sooner or later other parties will come around.

Two, do not fall for the rhetoric of “who will be PM”. You may end up electing a corrupt or incapable or inaccessible legislator into Parliament!

Subramaniam Vincent

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10 Comments

  1. I see your point. In Bangalore Rural candidates of BJP and INC have qualification – PUC. Not sure they passed or failed. For an MP level, I would expect better qualification. Also, we still have a parliamentary form and haven’t moved to a Presidential government yet. To say that Modi is the PM candidate is ridiculous. What if they end up with, say 160 seats and need the support of allies who won’t come on board if Modi is at the helm? Will they stick to the Modi for PM line or jettison him and find a consensus candidate like, maybe, Jaitley or Swaraj?

  2. It is very easy for people to give comments as always like an elitist. The bare fact is that the politician is as good or as bad as we in the society are! Let all these individuals introspect if they have ever tried to swim against the tide in getting a Khatha, Caste certificate, Plan Approval etc., without paying bribe ? Have they paid the property tax by declaring the correct built up area? I have like Mr Agarwal tried to get the services from Govt., agencies without paying bribe! Of course sometimes I had to run around for many days b’cos I did not pay bribe to the babu’s, But the ultimate feeling of pride getting a job done w/o bribe is great. How many of our fellow citizens who cry hoarse that there is corruption all around tried to patiently wait for getting the service from a Govt., agency without taking a short cut? If many of our citizens try and eliminate corruption at this level it would indeed be a great leap forward towards weeding out corruption! Finally we are all forgetting the fact that more than the politician it is the bureaucracy that is the main culprit as far as Corruptions proliferation goes. These highly educated babu’s are always the pioneers guiding the netas’ on how to swindle money. If these officials can unitedly stand up to the nefarious activities of the neta’s then it is another step towards eliminating corruption. So finally to sum up the onus to eliminate corruption is on us citizens and also we need to be in touch with our elected representative regularly to weed out corruption!

  3. As a octogenarian senior citizen I have seen elections from per-independence days. I disagree with the Author’s views. It is better to know who will be leading this nation as our PM, instead of falling for a dummy appointee after the elections. The nation should have a strong leader like Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Sastry or Atal Behari Vajapayee to govern us, not an appointee a text book economist, without leadership qualities or power. Disruption of Parliament is not new to India. We have seen much worst situations in our Parliament created by then Socialists and young Turks. But they were ably handled by Speakers like Mavlankar and Anantha Sayanam Ayyangar.
    For preventing Corruption, we need to strengthen our legal system. Corruption starts from lowest level and spreads to highest level due to lack of transparency in administration. Mr S M Krishna brought a lot of new measures like self assessment to eliminate middlemen. I wish such measures to continue.

  4. I do agree with the thoughts of the editor. However, its too late for the voters to get the awareness and education required for making the best use of their valuable votes. When we buy vegetables and fruits we do take utmost care to buy the right one at the best price. When we buy electronic items and home appliances we consult with friends and research before investing our hard earned money. When we buy property, we appoint a lawyer to study the documents in order to protect our investment. However, when we chose a spouse we go ahead based on assumptions or traditions and similarly when we chose a candidate to represent us in the assembly or our country we truly lack the road map to chose the most appropriate candidate.

    Most of the parties do their campaign similar to the campaigns of Nirma or Ariel washing powder. The campaign is full of belittling each other. When we appoint even an office boy we look at his CV and his past experience etc however, there’s no CV required for the highest position of an MP or PM. The candidates and the party should provide the voters with at least some of these details:

    1. Candidates and Party’s track record of the past achievements.
    2. Candidates and Party’s agenda ( what solutions they propose to solve the major current issues in the country).
    3. Analysis of the above proposals by experts.

    The above three points would at least give the voters a road map as to which candidate or party will be able to deliver what the citizens need.

  5. Could not agree more with this article.
    As for other concerns on a clear majority etc ….. i only have this to say – “ONLY if we vote for the right candidates WILL we see the indian politics raise above the party, religion barriers” Only then we can have discussions in the parliament irrespective which party is in power.

  6. This advice is kinda late, but better late than never! Thanks Vincent. ________________________________________________________________________
    Look what the BJP did all these years in the opposition, just proved they were the same as the ruling party in grabbing money and the rest! None of what the CONgress is being blamed for by the BJ(unk)P if they DID THEIR JOB AS THE OPPOSITION all these years. Just vote for good MPs. Kick both the CONgress and the BJ(unk)P out!
    Dont get conned by BJP they are like the shopkeeper and his brother who both loot you and have the last laugh

  7. The problem with the Indian political system is if you elect solely based on who’s a good candidate, chances of a hung parliament increase. A hung parliament is like a defunct government which cannot take key policy decisions or do so quickly enough. Even though we do not have a presidential system, projecting a leader will help us get a majority govt that can do its work freely and quickly. Such articles can only confuse voters in the last minute and help vested interests.

  8. PM vs MP?

    How does one define best candidate? Its very subjective but one thing for sure is that it cannot be defined based on promises alone. Candidate need to have proven record. Was Dr. Manmohan Singh not best PM candidate during last election? What happened in last 5 yrs? Even today, I personally think that Dr. Manmohan Singh as an individual is an excellent person.

    Put same theory for candidates from your constituency? Having best intention actually means not much on ground? When reality gets stuck than some people cannot hold for more than 50 days even?

    Ideally, lots of things should happen. I think that ideally, each one of us must meet politicians once in 6 months rather asking them to come to us. We must ask every 6 months status from them. If we put pressure, politicians will work. Anti-corruption drive at national and in my area (Suncity Apartments) have proven records on this. We, at Suncity, have done successful anti-corruption drives (khatha, property tax payment, bescom name transfer etc) much before national movement started with the help of local politicians. I meet them at least once in 6 months from last 6-7 yrs and they also meet me now

    I find it amusing when people say that politicians wake up during election but actually, its us who wake up at that time. Politicians are working for at least 30% people to remain in power if not 100% but rest 70% people are actually sleeping.

    Last but not least, It is your personal choice however do keep local/national both interests in mind while choosing.

  9. I do not agree with the Editor. There is no change in BJP n CONgress campaigns.There are no hard n fast rules for campaigning. CONgress did not announce PM candidate because it is not confident about Rahul Gandhi; but CONgress has also single person campaign for Rahul’s PM candidature. Whatever may be campaign style, before voting just review what CONgress has done for 55 years it has ruled India and also what it has done in last 10 years.

  10. Eminent people like Rajeev Chandrashekar, Dr. Devi Shetty, etc from Bangalore are saying only NaMo can deliver (because he already showcased development in Gujarat that he can repeat). So I feel its foolish not to see through the transparent medium.

    Other parties in fight have also announced (Arvind Kejriwal) or almost announced (Rahul Gandhi) their candidate and its not correct to point against one party & person!

    I feel media should be balanced!

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