Alright — so we’re all getting ready to vote throughout the country. Some states have already completed polling. Bengaluru’s turn is tomorrow.
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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!
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.
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!
What our MP candidates say – a key comparison
Compare Bangalore South candidates before deciding your leader!
Compare Bangalore North candidates before you vote!
Compare Bangalore Central candidates before deciding your leader!