This is the season of weddings in Tamil Nadu, the time of the year when I meet my long-lost relatives and face their curiosity of what’s happening in my life. The most awkward moment in these interactions at family functions right now is to explain my job to my relatives. Usually, I start off by saying I work with Member of Parliaments (MPs). The first question is invariably “Oh, do they do any real work?”. As a SPARC associate, In the last 4 months, I had the opportunity of working with two young MPs from two different states. I can confidently say now, “Oh yes! Of course, they do!”. If I have to choose a character for a super woman comic next time I will definitely nominate my MP. I realised the MPs roles are so dynamic and demanding which I didn’t have much idea about before joining the SPARC fellowship.
MPs engage in legislative work for 6 months in a year, for which they read through numerous reports and bills, they are part of so many committees and along with that they need to concentrate in their respective constituencies as well. Besides these traditional roles, with growing domains of media and social media, they attend conferences, support causes, participate in school and college activities, and debates on TV channels etc. I have had the opportunity of working with bureaucrats too in the past, but I must say the number of hats an elected representative wears are much more versatile. An elected MP has limited or no support system to handle all this effectively. Though, few national parties are catching up by doing the necessary structural and organizational changes by (say) bringing in professional support in managing the party campaigns and media reach not all the parties might have the means to do the same. I feel there is vast scope for development professionals to be engaged with elected representatives. There are few organizations like Swaniti Initiative who are trying to fill in the gap and have been successful in tapping this demand. If this has to happen in a bigger scale and more sustainable way, I feel there is a need for bringing about a structural change in these institutions. We see the penetration of skilled experts in every programme these days, if our expectations of ‘Good Governance’ has to be met it becomes inevitable that our elected representatives get more resources and HR support to carry out their duties. Based on my experience in the last few months of the fellowship, I feel the resource crunch is felt even more by the elected representatives from smaller parties.
The scope of an MP’s work remains more or less the same across party lines but the resource availability to an MP can also depend on the party she belongs to. With limited institutional support, the networks, family background also determines how effectively an MP is able to discharge her duties. If we have to make our society more accessible and inclusive, it becomes pertinent that it happens with our elected representatives too. There has been a growing demand among the youth to elect ‘young elected representatives’ who not only represent their needs but can also form a more accessible, efficient and corruption free governance structure. If this has to happen then as voters, we need to demand reforms which can make this possible too.
If we look at the composition of 15th Lok Sabha members in the age group of 35- 50, there are 81 elected MPs. As this report suggests out of 81 MPs 51 of them have political family backgrounds. The election system in India makes it difficult for people without money and connections to enter the political fray. The amount of money one needs to spend to get elected, after being elected the amount of money that is required to keep the establishments and networks alive makes it difficult for the elected representatives to remain corrupt free and transparent. I believe it’s a vicious cycle. We need reforms like state sponsored elections to make the elections more accessible for people with no backgrounds. There are enough experiments to learn around the world on this. The state sponsored election was briefly discussed by our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi in the last parliamentary session. I wouldn’t have agreed with him if not for my exposure in the last few months. Besides this, once elected, as stated earlier, MP requires support system to discharge her duties effectively. As this article suggests the staff allowance a MP gets is 5.4 lakhs per annum which is very low to have a professional team. There are some MPs who even have a team with 20-30 people and there are MPs with this just a secretary. This access to support system need to be institutionalized so that there wouldn’t be parity among the elected representatives. In addition to the economic benefits accrued, I would bat for such affirmative actions so that our political systems are better represented, inclusive, transparent and attractive for youngsters who aspire politics as career option.
The journey with the fellowship has just started for me and I am enjoying the chaos it brings to my life and I am confident this exposure is going to add a lot of value to my perspectives and thoughts on tea, fish, citizenship, adarsh gram, parliamentarians and what not!
For further reading:
 www.livemint.com/r/LiveMint/Period1/2013/09/06/Photos to /g-election-06-web.jpg
Vaishnavi Chidambaranathan is a SPARC Associate working in the constituency of Cachar and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.