Why Vote for Meera Sanyal?

Nilu wants to know why I support Meera Sanyal. He seems to have discerned that I support her from the fact that I have joined the Facebook group that says “Meera Sanyal for South Mumbai”. Can’t blame him for that, but I don’t only join Facebook groups when I support those causes. I join them when I am interested enough to track what is happening.

That said, I do support Sanyal, and if I were a registered voter in South Mumbai, I would vote for her. But Nilu asks some valid questions, and here are the answers.

There is a quirk of representative democracy, especially where you have single-member constituencies. On many issues, it stands to reason that voters in a particular constituency will have common interests -obviously, the people of Dhanbad will stand together on the government’s coal policy, and the people of Mumbai will have  a common interest. But there will be many other issues where there is no reason why voters from a constituency will have a common opinion, or any opnion at all. A legislator from a particular constituency is expected to, at a minimum, work on issues relevant to her constituents. She is also expected to have a view and vote on other issues. When she serves on parliamentary committees and suchlike, she is supposed to think about the transcendental national interest. If you become a minister, you are supposed to forget about your constituency entirely. But if you actually do these things, the system has no way to reward you. Sitting in Hyderabad, I have no way of voting for a member from Madhya Pradesh even if I think that he has just the right views and policies on the Kashmir question – I can vote for his party, but then, I may not like his party.

But the point is, this is a quirk of the system and not Sanyal’s fault. The comparison with Mulayam Singh Yadav or Devegowda does not hold water. Sanyal wants to represent South Mumbai and has not as yet expressed an interest in national level politics. So, Sanyal standing from South Mumbai on local issues is different from Devegowda becoming Prime Minister of India and being completely focused on Karnataka.

Yes, the issues she is working for are local executive-type issues, but that is again a problem with our governmental structure. In every other modern city, local transit is an issue for the city government. In Mumbai, the local train system is run as part of the railway ministry, centrally. Most modern cities have a police force that is locally administered. In India, even beat policing is a state subject. Mumbai has one of the strongest local bodies in the country. But its functions are being progressively taken over by the MMRDA, an unelected bureaucratic body. The concept behind the MMRDA is fine – Mumbai city is no longer the right geographical unit while taking decisions about the city. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region, which is many times the size of the city, is what we should be looking at. But there is no elected body that governs the region as a whole. Most importantly, the money that the city requires comes from the Centre, because that is where the taxes paid by the city go – so to fix the city’s problems, you need to lobby the Central Government.

Now all this said, in the unlikely event that Sanyal wins from South Mumbai, it is even more unlikely that she would be able to make any progress at all towards her agenda. The Indian Parliament is often mistaken for a law-making body. It is not. In practice, it is a sort of an electoral college whose only function is to decide who forms the government. Members are forced to vote on party lines and the party line is entirely determined by whether the party supports the government or not. Even in cases where the party disagrees on a particular subject (e.g. the nuclear deal) the way to only way to force the issue is to bring the survival of the government into question. There is no chance that a member of the Lok Sabha can lobby other members and get bipartisan support for his legislative agenda. This is why  I believe that in general, when voting in India, one should ignore who is standing and focus entirely on which government your vote will bring about. In the present case, the issue may be slightly different, as Sanyal will be an independent member, and there is actually a small chance that the government depends on her for support. In that case, she would be able to extract a price in return for her support. But apart from this, the only other power that an MP has is that he can petition the government, but Sanyal, as an industry leader and a prominent banker probably has the same amount of power.

The reason to support her would be expressive voting – if sufficient numbers vote for her, then the current political parties will notice that there is a bloc of voters they are pissing off, and that while these voters may not be in a majority, they might still make the difference between winning and losing.

13 thoughts on “Why Vote for Meera Sanyal?

  1. I think it was Avataram who wrote that particular post (or Avataram is just one more personality of Nilu). Anyway I think that while this post is good if one was holding forth on nuances of Bharatiya Ganrajya it is more or less irrelevant to your choice of Meera Sanyal, that choice could have been explained by merely writing last paragraph with only a difference that this is basically an emotional decision without any further thought.

  2. If there is a problem with a system a priori, and the problem worsens by not so benign co-opting of its consequences, is a solution put forward by by claiming designs that are benign, valid?

    I don’t have a solution — but looks like, there is no reason why I should support the one put forward.

  3. i’d written this in my note on shared items but thought i should put it here also:

    1. “collective responsibility” in parliament should go. currently if a money bill gets defeated govt goes. this should not be the case – govts can go only by confidence/noconfidence votes

    2. once this is done, anti-defection laws can go.

    3. maybe we’ll need an italy-like rule of forming new govt before bringing down old one.

  4. This is one of the rare times when I agree with Nilu completely. And the “it’s the system’s flaw” counter-argument does not hold water. At least the “different” candidates like Meera Sanyal or Arun Bhatia (from Pune) should be forthright about what they can and can not do, and not make lofty promises which they will not have the authority to fulfill.

  5. The reason to support her would be expressive voting – if sufficient numbers vote for her, then the current political parties will notice that there is a bloc of voters they are pissing off, and that while these voters may not be in a majority, they might still make the difference between winning and losing.

    Yes, but what does this bloc of voters want or stand for? According to her manifesto, better transport for Bombay, better infrastructure and investment for Bombay, and stronger security. Is there just a bloc that wants this? All of Bombay wants it. And all politicians from all parties make those promises. And if they could, even Gurudas Kamat, Govinda and Milind Deora would accomplish these things. It’d help them get re-elected by touting those achievements.

    At their core, the meager but vocal support for someone like Sanyal or Bhatia comes from a “people like us” mentality. Without realizing that most of the influential people running the country, be it Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Advani, Pranab Mukherjee, Ashok Chavan or even Bal and Raj Thackeray, are all demographically and culturally speaking, people like us.

  6. The larger question is – with area-defined constituencies, is there any other option? If the national legislative has only to debate and decide on issues of national importance, local optima are anyway unimportant. The coal policy of India does not automatically mean anything special for Dhanbad, unless the legislator from there expressly tweaks it in such a way as to benefit his constituency.

    National issues that may genuinely interest voters and polarise them, like internal security, are pretty much party manifesto-type issues handled by the PM candidate and leaders of similar stature. The average MP will invariably promise local executive type action, in one way or the other.

    Even if it is nationally beneficial to benefit a constituency in a particular way – increased security for Mumbai for example, or some coal policy tweak in Dhanbad – the promises made to the constituency will still be local executive type. Even if your ultimate plan may be fiscal federalism, if you are running from South Bombay it makes sense to talk only of Bombay tax money.

    Achievements at the national level unspecific to a constituency – roads, railways etc. – will be touted only by some print/electronic campaign by the parties in the government. The individual MP has no incentive to tout them.

  7. Dude, you are still delighted over the demolition, why don’t you just confess that you are a Hindutva fascist trapped inside a Randbot’s body. Come put already, you have no place among the effete cosmos.

  8. I am from the area where she is running for LS. I am very familiar with the South Mumbai constituency.

    I am all for erudite and presentable candidates like Ms. Sanyal. She fluent in English and Hindi, but cannot speak or communicate in Marathi even though she lived in Mumbai for a number of years. Why can’t these LS aspirants learn to speak in Marathi which is a native language of Maharashtra. (Maharashtra is the only state that allows discrimination of its people, language and culture) How can you run for LS in Mumbai without knowing the native language of Maharashtra?

    Alas, she would be the exact type of person I would support if only she had a rudimentary knowledge of Marathi, the language of the state of Maharashtra.

  9. Do we elect leaders for their linguistic capabilities.

    If so look at the rest of the bunch – Shiv Sena, MNS, BJP, Congress that orate to us so wonderfully, while taking us off a cliff.

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