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.