23 July 2012
It is common to hear people say that their elected representatives are not addressing this or that problem. What is less commonly heard is that the representative is NOT ABLE TO address a particular problem. As voters, we should think seriously about this - because this is actually true in many, many cases.
Think of the way our city works. There is a municipal corporation, which runs vastly under-budget on the revenue side, and therefore can barely do the minimum that it is supposed to. The para statals have better finances, but they are not directly under the corporators, so it’s not easy to work with them in the ‘representative democracy’ framework.
The MLA’s are also mostly in a similar bind. Many MLA’s call the average IAS officer “Sir”, and this is not just a courtesy. Compared to the average MLA, the typical officer leading a department or agency is usually English speaking, well educated, keeps the company of other informed people, travels around to see things much more globally. This is a massive deficit to overcome. Of course the MLA’s can use their ‘authority’, but that’s not usually an effective weapon, because the officer has a permanent job which means he will continue to rise in influence from year to year whereas the politicians’ fortunes can dwindle any day.
A second reason is of course corruption. In an environment where netas milk the system, they can’t really ‘order’ the babus around. The risk of pushback that will land them in jail is too high. Therefore, even though in public the netas appear to lord it over the babus, in private things are very different. At least one Chief Engineer, to common knowledge, used to refer to a sitting CM in first person.
The elected representatives also have another weakness. Even ministers at the state level are unable to reach into the corridors of power in Delhi, because those institutions operate by a different logic. Ministries, PlanComm, Commissions, Missions, etc. operate in a ‘knowledge’ world much more like an aristocracy than like a representative layer of government. In that world, what counts is not how many votes you got, but how wide and deep your network of influence is.
Voters need to understand all this. The only problems that can be tackled locally, through the use of authority, are minor ones that should not have existed in the first place. For everything else, we’ll need a different kind of representative, whose COMPETENCE allows him/her to straddle multiple worlds - not only the on-the-ground fix-it universe, but also the worlds of finance, policy, ideas, etc. If your corporator or MLA is scoring zero on these counts, it tends to show up in the way your neighborhood looks !!