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A model to implement political accountability for India’s next phase of development

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Rajesh_Dubey
Rajesh_Dubey
Spent over two decades in leading corporates in India and Abroad. Traveled the world and realized the immense damage we have done to our nation, and the indefatigable will of a common Indian to prevail. Currently exploring things that really matter to a common person. Passionate about health, wellness, and social justice. Always on right! Strongly opinionated while being respectful. Wish to see a world where religion doesn't decide freedom, respect, or rights a man or woman enjoys. Follow me at @CommentFromInd

Of all businesses in India, the biggest business by revenues is the business of running the government. Every year, lakhs of crores of rupees collected in the form of taxes are disbursed for various projects in multiple sectors that include education, defense, infrastructure, healthcare, farming, public welfare etc. To give an idea of the size of the corpus, in 2017-18, Total tax collection of Government of India was around INR 14.7 lakh crore with the bulk of it collected in form of direct tax (68.5%, or 10 lakh crore) and rest (31.2% or 4.6 lakh crore) collected as indirect taxes. Against this, 21 lakh crore was spent on various projects initiated at different levels right from the central government to the local corporator level.

These projects, and money spent thereupon, were intended to benefit Indians in the form of improved access to healthcare and education, clean air and water, improved public infrastructure, effective law & order, better social security just to name a few. Question is, do Indians see any difference, and if they do, are they satisfied with that?

By the size of the revenues, the Indian government runs the biggest business in India. Each MP, MLA and corporator get significant fund for development. For example yearly development fund allocated to MP, MLA (Delhi) and corporator (Delhi) are 5 crores, 10 crores, and 3.2 crore respectively. That is a lot of money. However, how much of this money disbursed for ‘local area development’ actually goes towards development and how much is siphoned-off, is questionable in absence of data or information that can be accessed by a common voter.

However, a simple check of any ward/constituency to see changes in common development indicators over past few years would not provide a very encouraging picture. If one goes to any ward or constituency today and asks what has improved in his area, the answer would be more likely a depressing nod of dejection or a sarcastic smile. While we have seen many policy reforms, which augurs well for the nation, the one thing that is sorely missing is a clear and effective political accountability in a manner similar to the accountability in a large-cap private company showing consistent growth year-on-year.

So, why no one in government has thought about it? While we have copied many things from the western world, be it business model, medicines, the idea of development, climate policies, etc., we still haven’t made any effort to bring political accountability that exists in the developed world. For instance, in the USA, town hall meetings where elected representatives interact with voters in their constituency are common. People have access to offices of their representatives physically and via social platforms where they have good chances of getting their problems heard.

Voters in a constituency can lobby to influence their elected representatives to vote for or against certain bills in congress. Newsletters highlighting various development work, key events, and other community news worth sharing are circulated every month or quarter. To many in India, these things would sound utopian. And there comes the question of why our elected political leaders disappear after the election?

Their swag, inaccessibility, bossy attitude, a magical transition from rags to riches, failure to enforce law and order for common man, doing that sham patchwork on roads a few weeks before election day; the list can go on. How come they succeed with so many failures that would have earned them the worst grade (very likely leading them to get fired) if they had to go through an appraisal just like millions of 7 am -to-7 pm daily-grinding, stressed Indians go through during their half-yearly or yearly appraisals?

Would it bring a meaningful change if Indian parliament adopts a system of compulsory performance assessment, not only by chief/prime minister or their political akas but, more importantly, by the common man who has voted them to power, who has funded them by giving tax, and who expected returns in form of improving his ward, town, and city? In the overall governance system, the common person should be an important stakeholder to whom their elected representatives are responsible.

Merely getting elected again can never be a certificate of voter’s approval as there is hardly any choice with the same candidates (or his/her affiliates) being in fray for decades, and all having utterly disappointed their voters and constituencies. Hence, it is usually the face of chief minister or prime minister, the party, or party’s identity that is the leading reasons for voters to elect a candidate and not the performance and commitment of the candidate in improving the constituency and life of citizens. A change where common voters are not only a tool to elect leaders, but also participate in their leader’s developmental activities for their constituency would be a game changer in cementing voter’s eroding trust in the political process. 

It is time for that change. Indian voters need direct control of assessing the performance of their representatives. And here for once, we can afford to be original and ruthless in setting accountability mechanisms and also consequences. So what could be an ideal model? Simple, just copy how our leading corporate houses giving consistent returns to their shareholders over decades have been operating. If the current model of businesses’ responding to their investors, be it a billionaire institutional fund manager or a retail investor, has succeeded, why not the same thing would work for our electoral representatives. Quarterly reports by each representative, right from local corporator to the MLA and MP highlighting what they have done for their constituency, how they performed on quarterly targets, and what is the next quarter target and plan to achieve them, disclosing all budgetary information (funds received vs spent), and initiatives taken to foster a crime-free fearless society.

The one big concerns is the misuse of funds allocated for local area development work. In existing system, voters have hardly any clue on how much fund their representatives are getting and how much is actually being spent. One way to ensure these funds are used for the intended purpose would be to place all project records in public domain. Every project for the constituency, budget approved, bidding process and outcome, actual expenses and cost escalation, projected timeline and actual time spent, work quality inspection report, audited financial record etc. should be accessible to voters. This will help voters to remain aware about planned and ongoing activities in their area. Details may be made available over internet just as a company provides quarterly report and a detailed annual general report to its investors.

Monthly or quarterly newsletter to all residents will ensure they are completely aware about their chosen representative’s activities. This approach will boost confidence of voters in their representatives, and will instill a sense of partnership in developmental activities. This will also help them to raise their concerns and getting them addressed appropriately rather than being passive stakeholders who is more likely to be unhappy and critical of the work, or absence of work.

Elected representatives should face voters directly in a townhall-style meeting where they field questions from their voters. Alternatively, they can have a conference call where voters can ask questions that matters to them. These could be a few potential models to bring a radical change in our governance and political performance. One reason India remains a third world country for 99% of India’s common people even after 7 decades of self-rule is political incompetence, greed, and corruption (and that’s the fact, believe it or not) at every level in politics and public governance, be it a small clerk, corporator, minister, or top bureaucrat. Our infrastructure is in shambles, healthcare & education is a disaster, law & order hardly inspire confidence in the common person, innovation is more of a jugadoo mindset, the military is heavily reliant on headcount rather than technology, corruption at every level is indefatigable, and with so many challenges, India has no time for baby step.

Political accountability and transparency will have multiple implications not only on the delivery side of governance but also on improving citizen’s confidence in the political establishment. The growing trust deficit between society and politics is no secret as validated by the lower voter turnout and significant share of ‘NOTA’ votes. This has led to citizen’s apathy toward the political process with millions of balking over the participation in the election process. Many others participate with ulterior motives in mind. Nonetheless, there is still a sizable majority participating in the existing electoral process with a hope to see the country develop on various development matrices. However, we should be proactive to address the eroding trust before the sense of having lost sets in and leads to an unpleasant social and political outcome. The overhaul of political accountability is the tool that would not only inspire millions of Indians to trust the electoral process and participate in providing effective governance to the country but will also inspire politicians to perform and come out of ‘chalta hai’ mindset.

For some, this change would probably be too radical. They must remember that India has already lost decades of time. The country has a lot to catch up to earn a place on the global map that it truly deserves. Baby steps will not help us reach there anymore. It is time to go for a pole vault to attain the glory that has eluded India for decades.

Rajesh Dubey, Ph.D.

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Rajesh_Dubey
Rajesh_Dubey
Spent over two decades in leading corporates in India and Abroad. Traveled the world and realized the immense damage we have done to our nation, and the indefatigable will of a common Indian to prevail. Currently exploring things that really matter to a common person. Passionate about health, wellness, and social justice. Always on right! Strongly opinionated while being respectful. Wish to see a world where religion doesn't decide freedom, respect, or rights a man or woman enjoys. Follow me at @CommentFromInd
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