The role of an Indian Legislator
Here is an interestng piece written by a first time MLA on the gap between the current and constitutionally mandated role of a legislator in India.
What are legislators for, anyway?
Indian Express- 15th Oct 2008
The recent violent attack on BJP MP Virendra Kumar, who sustained severe head injuries during an anti-encroachment drive on railway land in Madhya Pradesh, shocked the nation. Yet, at the same time there were voices privately gloating that not just this poor victim, but many more legislators deserve to be horse-whipped for, at the very least, not effectively carrying out their duties or, more likely, bringing misery to the masses by alleged acts of omission and commission.
Underpinning all this sentiment is the fundamental dichotomy between Constitutional intent and reality. Incremental disregard for statutory responsibility by legislators across the country has given way to personal agendas and divisive politics, the creation of private fiefdoms, the failure to understand existing legislation and, most shocking, the view that somehow everything can be “managed” by the legislator regardless of prevailing statute, bye-laws, convention, precedents and rules. If the legislator in the pursuit of building his or her own brand equity demonstrates such disregard for the spirit, let alone, the letter of the law, can they honestly expect anything better from the citizen?
While the role of a legislator was conceived as someone who would assess the needs of the people and assimilate these in the proceedings of the House to ensure rectification of earlier inappropriate legislation and the creation of effective new statutes, sadly the role has almost universally evolved into that of a social worker.
Elected as legislators, most get reduced to being little more than arbiters, pleading with the DC here, the SP there, endeavouring to redress injustices perpetrated on their electorate by an imperfect system. Legislators poke their noses into matters that in more functional and effective democracies would send them to jail.
Add to this other constituency compulsions such as the inevitable plethora of social and cultural functions, the local party level activities, the need to meet, greet and communicate with party seniors, not to mention fund-raising, fund distribution and media management... you soon realise why they have little time to review and enact legislation. Nothing wrong with that you might say, except that if at least some of those very energies were expended by the legislator on addressing administrative and legislative weaknesses, many of their interventions would not be required.
Was not equality for all our collective mission? Then why are we more shocked by this attack on an MP? At least much of the electorate believes that for the redressal of...
grievances, the legislator is no longer the point of appeal but, instead, the universal funnel through which all administrative matters must be initiated, tracked and concluded.
Consequently the failings of the system need not become the failings of the legislator for whom the end result very often is of little consequence for it is the legislator’s endeavours that bring far more brownie-points. The system need not change, for the current conditions bring the legislator far more constituency casework than a more efficient and equitable system would. It is this symbiotic relationship that arises from systemic weakness and the legislator’s compulsions.
Returning to the unfortunate BJP MP Virendra Kumar, who has the writer’s deepest sympathies, for the attack was not only planned but viciously executed to cause maximum harm — indeed, he is lucky to be alive. That the police have responded efficiently is not in doubt. But would they have for most ordinary citizens?
This position of privilege is not just the consequence of an electoral victory but the aura of invincibility that legislators now carry. Far be it for the writer, a mere novice, to extend any advice to our worthy and, in some cases, long-standing legislators, but a humble suggestion would be to return to some of the constitutional provisions and expectations, whilst concurrently acting, at least some of the time, as mere mortals.