Palak Choudhari, Gunarjun Chawla
India is considered as the largest democracy in the world, averaging over 900 million eligible voters and encompassing 4123 state constituencies from 31 States and Union territories.
Abraham Lincoln’s words “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” remain relevant to this day. To understand this nuance, we set on the path of examining the wheels of this golden triangle by embarking on the journey of tracking the netas by understanding their functionality and the voters’ sentiment.
“Of the people”
An initial glance on the internet gave us limited information about their details. The disparity in the information available was extensive. While some had active social media handles, especially Twitter, a few others didn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
Delving further, we noticed that a few websites like PRS India, Myneta, Peoplepill, Praja, Oneindia offered some data about these MLAs but they were selective, focusing primarily on a few data points, or showing outdated details, or provided data available of the submitted to the election commission during nomination.
We came across a website “https://neva.gov.in/Home/NeVA” managed by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and National Informatics Centre under the purview of the central government which has daily operational and bureaucratic information about Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Assemblies and State Councils. In addition to this, there were other central governments and individual states maintaining repositories in their respective portals. This created a sense of confusion while manoeuvring between the records as there wasn’t a single golden copy to reply on and each had different data visualization nomenclature. To add to this, the verbatim across state assembly websites was not standardised and some of the information available on these domains were either historical or had structural inaccuracies.
Few key takeaways from our internet research was that
- Member of Parliament (MP) details were more readily available like their MPLAD funds use, work done, career path, personal details than for an MLA.
- The role of a strong PR system plays a very important role in data availability.
- For example, we came to know about a few MLAs in the northeast only because of one-liners/ mentions about their work.
- Whereas for an MLA in tier 1 or 2 state/city data was easily available because of their strong social media presence and functioning PR mechanism.
Our approach to extract data wasn’t limited to secondary analysis. We reached out to political analysts, associates, and active citizens in various constituencies to get a real-time view of the experience and to ascertain our judgement. ‘Each state is different, not only demographically but also through the series of priorities of the state, that has evolved with the public’s demand’’, a snippet from our conversation with a political analyst gave us a preview of a deeper well.
We even wrote emails to the respective state constituencies, addressing the CMO (Chief Minister’s office), deputy speaker and secretariat mentioned on the official legislative websites.
Out of the six states mailed, we received information only from one state that too after a period of two months.
The response that we received from that state was further drilled down by taking feedback from the local people and those associated with that district and the responses that we got was that the demographic landscape of the area had more funds allocations on infra projects like construction of the building, guest house, roads, beautification of playgrounds etc, but the priority or funds allocation could have been split into other sectors like healthcare, education, livelihood programs and infra projects should have been for connectivity with other states.
Going deeper, we realised that filing a Right to Information (RTI) might be the right option to get this desired information. However, the pen and paper process of it can be tedious and cumbersome to follow. Concerns like, whom to address RTI, information of the addressee, language followed, etc was a tad confusing. With the help of legal experts, we figured out the initial processes. However, the time taken to get a response could take up to a month and the pain of appealing if the response is substandard or incomprehensible can add months of engagement. In this day and age of fast dissemination of data through online channels, the vintage process of sending posts could be slightly ancient for the tech-friendly millennials population.
“By the people”
Touching base on another wheel of the golden democracy triangle – the public at large. The role of a citizen in a democracy is not just to cast a vote once every 5 years and leave the functioning of the country solely to the public representatives. A true democracy works well when the people of the country take active participation in the functioning of the country.
Kamala Harris quoted late congressman John Lewis in her acceptance speech for Vice Presidency “Democracy is not a state. It is an act”. Further elaborating that “It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it and never take it for granted. There is joy in it and there is progress. Because ‘We the People’ have the power to build a better future.’’
To validate this hypothesis, we did a short survey to understand the level of awareness among the citizens about their MLAs.
A survey we conducted, suggested that over 14% of the people didn’t know the difference between an MLA and MP. Moreover, from the same survey, we concluded that 34% of people aren’t aware of their local MLA.
It’s difficult to imagine people’s keenness to know about the work their representatives have done. This brings up an important concern. How do we hold the legislator responsible if we as citizens do not actively participate in our constituency?
It is only with the joint efforts of all people, that a democracy can function effectively.
“For the People”
The inspiration behind this exercise was to identify a few MLAs based on certain parameters like initiatives taken, work done in their constituency, age, political affirmation/ political dynasty, incumbency, education, assets, media presence, criminal record and a few more.
The connecting part to our golden triangle is the legislators of our country, who’ve pledged to put the nation first. From a total of 4132 MLAs, we’ve shortlisted over 110+ MLAs based on the information available through the aforementioned research. These members are a part of the society from varied backgrounds and demographics climbing through various difficulties and rank thus completing the final side of the triangle.
Figure 3: Interactive Map showcasing MLA across India along with their details (*we would like to point out that the shortlisted ones are nowhere ranked, categorised or provided validation of superiority against the rest. )
A research project on the politicians in India unearthed major footfalls in the data availability and public awareness. To cite a recent example, 70% of Bihar’s representatives have criminal cases against them. This data was extracted only because of the compulsive data submission to the Election Commission for their nomination in the recently concluded Bihar State Assembly Election.
There are multiple websites which offer personal details, criminal records, age etc. But there is hardly any mention of the work or the funds they’ve utilised. Moreover, the lack of information has led to disinterest among the young generation which accounts for the largest part of our voter base.
To exercise our right to vote and to maintain the essence of democracy, it’s imperative to have complete access to the data of the representatives. Limited or far-fetched data access makes it a vain activity.
- Palak Choudhari is a Youth Engagement Program consultant for an education-based NGO in Mumbai she has previously worked in the Transaction Services for PwC. Her core interest lies in understanding the socio-economic factors affecting education and policies that revolve around it. She can be reached at email@example.com.
- Gunarjun Chawla is an MBA student from Cranfield University, UK. He has previously worked in KPMG in the risk consulting department. He is a serial entrepreneur having worked as director or co-founder in multiple startups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed in this article are personal, of the author(s) alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Qrius or its staff
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