MPs’ engagement with citizens: What is the reality?

It is that season again when politicians are out on the roads doing the usual padyatras, going from neighborhood to neighborhood, showing that unwavering smile, flashing the victory sign, listening/pretending to listen to their constituents — all with a view to garnering votes… Welcome to election season.

It is also the time when all major and minor roads in Namma Bengaluru are magically repaired overnight literally, and when prices of essential commodities reduce to affordable levels. Of course, as we all know, one should not expect these good times to last forever. This cycle of infrastructure being the way it should lasts for a couple of months. Once the new government is elected, it is usually back to square one. In this background, Citizen Matters tried to understand how people perceive the MPs and how do they engage with them.

‘No contribution towards national policies’

Citizens had a variety of opinions on what their MP should do and how their response to local issues had been. Murlidhar Rao, founder of Praja-RAAG, was of the opinion that while MPs should have a say in national policies, he does not see them necessarily contributing towards these policies. He points out that MPLAD spending by Bangalore MPs show that they spend money on projects which in any case are meant to be planned and executed by the urban local body.

While explaining Praja’s continued effort to get the Commuter Rail System working in Bangalore, he says that their efforts to involve local MPs have come to nought with the exception of a single MP from the outskirts of Bangalore who evinced interest in the project. Additionally a meeting which the Praja team was supposed to have with Bangalore MPs and MLAs on the commuter rail system ended up with only four MLAs attending that meeting, and this was when Parliament was not in session. However as part of their campaign to get MPs involved, they are encouraging citizens to contact their MPs/MLAs and urge them to support the CRS project.

The MP who just disappeared!

Another group which tried to enlist the support of the local MP, Ananth Kumar was Hasiru Usiru (HU). Vinay Sreenivasa who is part of Hasiru Usiru said that Ananth Kumar approached them when HU was protesting against the proposed tree-felling along the Lalbagh corridor of the Metro rail. This happened during the 2009 election time. He promised that no trees along that corridor would be felled. However after the elections, the trees were felled and Kumar disappeared as well. HU never approached him again.

‘Only Christmas greetings’

Kathyayini Chamaraj of CIVIC says that MPs are meant to interact with their constituents; however that seldom happens. She adds that MPs can represent ideas and suggestions by citizens only when they hold debates, meetings on topics that are being discussed in the Parliament. However, even this limited interaction does not happen. She says she has no idea whether her MP, P C Mohan has initiated any debates in Parliament, and also says that there has been no transparency in the way the MPLAD funds have been used or on what basis projects have been decided.

She is of the opinion that the least the MP can do is to inform citizens through newsletters about what projects have been carried out. The only way she knows that P C Mohan exists is because she receives a Christmas Card every year. She says that she hasn’t approached Mohan for any work. She says awareness should be created among people, on the role of MPs and MLAs. One should not approach the MP for municipal issues. According to the constitution, MPs are supposed to arrange public grievance meeting twice a year, which doesn’t happen.

‘MP not seen anywhere’

Yet another group which tried to enlist the help of their MP was Malleshwaram Swabhimana Initiative (MSI). G Shantaram, ex-joint secretary of Malleshwaram Swabhimana Initiative says that they protested against the construction of Mantri Mall and that was attended by MP, P C Mohan and the Gandhinagar MLA. However nothing came of that. The group is of the opinion that Chandre Gowda, MP of Bangalore North has a good track record but hasn’t done anything much for his constituency, and the group hasn’t seen the MP participating in civic public affairs.

‘MPs should form a reforms committee’

Srikanth Vishwanathan of Janaagraha says that MPs can certainly play a larger role in shaping the Bangalore city. He is of the view that given the nature of urban problems, MPs can come together to form a committee which can work towards urban reform policies. He is of the opinion that MPs should also encourage citizen participation in policy making. The way MPLAD funds are being utilized to create bus shelters and toilets is more of patch work.

Dilemma among voters?

What comes out rather clearly is that there are two schools of thought as to how MPs should conduct themselves. One camp clearly thinks that MPs should perform their functions at a higher level – and not act like a municipal councillor – getting one’s hands dirty in local politics, while the other camp opines that though an MP is meant to perform higher level functions, they are also meant to interact with their constituency on a regular basis and address their concerns.

What also seems to emerge is a feeling that the MPLAD funds are being decided in an ad-hoc manner and that there does not seem to be any real accountability with respect to the MPLAD projects. However it is also true that there are several geographical areas – especially the urban poor communities where the infrastructure created through MPLAD/MLALAD funds have helped immensely. The other theme which emerges is the timing of the MPs appearance which usually coincides with an election cycle.

It will be interesting to see whether this limited interaction of MPs with citizens will have any impact on their chances of getting voted back to power. We will have to wait till May 16 to find out.

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