With the swearing in of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India, a new chapter has begun and history in more ways than one is being scripted. Modi entered the Gujarat Vidhana Sabha for the first time and immediately became the State’s Chief Minister. He now enters the Indian Parliament for the first time and has been sworn in as the Nation’s 15th Prime Minister. He has already set in motion the change process with forming not only a small and compact cabinet but also merged some ministries that were organically linked. This was also the election wherein the voting percentages as a Nation were the highest. Never before had so many young people participated in an electoral process anywhere in the world and never before so many first time voters cast their votes. As citizens we now need to sustain the energy levels and ensure that we continue to participate in this grand dance of democracy. With the heat and dust settling down, it would be prudent for us as ordinary citizens to get to know the composition of the 16th Lok Sabha to which 543 MPs were elected. This understanding of the 16th Lok Sabha would now be the next logical step in our continued engagement with the political system.
Gender, Age, Qualification and Professional Profiles:
Of the 543 MPs elected, 61 are women. This is the highest number of women MPs elected to the Lok Sabha in the history of the country. 58 women were elected to the 15th Lok Sabha in the 2009 general elections. While Modi has given greater prominence to younger people in his cabinet and the average age of a Union Cabinet Minister has fallen from the previous 69 years to 55 years, this is not a reflection of a younger parliament. Paradoxically, we have a situation of the highest number of MPs above the age of 55 elected to the Lok Sabha in the history of the country. 253 of the 543 (47%) MPs elected are over the age of 55. In the 15th Lok Sabha, the percentage of MPs over the age of 55 was 43%. Interestingly, the Lok Sabha has been getting older every election since independence. Only 71 MPs (13%) have been elected to the Lok Sabha in this election who happens to be under the age of 40. We need to be concerned that a young India is not translating into a young parliament too.
The silver lining is the education levels of our newly elected members. 75% of the MPs elected have at least a graduate degree. Though this is slightly lesser than the 15th Lok Sabha in which 79% of MPs held at least a graduate degree, the number of MPs with just matriculation has decreased in the 16th Lok Sabha to 10% from 17% in the 15th Lok Sabha. The number of members with a doctoral degree has also increased in the 16th Lok Sabha to 6% from 3% in the 15th Lok Sabha.
Policy making is serious business and one expects the parliamentarians to have a wide spectrum of exposure in order to ensure that all views and interests are adequately represented. In the 16th Lok Sabha, 27% of MPs elected have listed agriculture as their primary occupation, followed by political and social work (24%) and business (20%). Going back to the very first Lok Sabha that was formed in 1952, we find that the single largest occupation of members then was that of lawyers (36%), followed by agriculture (22%) and business (12%)
There could be a air of freshness blowing in Parliament with 315 MPs (58%) having been elected for the first-time to the Lok Sabha. This is the highest number of first-time MPs in Lok Sabha in the last three decades. Ram Vilas Paswan from Bihar, Kamal Nath from Madhya Pradesh and P.A.Sangma from Meghalaya have been elected to the Lok Sabha for the ninth time in the 2014 general elections. Sumitra Mahajan, an eight time MP, has the distinction of being the woman MP with the most legislative experience in the new house. Interestingly, 165 of the 281 BJP MPs (59%) have been elected for the first time, while only 20% of the Congress MPs are first timers.
The fact that 171 MPs who were a part of the 15th Lok Sabha have got re-elected, will ensure some legislative and contextual continuity. This is significant considering the large number of bills that were lapsed at the end of the term of the 15th Lok Sabha. People of Karnataka need to recognize the fact that 17 out of the 28 MPs in the present Lok Sabha were MPs in the previous house too. Their performance in the previous parliament was not something to write about and we need to be extra vigilant in forcing them to not only engage outside with their constituents, but within Parliament too.
Taking forward the legislative processes:
Our Parliamentarians now need to go beyond partisan positions and have to focus on the important and unfinished task of debating and passing some key pending legislations. Governance is also about continuity and the citizenry should not suffer due to the political dispensation changing nationally. At the end of the term of the 15th Lok Sabha, 68 bills were pending and lapsed with its dissolution. 60 bills that are currently pending in the Rajya Sabha will now be carried forward to the 16th Lok Sabha and the new Cabinet will have to take forward these legislations and start the process of reintroduction. This is critical considering that 11 bills are pending just in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The new Cabinet also needs to pay attention to the fact that of the 68 bills that are lapsing, 11 critical and nationally important bills are pending with the Ministry of Finance itself. One would be concerned that the Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley has to not only focus on preparing the budget and pay attention to these bills but also run the crucial ministry of Defence too. Having Smriti Irani as the HRD minster, a relative new comer with no legislative or administrative experience should also be a matter of concern where 10 crucial bills including the Foreign Educations Institutions bill, the Universities for Research and Innovation bill and the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions bill are all pending.
With the election rhetoric dying down, one expects that Modi with his charged up team to get down to delivering on his commitment of Governance and Development. Going by his earlier achievements and by the statements of inclusivity that he has been making, one is hopeful of what awaits the Nation. But one cannot expect a moribund and lethargic bureaucracy to change overnight. While he does have the political authorization to take India forward, we must keep in mind our role in ensuring that we participate too. For a democracy bereft of citizen engagement and Governance systems with no social accountability is something that we cannot afford to trade off for political stability and mere economic growth. And if this happens, we will only have ourselves to blame.