The air around the country is already filled with election fever. Parties are scrambling to form alliances or sometimes break them. Though the formal process is yet to be announced by the Election Commission of India, parties are already identifying winnable candidates and fine tuning their strategies. Once the formal notifications are made, candidates will soon file their nominations and begin the process of canvassing for votes. Each of them will make their own promises; some will be driven by their party manifestos and some by pure electoral mathematics. This is also the time when people on prime-time television will start to talk about representative democracy and how it has worked or failed the nation. A few will argue that we need to explore alternate models including the presidential system of governance. Intellectual discussions around the recently trending experiments of ‘sortition selections’ will also be made. Whatever it may be, this is the time for us – the citizens, to determine who among the many candidates seeking our support deserves to represent us in Parliament. We should not forget that we will get the ‘parliamentarian’ we deserve. And that means we need to be sure that he/she is someone who can be trusted, is knowledgeable and will do the right thing for his/her constituency.
While nearly 900 million people will have the right to cast their vote and several millions will be voting for the first time, one of the oft-repeated statements that we will get to hear is ‘When all our candidates are bad, how do we choose whom to vote for?’ How does one decide who is best suited to represent us? While it would indeed be very difficult to prove whether a person is honest or is a capable administrator even before electing them, we can assess whether the person we are voting for deserves our vote or not. This can be done by asking a few simple questions of each of these candidates and voting for the one who gives the most satisfactory answers. If after this assessment, we still feel that no one is capable of representing us in Parliament we have the choice of pressing the ‘NOTA’ button on the EVM machine. Here are few questions that one can ask. Of course, this list may seem lengthy and at the same time incomplete and we can pick our own from them or add others that may be left out; but we need make sure that we begin to ask the candidates questions. For, we cannot let them get away with mediocrity this time. Too much depends on our vote, for us not to demand accountability of our parliamentarians even before they get elected. Some questions that we can ask are:
- What is your age, qualifications and what are the languages that you are fluent in?
- How long have you been in politics?
- Do you have any other profession?
- Where do you currently reside and where did you reside the last 5 years?
- How many children do you have and what are they doing?
- Are you filing your Income tax returns regularly every year?
- What is your source of income?
- Do you have any criminal cases registered against you?
- How many assembly segments does your constituency have?
- What do you think are the three major issues faced by the people of your constituency?
- What do you think is the role of a Member of Parliament?
- How many times does Parliament meet each year?
- What are the three major issues of your state that you consider as important for you to address?
- What is your view on the Nuclear Policy of India?
- How should the development priorities of the Nation along with Environmental concerns be balanced?
- If you are a sitting MP or have been a MP before, please provide the following information:
a) your average attendance in Parliament
b) the %age utilization of MPLADS funds
c) the total number of questions that you asked in Parliament
d) the parliament committees that you represented in
- What the challenges facing the Youth of today? How do you think you can address them? How can you create employment opportunities for them?
- What are your views on increasing the quality of learning outcomes of children at the primary level?
- What is your stand on ‘Universal Health Coverage’?
- What is your stand on ‘Universal Pensions’ for the deserving?
- What are your views on Food Security for all? Do you think the existing legislation will address the issue adequately?
- Can you name the three most important manifesto promises that your party has made in this election?
- What is your view on the 73rdand 74thConstitutional amendments? How will you ensure its implementation in letter and spirit?
- What do you think should be the key aspects of an Agricultural policy for the Nation?
- How will you enhance air, road and rail connectivity of your constituency?
- What your views on the Economic direction that India should take?
- Will you agree to publish your Governance Report Card every year to your constituents?
- Will you be agreeable to nominate a committee of senior and respected citizens to oversee your performance as a MP, if you are elected?
- What are the steps that you will take to ensure access to you and your offices for the people of your constituency?
- What is your view on ‘Violence Against Women’? How do you think you can ensure the safety and security of our women? What are your ideas for creating equal opportunities for all?
While merely asking these questions or getting satisfactory answers are no guarantee for governance, we need to make a beginning of shifting the narrative of engagement. Making the right choices begins by asking the right questions of the candidates. Apart from helping us identify the person most suitable to be our representative, it also helps sensitive them to appreciate what the constituents expect of them. And hopefully, democracy will only get healthier and less noisy with the active participation of citizens from the time we chose our candidates to ensuring that they are held accountable after getting elected.