Democracy, in the ultimate analysis, means, ‘self-rule’. That is why, the democratic form of government is preferred to any other form of governments such as monarchy or dictatorship.
To make a democracy successful, the onus is on the people and their representatives. The electors and the elected are expected to discharge their responsibilities, their duties with integrity and honesty on their own volition. A self-imposed discipline (atmanushasan) is regarded as the best imposition of code of conduct.
After the recent Lok Sabha elections, when the electors have fulfilled their onerous duty, the focus is on the conduct of the elected representatives. The moment election results were out, the parties which opposed the front runner Congress party tooth and nail, made a bee-line to declare their unconditional support to the Congress which is now a ruling party. In doing so, the party leaders instantly forgot the promises they made at the hustings and their claims against the policies of the Congress. Now, what do you say of the conduct of these parties? What about the promises they made to the voters? Have they consulted their voters and their elected members for their about-turn in their allegiance? Most certainly, the answer is “No” – these parties do not see any reason to consult their voters or the members. They are a power unto themselves – not accountable to anyone (ham kare so kayda). Since the political parties are free from accountability, they have no duties and obligations towards the voters. Such parties believe that “sharing power” as power brokers is their ordained role in politics. Once they get a ministerial berth, their duty towards the people ends.
If the political parties think in this narrow self-serving way what can we expect from the elected representatives? They also think that politics means power – sharing the booty. Having spent crores of rupees to win the election, a member feels, it is his right to recover the investment with interest. He is also not accountable to his voters – there is no binding on him about his duty as an elected representative to consult his electors. The Constitution of our country is silent on the conduct and duties of the political parties and elected representatives. Therefore, in India we find the people immediately getting detached from the political process after the elections or they get alienated. The people also feel that after the elections their duty is over. They turn their backs on later developments in the political arena. As a result, the political parties and the elected representatives have a field day in the absence of any statutory accountability or duty.
In the past, we have seen political parties running from one camp to another seeking unprincipled alliance to feather their own nests. We have also seen the rise in the number of Members of Parliament and assemblies with criminal records. In the previous Lok Sabha, some members were castigated for “cash for querry” and kabutar bazi offences. A large number of elected representatives in the Parliament or various state assemblies draw allowances but do not attend the House proceedings. There are some who attend the Houses but hardly participate in the proceedings or go away after attending the session for a little while. Their excuse is that they have to attend to the constituency related works. Some members were even found guilty of drawing excess medical allowances by submitting false bills. Such irregularities by members go on merrily and very few are punished.
In view of all these extra-curricular activities of the elected members, people would like to know what is the exact role of an elected MLA or MP? What are their duties? Are there any specific provisions in our Constitution which lay down the duties of the members and their role in the democratic set-up? Are the conventions good enough to regulate the conduct of the elected members?
Article 99 and the 3rd Schedule lay down the provision about the oath by members. The newly elected member has to take oath or make affirmation to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India” and “to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India” and “to faithfully discharge the duty of a Member of Parliament”.
Article 105 provides for the powers and privileges etc. of the members and committees. No where in the Constitution the duties of the members are specified. It is assumed that the members will be of good character and morality. In view of the experience of past three/four decades about the conduct of the elected representatives in the country, the citizens will have to demand for making provisions about the duties and good conduct of the elected members in the Constitution of India. Unless a statutory provision is made which can be enforced in a court of law, it would not be easy to contain the wayward behaviour of members.
The peoples’ representatives are expected to do the following activities:
1. legislative work – questions, resolutions, bills, etc.;
2. pass budgets – finance bill/cut motions, etc.;
3. no-confidence motion, participate in debates, discussion;
4. work in various committees like public accounts committee, estimates committee, privilege committee, etc. (however, all members are not nominated on these committees);
A political thinker commenting on the work of legislation has said: “their function is to (i) criticise the government (ii) to censure the government and (iii) to bring down the government.
Besides, the legislative work, a member has to serve and nurse his constituency. Through an active interaction with concerned ministers and their departmental secretaries, the member tries to resolve the grievances of his voters. He is also nominated on various boards and councils connected with planning and developmental work. This brings a member in direct contact with the bureaucracy which enables him to build up a personal and profitable relationship.
To sum up, the work or duties of a member are enormous and time consuming. He has hardly any time to attend to his personal, professional or business matters. For carrying out the above narrated functions, a legislator has to work on his own volition; there is no binding or compulsion of any kind, except the moral binding. Therefore, to pinpoint duties of an elected representative is rather a Herculean task. What people should expect from a member is that his conduct should be fair, honourable, above reproach and unquestionable. He should not tarnish the image of the august institution that he is called upon to represent. He should be above corruption and scandals. Normally, if found guilty of breach of honourable conduct, without hesitation he should be given the same punishment as provided by law. However, it is rarely done. In public life there is no greater sanction than the moral code. The electors also have to keep a watch on the conduct of their representative. In this election, 150 MPs are elected with criminal charges against them. This number is more than the number of members with criminal record in the previous Lok Sabha. The number of crorepati MPs is 300. Does this reflect the choice of voters? Because, the election time is the proper time for the voters to scrutinise the performance and conduct of the candidate. Whom would you blame – the electors or the elected? or the electoral system?
Recently, some parliamentarians in Britain were found guilty of wrongfully billing the State exchequer for big and small expenses. Some guilty MPs were forced to retire; others were called upon to repay the money. Leaders of political parties are now working along with a vigilant media and civil society groups to cleanse the system, starting with asking tainted MPs to quit office instead of merely trading charges. We, in our country, also need to act to stem the rot.
In view of the ever declining standards of public morality, it would be in public interest to enact laws to specify pin pointed duties and responsibilities of people’s elected representatives and their political parties. People expect the Election Commission to take a lead in framing relevant laws, which will minimize corruption among elected representatives and make them accountable for their conduct. For this, the EC should take the help of knowledgeable members from the civil society. Sooner it is done the better for the health of our democracy.