The national elections in India are still a few months away (though some believe that the mega event could happen sooner rather than later). I am not political science student, nor a trained journalist or any other expert on politics. My only credential is that I am a right-thinking citizen of the country who just wants some solid governance.
In preparation for 2014, here's my wish list of what Indian officials need to do long before the elected members reach the hallowed portals of the Parliament House in New Delhi. Some of the items on my wish list may be a bit dreamy-eyed, but it might just warrant inclusion given the sheer lack of ideas in any case.
- We need some concerted efforts by the Election Commission with other authorities such as the Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax, etc on all current politicians who are likely to contest in 2014.
- Start procuring latest information and conducting a background check on all the current members of Parliament. Look at their income tax returns, their financial standing, and their known sources of income. See if there is a case of disproportionate assets. Any discrepancy here, or litigation that is not yet resolved, or unlikely to be resolved are clear grounds for disallowing the candidate to contest
- Bring in some performance measures - look for contributions made by the existing politicians in terms of bridges built, schools started, hospitals built, etc. What sort of role have they played in infrastructure building in the country? This could be for any part of India, but, at the very least, needs to be for their own constituency/state
- Does the politician currently holding an office have a criminal background? Disallow him from contesting again.
- Check whether the current crop of politicians is educated or not. At the very least, they should have a Bachelor's degree. If not, they have no standing to represent the people they claim to represent now, all over again
- Technology - have the politicians from a particular province created an environment where the local population has access to technological means of governance i.e. internet cafe, online learning
- What has the politician done to make people in his province more employable? Has he created an environment for learning, made education more affordable and accessible? Has he brought in a few companies to invest or start operations in his locality? Even if long-term, has he at least thought of such initiatives?
- Look for the number of foreign visits made by the politician in his current team and the costs of such trips to the exchequer. Based on that, look for how many of such visits translated to core economic value to the country? Did it result in attracting investors to the nation, or, did it result in some solid brand building in foreign political circles that helps India's perception in the world etc. If it was a leisure trip, disallow such politicians from contesting again. They cannot use the taxpayer's money for their pleasure.
- Check contracts - for every politician worth his salt, and who has signed on a contract or has been a party to a contract signed for or on behalf of the government, check antecedents. Check if the transaction was a clean one and that there were no kickbacks. If found guilty, punish him and disallow contesting elections.
- Influencing the law - just like we have seen in Railgate, Coalgate etc, there must be reasonable grounds in many parts of officialdom to suspect influencing things that are outside the rules. While it is not possible to check on every potential decision made in government, any behavioural or procedural deviation from normal protocol should be considered suspect and investigated. We do not need people in governance to misuse their position for private good. Any act done for public good, even if via correct use of influence, is still tolerable and can be allowed. Not otherwise
- Corporate governance on politicians - all of us are aware of the corporate governance norms that are applicable to companies. Is there any way for election authorities to prescribe some such governance framework for politicians that are measurable, doable and most importantly reportable?
- Election budgets - politicians are known to spend truckloads of taxpayers' money for election campaigning, propaganda, publishing materials, using strategic offices across the country, and travelling etc. We need a serious propriety audit of these expenses, not just a regular statutory audit. Sources and applications of funds need to be very clearly identified and be traceable. Any deviation here or lack of transparency, are again clear grounds for dismissing the candidate. This is equally true for non-election expenditure that the politician would have incurred in his current term in office.
I am sure that there are more ways to tie down politicians in order to curb any behavioural, financial or other excesses. I am only pointing out that for clean, good governance, there needs to be a far greater sense of getting ready for an election, rather than starting on building checks and balances at the eleventh hour. Advance preparation with the intent of providing the citizens the option to vote for clean, good, dependable candidates will go a long way in the prosperity of the nation. It needs will, and for a change, administrative and judicial will, as against the usual political will.
Can we do some of these recommendations, at least? Or, are we going to allow ourselves to be ruled by another set of corrupt officials and then crib. The choice to be proactive is ours, and is now.