Paying legislators and the runners-up high salaries and letting people have multiple votes will increase competition, leading to a more upright political class.

Some time ago, a retired top engineer in government told me how electric substations are not located logically, but according to the whims of local politicians. He did complain about it, when Mr Suresh Prabhu was the Minister, in a gathering of around 2,000 power engineers. Mr Prabhu did not take it amiss, but asked whether there was one engineer present who had objected to the proposal of the local politician. The fact was that none of them had.

There is another side to the story. If any engineer had objected would he have been tolerated? Is it not a fact that he would have been transferred to an obscure post and even his promotions would have been affected? For politicians, the power to suspend and transfer is a means to make money, and hence is highly valued by all of them. Anyone who prevents them from having their own way is virtually removed from office. If politics and even the judiciary are in a mess today, it is because of the need for politicians to make money.

Lawlessness everywhere

It is an accepted fact that we have in our legislatures a large number of criminals, who ought to be in jail. Recently, a senior official of a Maruti factory was maimed and left to burn to death by irate labour leaders. In Uttar Pradesh, a young man who persisted in making complaints of harassment was declared unstable and murdered a few days later.

A police official showed his contempt by placing his foot on the dead body. In spite of repeated efforts by the media, the official still goes unpunished. An influential person who has been convicted for life for murder has spent most of his sentence outside jail on the excuse of being ill. Evidently, there is no law in the country because the officers who have to impose it are too timid or too callous to do so.

As a result, politics is no longer attracting qualified and dedicated persons the way it should. Often it runs in the family. It is also a fact that the bureaucracy is no better; honest officials dissuade their children from joining the government. That is a bad situation which needs to be rectified.

Instead of blaming politicians and bureaucrats, why should we not change the system in such a manner that it becomes attractive to good and honest people?

Then, for a start, legislators should be paid well and their legitimate expenses should be met. They also should have responsibilities that will confer prestige, without their having to interfere with the professional judgement of officials. For instance, they may be given an opportunity to discipline officials if they go astray in the discharge of their duties.

They should face competition even after they are elected. In this connection, I have earlier made four suggestions. One, pay legislators well; use the norms suggested (or accepted) by Gandhiji. (In purchasing power terms, currently, that would be a Rs 10 lakh a month for MLAs and Rs 24 lakh for MPs).

Two, let the State meet the full cost of elections, but check the number they will support by demanding a security deposit equal to the proposed monthly remuneration for the winner. Three, prevent powerful minorities from capturing power by letting voters cast as many votes as there are candidates.

Four, let every legislator and the runner-up, too, have the authority to prosecute, but not to judge misconduct of officials.

When these are implemented, politicians will have no worries about money; they will have power to check misuse, but not the professional decisions of bureaucrats. Bureaucrats, too, will have functional freedom but will be subject to fear of prosecution.

Caste politics

Some time ago, I got a chance to meet a reputed political leader and suggested to him how the current situation could be improved by paying legislators well and by letting voters have multiple votes. He listened to me but was not convinced.

The problem was his faith in the caste vote was stronger than in my logic. His argument was that if voters had multiple votes, all the parties will all put up candidates from the favoured community. So, the result would be the same.

However, the situation can be different: politicians are competitive. So, one or the other of the contenders will try to get the second and other extra votes from other communities without antagonising his own.

Such persons are likely to win and, what is more, induce more and more candidates to look beyond their own communities. Gradually, pure caste-based politics will fade away.

It is possible that the leader is right and my surmise is wrong. But why not try it out at least in a college election? We can check whether better candidates with broader programmes win, or whether those with narrow policies do.

Paying our legislators and the runner-ups and meeting election costs in full would have two advantages. One, politicians cannot offer the excuse they are doing public service and hence need money, even if through illegal means.

Two, voters will start asking, ‘since you are getting a fat salary, why are you not disciplining the bureaucrats’? In particular, because both the legislator and the runner-up are paid and offered responsibility, there will be competition. Competition does much good.

Chief ministers have the power to offer attractive wages for legislators and their runners-up, as well as to meet the full election costs - on the condition that the candidates make a deposit equal to proposed monthly wage (of Rs 10 lakh).

They could also make legislators and their runners-up prosecutors of the bureaucracy. They can do so because that requires no constitutional amendment.

Thereby, they may even cut down on greed!

(This is 334th in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on July 14).

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Responses to indiresan@gmail.com

and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

(This article was published on July 27, 2012)
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