Nee­lan­jan Sir­car

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - - Insight - Let­ters@hin­dus­tan­ (The au­thor is Se­nior Fel­low, Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search)

NEW DELHI: Show­ing up to work is the least we can ex­pect from our Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (MPs). Yet, very few MPs do this with reg­u­lar­ity — only 20% of stan­dard (non-min­is­ter) MPs that served a full term in Lok Sabha be­tween 2009 and 2014 at­tended Par­lia­ment at least 90% of the time.

Then again, why should we worry about par­lia­men­tary at­ten­dance at all? Af­ter all, par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are obliged to vote along with their own po­lit­i­cal party for leg­is­la­tion that has been framed ahead of time. When com­bined with the fact that most MPs will only serve for one term (only 30% of in­com­ing par­lia­men­tar­i­ans were in­cum­bents in 2014), what in­cen­tive do MPs have to show up in Par­lia­ment?

In fact, it is pre­cisely against this back­drop that it is im­por­tant to an­a­lyse at­ten­dance in Par­lia­ment — if noth­ing else, it pro­vides a mean­ing­ful mea­sure of how se­ri­ously our elected politi­cians are tak­ing their job in a sys­tem in which they have strong in­cen­tives to shirk their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. We should be in­ter­ested in the char­ac­ter­is­tics of MPs who take their job se­ri­ously.

Re­cent schol­ar­ship has fo­cused on wor­ry­ing trends in the back­ground char­ac­ter­is­tics of MPs.

Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Mi­lan Vaish­nav has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about the star­tling rise in the per­cent­age of elected MPs fac­ing se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases — from 12% in 2004 to 21% in 2014 — who use a com­bi­na­tion of “money and mus­cle” to win elec­tions. Else­where, I have ar­gued that ma­jor par­ties give tick­ets to dis­pro­por­tion­ately wealthy can­di­dates, largely be­cause wealth­ier can­di­dates are more likely to win elec­tions due to their abil­ity to self-fi­nance elec­toral cam­paigns. The pres­sures to field wealthy can­di­dates are grow­ing stronger, with the me­dian wealth of com­pet­i­tive can­di­dates (top two fin­ish­ers) ris­ing by more than seven fold be­tween 2004 and 2014.

But is the qual­ity of po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion gen­uinely af­fected by grow­ing crim­i­nal­ity and wealth among elected politi­cians? In or­der to pro­vide some ten­ta­tive an­swers to this ques­tion, I look at the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the back­ground char­ac­ter­is­tics of MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014) and par­lia­men­tary at­ten­dance.

For this anal­y­sis, I took MPs that were not min­is­ters and served a full term from 2009 to 2014 in the 15th Lok Sabha for whom there were use­able as­set data, yield­ing a to­tal of 362 MPs.

I fo­cus on three MP char­ac­ter­is­tics — move­able wealth, ed­u­ca­tion, and crim­i­nal­ity — from self-re­ported can­di­date af­fi­davits made pub­lic by the As­so­ci­a­tion for Demo­cratic Re­forms (ADR). Move­able wealth is de­fined as the sum of all as­sets, like cash and jew­ellery, that can be quickly mo­bilised for cam­paign fi­nanc­ing (un­like real es­tate). The av­er­age move­able wealth for an MP in the sample is ~19.6 lakh, more than 39 times the GDP per capita in 2009-2010. Nearly 18% of the MPs in the sample were fac­ing at least one “se­ri­ous” crim­i­nal case (as de­fined by ADR). Fi­nally, 31% of the sample has a post­grad­u­ate de­gree, com­pared to just 9% grad­u­ates over the age of 25 in the pop­u­la­tion.

The data on par­lia­men­tary at­ten­dance are pro­vided by PRS Leg­isla­tive Ser­vices. PRS pro­vides de­tailed data on par­lia­men­tary at­ten­dance, par­tic­i­pa­tion in de­bates, questions asked, and au­thor­ing of pri­vate mem­ber bills. I fo­cus on at­ten­dance be­cause it should be equally ex­pected of each MP — un­like the other mea­sures which may be a func­tion of the salience of the is­sue at hand to the MP.

In this sample, the av­er­age par­lia­men­tary at­ten­dance among MPs is 80%. Larger par­ties, which have greater scope for af­fect­ing leg­is­la­tion, dis­play higher rates of at­ten­dance. MPs from the six largest par­ties in the Lok Sabha, each with at least 15 seats and com­pris­ing 75% of the sample, had an av­er­age at­ten­dance of 82%, while the MPs from smaller par­ties had an av­er­age at­ten­dance of 72%.

In or­der to an­a­lyse reg­u­lar at­ten­dance, I fo­cus on un­der­stand­ing who at­tends Par­lia­ment at least 90% of the time (the at­ten­dance rate of the 80th per­centile in the sample). The raw dif­fer­ence in at­ten­dance be­tween those with pend­ing se­ri­ous cases and those with­out them may not mean much, as those with pend­ing cases also tend to be wealth­ier (and also have other char­ac­ter­is­tics in com­mon).

To fur­ther iso­late the im­pact of MP char­ac­ter­is­tics on at­ten­dance, I run a sta­tis­ti­cal model that si­mul­ta­ne­ously es­ti­mates the prob­a­bil­ity of reg­u­lar at­ten­dance by an MP as a func­tion of the MP’s pend­ing se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases, level of ed­u­ca­tion, move­able as­set wealth, po­lit­i­cal party, and home state. The re­sults re­ported here reach the lev­els of “sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance” that statis­ti­cians use to char­ac­terise mean­ing­ful em­pir­i­cal pat­terns.


Fig­ure 1 shows that less ed­u­ca­tion and crim­i­nal­ity are as­so­ci­ated with poorer par­lia­men­tary at­ten­dance. An MP with a post­grad­u­ate de­gree with av­er­age move­able wealth and no se­ri­ous crimi- CHART 2 nal cases has a 25% pre­dicted prob­a­bil­ity of at­tend­ing Par­lia­ment reg­u­larly, 62% more than an MP with the same char­ac­ter­is­tics but with less ed­u­ca­tion. Of greater in­ter­est, an MP with­out se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases with mean move­able wealth and no post­grad­u­ate de­gree has a 15% pre­dicted prob­a­bil­ity of reg­u­lar at­ten­dance, twice as much as an MP with the same char­ac­ter­is­tics but with a pend­ing se­ri­ous crim­i­nal case.


Fig­ure 2 shows the wealth­ier the MP, the less likely he/she is to at­tend Par­lia­ment reg­u­larly. MPs with be­tween ~10 lakh and ~50 lakh of move­able wealth, with no se­ri­ous cases or post­grad­u­ate de­gree, have a 16% pre­dicted prob­a­bil­ity of reg­u­lar at­ten­dance, while crorepati MPs (in terms of move­able wealth) with the same char­ac­ter­is­tics have a 10% pre­dicted prob­a­bil­ity of reg­u­lar at­ten­dance.

There is ro­bust sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence that wealth­ier MPs, as well as those with pend­ing se­ri­ous cases, are less likely to at­tend Par­lia­ment reg­u­larly. Given the ris­ing costs of run­ning elec­toral cam­paigns, the trend to­wards more crim­i­nal­ity and wealth in In­dian pol­i­tics is likely to con­tinue. As India’s po­lit­i­cal class un­der­goes rapid trans­for­ma­tion, it’s time we take greater stock of par­lia­men­tary per­for­mance or of our po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.


Re­ported Can­di­date As­set Wealth (Move­able)


Po­lit­i­cal scientists have writ­ten ex­ten­sively about the star­tling rise in per­cent­age of elected MPs fac­ing se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases — from 12% in 2004 to 21% in 2014 — who use a com­bi­na­tion of ‘money and mus­cle’ to win elec­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.