Electing an MP: What do you consider before you vote? 

What criteria can voters base their decision on when they choose their MP? Is there a way to predict how the candidate will do, once elected?

Does the average voter evaluate each of their candidates carefully? 

Like we do every election, Citizen Matters has been publishing voter guides with profiles of key candidates for constituencies in Chennai, Bengaluru and other cities. We summarise candidates’ background, promises, and their interviews. We highlight the parliamentary performance of incumbent MPs – their membership in committees, questions they have raised, debates they participated in etc. We also compile news media reports to track their recent work. 

There are various criteria that voters base their decision on. While there are those undecided or open-minded who have found the information in our guides useful, some others make decisions based on ideology (social and economic) and candidate backgrounds (religion and caste). Then some don’t particularly care. 


Read also: Voters’ dilemma: Who should my MP be?


Assessing the performance of sitting MPs

Every city has well-defined problems that need to be addressed on top priority. Take Bengaluru for example. Its traffic issues and environmental problems, in particular water and waterbody-related ones, can be better addressed with more budget and better policy. Most urgently, it needs implementation of the 74th Amendment in letter and spirit. But has any candidate raised such issues in parliament (or in committees deliberating these) or in public discourse?

For example, if we look at lake ecosystems, in Dec 2023, the housing ministry told Parliament that water body rejuvenation projects worth Rs 3,802 crore had been approved by the Centre. How much of this allocation was for projects in Bengaluru? Did any MP take the initiative to ensure that the city claimed and secured a share of those funds? Or even push for increased intervention? Did they use their MPLAD fund to drive meaningful change, or was it used to dig more borewells and build more bus shelters? Did any MP use their position in a Standing Committee to engage their constituents and seek their opinion on proposed laws and policies? Did you MP visit local communities and government offices to check how union government schemes are executed on the ground?

Civil society group Samvidanada Hadiyalli analysed Karnataka’s MP performance and paid special attention to what they did outside parliament, especially on the ground. They explained how some MPs were able to provide substantial support to local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. As they noted, “MPs must maintain regular contact with their constituents, participate in local events and remain accessible to their electorate.” 

In contrast, what do we have to judge first-time MP candidates? Do we know of their work on the ground in the recent past? How deeply have they been engaging with local communities? What have they been lobbying for?  Did any of them even comment on the constitutional injustice of local body councils missing in our cities? 

Are candidates canvassing on their own merits and own capability to bring progress to the parliamentary constituency? Or just parroting the glories of the party and its leaders?

Can voters assess candidates better, by considering the individual’s capacity? 

Public policy expert Ashwin Mahesh suggests a framework to evaluate candidates based on how they can get things done as an MP, once elected: To evaluate their capacity for effective execution, one must look at different levels and sections in the government and how things work, and goals get accomplished in each of those parts – i.e., at the centre, state, city, in the planning bodies, and with citizens. Processes in the government work in a certain way with multiple stakeholders bringing in their own agenda and influence.

Can we expect the candidates to engage with the details of those processes – in their work within each space? It is not a simple matter of them saying: “Yes I will do this, I will do that…” To be a successful MP, it requires (amongst other skills) – diligence, consistent follow-ups, and guiding and pushing the system to lead to desired outcomes. If an MP cannot participate in those processes through the cycle, they cannot engage with officials and other stakeholders to obtain the outcomes voters want. 

So it is useful to ask before you vote – can this candidate do all these? 

Framework to evaluate MP candidates

1. NATIONAL

Can this candidate work with ministers in the Union government as well as senior officials in different departments to enable key developments and projects for the state? Can s/he engage with and drive influence in think tanks, interest groups, businesses and other circles?

2. STATE

Can this candidate work with the state government to enable a strong development agenda that will strengthen its competitive advantages and also lift the state’s human development and economic indicators? 

3. CITY PLANNING

Can the candidate push for and get a proper planning framework for the city to be in place and working properly? Can s/he, in this process, turn the constituency into a model for such planned development?

4. MUNICIPALITY

Can the candidate ensure that the local government has more internal capacity to perform all its functions? Will s/he strongly support the devolution of funds and powers to local bodies? Will s/he help the municipality and its elected members be more responsive to citizens’ civic problems?

5. CITIZENS

Will the candidate ensure regular and structured engagement through ward committees and other means with citizens to give them a voice in choosing projects and initiatives in their localities? Does the candidate believe that sarkar alone cannot do everything and that citizens’ participation is necessary to ensure and speed up development?

Love and hate for parties and leaders!

Students of Dayanand Sagar University recently helped us do a dipstick survey reaching more than 50 respondents each in a couple of Bengaluru’s urban constituencies, to understand voters’ perception of candidate capabilities. They also asked people to evaluate candidates based on the framework parameters listed above. 

Student of Dayanand Sagar talking to the public on how they make a choice. Pic courtesy: DSU Journalism Dept

The survey showed a slight edge to one or the other candidates in each constituency. While we are not publishing the results (given it is not an expert-led scientific survey!), we wanted to use the responses to understand what factors people consider and how they react to the suggested attributes that make MPs successful!

The first challenge students faced was, many did not know who the candidates were! Nidisha, a student, said many respondents focus on just the party, making it a “BJP vs. Congress” election. Students also found many people were wary of responding or sharing their opinions. One respondent said, “You never know who is eavesdropping on us, and what their political opinion will be, it is a risk!”. Students also heard a range of concerns, from local issues to larger issues like climate change and national interest, as well as non-issues created by the media!

A significant chunk had party preferences, often ideology-based or a like or dislike of the current Prime Minister! One voter attributed his preference for the BJP candidate “for infrastructural development and Ram Mandir” as opposed to the rival candidate’s “lack of love for the country”. Another said “Only Modi can save India.” Clearly some voters are influenced by party narratives! Some others supported INC candidates for “good work maintaining the trust of people and development at local levels“ and felt “Congress can help the working class and poor people.”

As far as the questions from the framework were concerned, it looked like people were able to consider them independently for each candidate – but that was not necessarily reflected in their final choice. 

What happens on the ground eventually?

In reality, voters may be offered incentives or mobilised by local leaders – MLAs and other influential community leaders, who play a major role in a candidate’s performance. As for many in the privileged crowd (beyond the ideologically driven), as many politicians dismissively retort, it may just be a “long weekend”. 

Things aren’t going to change until we see enough open-minded voters who are ready to independently assess candidates before casting their votes. Enough to impact the margin of victory!


Read also: What makes your MP a true people’s representative?


So the job of civil society groups is cut out. How do we get more people to take an interest in selecting candidates who can stand on their own? Can the best possible set of worthy candidates, regardless of their party, form a more enlightened and accountable government? 

Satarupa Bhattacharya (Managing Editor, Citizen Matters) and Ashwin Mahesh (Urban expert and Trustee, Oorvani Foundation) also contributed to this article.

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