There’s been a lot of talk of political change and political empowerment in the state elections of the past few months. While some have claimed that this is the anti-incumbency wave, others have claimed it as a sign of success of the Indian democratic experiment. But what are we really voting for? State assemblies in India are amongst the least effective institutions with precious little, apart from political grandstanding, taking place within its hallowed halls. In today’s post, I look at number of working days for various state assemblies to argue that legislatures contribute little to the project of good governance. This points to decreasing legislative quality and increasing executive power.
I look at data from PRS to plot the working days of various assemblies from 2009-2011 (3 years). Data for some states is missing so they have not been included in this graph. States are fairly evenly divided along party lines.With 153 sitting days (in 3 years), the Kerala assembly scored the highest and the Arunachal Pradesh assembly brought up the rear with a dismal 25 days (in 3 years!). I can’t think of any other job, and none that are this important, which allow this level of laxity. The other arms of the government including the judiciary, bureaucracy and the executive far outperform the legislature. Politically active citizens would be much better engaging with these arms of the government.
Exercising a vote is an important moment in all democracies. It is the only time the common citizen is actively involved, and heard, in the gargantuan political system. Voting is an indication of many things, including citizens vision for their country, their frustrations and expectations of the political system. Most importantly, people vote in the expectation of ‘better governance’. Citizens who vote hope that their voice will help elect a government that serves them better (however, you may choose to define this).
Unfortunately for us, Indian state assemblies seem reluctant to engage in the business of governance. This trend is true across party, state and regional lines. This has alarming consequences for not only the quality of legislation but also the power of the executive. Many policies of the state governments go unchecked by the legislature. Bureaucrats and ministers (and their cronies) gain disproportional power. In this excellent article and this one, the authors talk about decreasing legislative deliberation in state assemblies.
Recent surges in voting indicate that the Indian citizenry is engaged with political system but unless the political actors undergo a drastic change, this will translate to precious little on the ground.