Representation is a fact of social life. It is more so in a democratic society. Representation is often a statement of the vibrancy of participation and involvement. Representation is a means to achieve larger goal of human beings living together, in a civil society. Decisions of a larger society are often the result of the deliberations by representatives. A wife is represented by a husband, in social occasions, or wherever. A daughter is a representative of her parents at her in-laws place. A migrant is representative of a culture of his origin in a foreign land. A Manager is a representative of a firm during negotiations on a contract.
All these representations are different, from the representations I am talking about. There might be parallels or similarities. In India, as a democratic setup, citizens are represented by various people at various places on various missions. We all know about the legislators – Members of Parliament and MLAs. We all are familiar with most of the elected representatives at panchayat level or other levels.
Further, we are all represented in various other places or meetings as well. In India, there are number of committees, which deal with various public issues, where different members represent different constituencies. Most often, many of them represent public interests, or society in general or citizens in common. Illustratively, Food Safety and Standards Authority has the mandate to enforce the relevant act and ensure availability of safe food. For this task, it has number of committees on different products and subjects. Most of these panels are supposed to develop standards and monitor their enforcement. Recent Supreme Court observations show that most of these members are pseudo representatives. Many of them are scientists or experts representing companies which manufacture the very products they are supposed to monitor.
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has in itself many of such pseudo representatives, who claim to be scientists but are involved in development of very products they supposed to license and regulate. Scientists in committees often do not realize the role they are supposed to play. Their knowledge being limited (being specialized), their public concern is also constricted. There are very few scientists who can represent both science and the common good.
While we castigate, most often correctly, the elected representatives, many of such representations in various committees are turning out to be pseudo. I feel such plethora of representatives are not monitored at all. On many environmental public hearings, we have seen such pseudo representatives on the dais.
Likewise, we have public representatives on parent-teacher association meetings. Trade unions and worker associations have representatives who do not work at all. Workers unions are represented by persons, in wage negotiations, who never get those wages. Local temples have committees, whose members do not inspire spirituality. Members in consultative committees of various Railway zones are representatives of some politicians.
Among elected representatives, we have double representations. A woman is a sarpanch or a Mayor. Her husband also enjoys the same status or more. He is also referred as a sarpanch or Mayor. Thus, people elect a woman and get two representatives. Who is real or who is dummy?
We have a Cabinet of Ministers. They are elected representatives from certain constituencies. But most often, their cabinet berths are decided on the caste, region or lobby they are supposed to represent. It is no botheration even if that person does not represent either his/her constituency or caste or region. Ultimately, what is this person representing? His self-interest? Yes, most often.
Thus, we come to the question what is representation? How do we select or elect a proper representative?
According to dictionary, a representative is ‘consisting of people chosen to represent a larger group’ or ‘a person chosen to represent others’.
But, in many cases, the represented (mostly the common people) do not know who is their representative and where. Also, many of the representatives themselves do not know whom they are representing.
Most government bodies in New Delhi have governing bodies or councils, where in certain sections are mandated for representation. But the real communities do not get represented. In a shocking revelation, one Indian Express story reveals that two representatives on All India Handloom Board are not handloom weavers, but one is owner of petrol pump and another is a fruit seller. It works well for the Minister for Textiles, who would not be bothered, with handloom sector.
There are umpteen such committees, wherein representatives of different stakeholders are supposed to take decision related to their issues. Most of these representatives are cronies. Pseudo representatives can also be seen in civil society organizations as well. There are NGOs, who declare that they are working for farmers, but their agenda is completely in tune with the multi-national companies.
There are active support programmes, mostly by overseas aid programmes, to nurture and promote representatives under leadership development programmes. The effort is to brainwash a particularly perspective which is antithetic to the community they are representing in the public forums. Opinion leaders are influenced through such activities.
Summarily, there is lot of genuine blur about who represents what, where, when and how. There is no information or active communication between the representatives and the represented. Pseudo representatives make the most out of such confusion, haziness and abstractness. Especially, people who have opportunity to represent multiple groups in multiple forums. Notwithstanding the conflict of interest, whom does this person represent actually?
For example, Mr. Sharad Pawar is a representative of many groups in the government – farmers, consumers, Marathas, cricket players, Mahasrastrians, his constituency, etc. He recently added another group – US trade interests in India, by launching a NCP Inc (a for-profit lobbying organization in US). As a Cabinet Minister, whose interests lie uppermost in his representation? He was intelligent enough not to attend the Cabinet session, which decided to provide duty exemption for the World Cup. But, he has avoided the conflict of interest. However, is he balancing the various interests he is representing? Is there a equity in his representation? His statements show that farmers are at the bottom of his hierarchy of representations, while the top is occupied by multi-national companies. Ironically, he is supposed to represent farmers and not MNCs.
There are many politicians, whose interests pervade politics and business alike, do have overt and covert representations. They are supposed to be MPs or MLAs representing common interests. But their letters to various departments ask for something else. They lobby for private gains. Chief Ministers from different States visit New Delhi. A press release lists all the public projects they are promoting for. They also carry files or papers which are meant to clear hurdles for private investments as well. This is now the norm – public representatives pushing for private benefits.
It is another matter that there are many committees, which take important decisions, without any representations from the primary stakeholders or vulnerable sections. Mayawati’s poser on Lokpal bill drafting committee was given a different spin. Board of Trade, which is related to National Foreign Trade Policy, has only top industrial persons. No other sector gets representation, even though there hundreds of people or enterprises who have a subject of interest in exports and imports.
Also, there are no consultative committees at all on important subject matters. I was elated to find a committee, in the Planning Commission, which actively solicits information from various industrial associations. But, I was also sad to know that there is no such committee for other sectors such as agriculture or handloom.
Becoming a representative is a different ball game, I realized. I tried to get foothold on the committee, which was slated to draft National Fibre Policy. There were already 72 members in the committee, and none from handloom sector. Despite good recommendations, Minister thought there is no place for handloom representation on this committee, nor in the sub-committees. Maybe the qualifications also matter. Decision making on appointing representatives is part of a long-term vision.
This is evident in the appointments in multiple Commissions (Regulatory, Information and statutory). TRAI could not prevent a 2G scam, nor would do in future as well. Most Electricity Regulatory Commissions do not fare well.
This wide spectrum of committees, constituted by cronies, businessmen and self-interested politicians, most of which are not covered here, are also sources of decisions which go against public interests and common good. These are also places where corruption takes its root. Decisions of these committees (taken in the larger sense of the word) can be far-reaching and can have broad, deep and debilitating impacts. They can be accumulative, slow or quick. They (such decisions) can increase vulnerability and poverty.
It is time we looked at this forum, of decision making, and make the process transparent and accountable.