It is not his job! On politicians, development and development agencies

A water tanker supplying drinking water in a slum of Doddaballapura. Unlike many other tankers for which people pay as much as Rs 2.50 for a pitcher ( 7-8 liters), this tanker is sponsored by a local politician. (Pic from the report. Courtesy - Praveena Sridhar)

A water tanker supplying drinking water in a slum of Doddaballapura. Unlike many other tankers for which people pay as much as Rs 2.50 for a pitcher ( 7-8 liters), this tanker is sponsored by a local politician. (Pic from the report. Courtesy – Praveena Sridhar)

From a recent report that we prepared for an NGO, a reader asked “What is that MLA’s incentive to push for proper/improved drinking water system” referring to a small case study on a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) in a constituency who was trying to help the drinking water crisis in his town.

So here are some ways of looking at the situation and assess what his incentive might be –

  1.  It is not the MLA’s business to provide or even push for proper drinking water system. He belongs to the “legislative” wing. Water provision is the responsibility of the “executive”. So if he does that then it is a transgression, in its strict sense. However, these transgressions are widely observed in many regions of the country and therefore one has to deal with it. One reason, as an extension of the above thought is that he is “appeasing” his electorate. Then, that it is easier for him to rally for this cause as it is widely felt among the people and that it is visible in its effects. If there is any improvement in the water situation then that too gets immediately felt among the people and therefore he gets a clear and fair mileage (politically) if he gets into this.
  2. An explanation that he is the “saviour” might not be so true because the politicians themselves clearly realize today that they can be quickly kicked off their chairs if he keeps the hubris of being a parent/saviour of the people. The relationship has gone more transactional with people becoming increasingly aware of methods to rally for their cause.
  3. From a Weberain (Marx Weber’s work on bureaucracy) perspective it can be argued that we do not know his calculation/motivation. As an individual how is he locating himself in the political mesh of power and its dynamics would be a determinant of his motivation to act on a particular issue in his constituency. This is ‘politics in practice’ and not how it ought to be!
  4. Executivisation of the Legislature – This phenomenon is one of the concerns of governance in the present times. The legislative in several different ways and mechanisms is adopting the role of executive. Our case of an MLA servicing water in a locality is an instance of this. This is exacerbated by the provision of MLA Development Fund, which is a small purse of a few crores granted to the MLA to spend on his constituency. This some argue is absolutely unconstitutional and must be done away with. A case in point is Bihar state. The Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, in his first term abolished the MLA Development Fund system in the state and directed that if it is development work that the MLAs need to carry out in their constituencies then they might as well ask the state government itself for the funds.

In effect what the above points establish is that our case where the MLA pushes for a proper drinking water system is a complex issue. It is not singular in its motivation. That MLA’s behaviour is situated in a complex web of contemporary politics, bureaucratic functioning and relationship between legislature and executive.

Our other concern is how a development agency situates its work in such a landscape. In another instance we see that an MLA in AP state ‘hijacks’ a development agency’s work in providing the clean drinking water by advertising his name for the little support that he provides to the dev agency in its work. Ideally, it should not matter to the dev agency if its goal of provisioning clean drinking water is still being achieved.  But in practice it matters to the agency as it also wants to further its work and therefore tries to ensure visibility. Also that this visibility is to let its own donors know that the work was done and it was done in this particular region. The dev agency in order to prevent this hijack and avoid getting caught in a sticky situation should first begin with understanding the context and dynamics, just like we saw above that the motivation as well as the role that the MLA was playing is different from what he ought to do. An understanding of this would then place the dev agency in a much better situation to take a decision on partnering with the political agency.


The above is a result of discussion with Prof. Narayana at APU  and @praveenasridhar who has authored the report and done all the field work. 


One comment

  1. flamesofthoughts · February 7, 2013

    That was pretty nice analysis. 🙂

    i have nominated your blog for ‘Liebster Award’, a gesture award for fellow bloggers. Details @ my blog. 🙂

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