India Uncut

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Friday, August 12, 2005

A conflict of interest

Imagine that you have been elected as a member of the state legislature from the constituency of Sangli. Who does your loyalty lie towards? Well, in theory, as a member of the legislature, you should be concerned about the entire state or country, but in practice it's your constituents, the people of Sangli who have voted you in, who really matter. Your election owes itself to the (at least implicit) promise that you will look after Sangli and its people.

Imagine next that you are made finance minister of Maharashtra. It's an honour (and some would say a revenue stream), but it's also a responsibility. As finance minister, you have a duty to the people of the state, within the parameters of your portfolio.

Imagine a cloudburst in Mumbai that causes floods through much of the city and shuts it down. It also causes lesser damage in Sangli. So what do you do? As a finance minister, your duty now is "assessing damage, distributing ex-gratia and preparing a statement of losses for Central assistance," for which you need to be in Mumbai. As the MLA for Sangli, your duty is to rush to your constituency.

Jayant Patil rushed to Sangli. Read the full Indian Express report here. I've also posted on it here.

Now, I'm not going to pass judgement here. Perhaps his officials at the ministry were perfectly equipped to do the job, and the need for his presence was greater in Sangli. Or maybe he was lax in his duties. Whatever be the case, the conflict of interest he faced would not have arisen if our political system was more like the USA's, where Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld do not represent constituencies. (They might feel some loyalty towards interest groups etc, you could say, but they do not have a constitutional duty towards them.) And there would have been lesser scope for it if Mumbai was a separate state. That, certainly, is a point in favour of that idea.
amit varma, 6:36 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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