Do better-performing MPs get re-elected?

MPs renominated to contest in the 2019 polls did not participate significantly more than the other MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha, shows a Mint analysis

NEW DELHI : In the heat of the campaign, amid insults and big claims, it can be easy to forget that these elections are not just a battle between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, but a parliamentary election. On 23 May, the 17th Lok Sabha will be formed and charged with framing legislation and holding the government accountable. To perform these functions effectively, Parliament needs to be well-attended, host healthy debates, scrutinize legislation and regularly question the government. Over the last five years, members of the 16th Lok Sabha have been trying to do all this—many of whom are now hoping that their efforts will help them get re-elected.

On two of these measures, at least, the recently completed 16th Lok Sabha outperformed its predecessor. According to data from PRS Legislative Research, more members of the 16th Lok Sabha attended sessions (average attendance of 80%) compared to the 15th Lok Sabha (76%). The 16th Lok Sabha members, on average, also participated in more debates (65 compared to 38). Yet, the overall work done by the Lok Sabha remains at historically low levels. In the first four Lok Sabhas, the average hours of Parliament functioning were 3,549; in the last four, this fell to 1,661 hours (see charts 1a and 1b).

And, while this Lok Sabha may have worked more than its immediate predecessors, it has been less effective in scrutinizing legislation, according to Chakshu Roy, head of outreach at PRS Legislative Research. “The term of the 16th Lok Sabha was marked by frequent disruptions. The working of a legislative institution should be evaluated not only on the hours worked by it, but also on the effectiveness of its scrutiny of government legislation. On this criteria, the five-year term of Lok Sabha falls short of the preceding two Lok Sabhas," he wrote in an email.

Overall aggregates can also mask significant disparities in individual member of Parliament (MP) performance. For instance, four MPs attended less than one-fifth of all 16th Lok Sabha sessions over the last five years, while six attended every session. And participation measures may not be correlated: Some MPs attended almost all sessions, but rarely debated; others attended fewer sessions, but debated more. Accounting for these differences makes measuring and comparing Parliament participation across MPs tricky.

To address this, Mint has constructed a composite MP Participation Index, which rates MPs based on their Parliament attendance, participation in debates and questions posed to the government. While there are other aspects of Parliament participation, such as introducing private bills, these three metrics account for the bulk of the work done in Parliament. According to the index, which rates MPs on a scale of 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating more participation, the most active MP in the last Lok Sabha was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Bhairon Prasad Mishra, who scored 0.82. His score was more than double the average score of 0.35. Mishra, who represents Banda in Uttar Pradesh, did not miss a single session, participated in 2,095 debates and asked 544 questions. In contrast, India’s worst-scoring MP, Bengali actor Dev, or Deepak Adhikari, of the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), just took part in three debates, asked three questions and attended only 11% of all Lok Sabha sessions.

Dev’s is part of a wider trend of weak participation from TMC MPs. Of all the major political parties in the past Lok Sabha (parties with at least 10 MPs), the average TMC MP scored the lowest. MPs from Shiv Sena scored the highest—driven by high attendances and more questions asked. In terms of variation among major party MPs, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam members had the least divergence in scores, while BJP MPs had the greatest.

Across parties, MPs from Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu participated significantly more than MPs from other states. MPs from Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Punjab participated the least. Between the major national parties, BJP MPs performed better than the Congress’ and the national average.

Unsurprisingly, data from the last two Lok Sabhas shows that ruling party MPs tend to take a more active role in Parliament. On an average, both the BJP and Congress MPs attended more sessions and participated in more debates when their parties were in power than when they were in opposition.

In terms of individual MP characteristics though, there is no major pattern. Better education does not mean greater participation. MPs with a PhD score the same (0.34) as those who failed to complete secondary school. Similarly, gender makes for little difference: men scored 0.36 and women 0.34. Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party from Baramati, Maharashtra was the highest-scoring female MP (0.67), while the Samajwadi’s Party’s Dimple Yadav was the lowest-scoring (0.09). Parliament experience has a mixed relationship with performance. In the 16th Lok Sabha, third-term MPs participated the most, but MPs with more than three terms were significantly less active (see chart 3).

If more active participation is a sign of a better-performing MP, then these MPs should, in theory, be rewarded politically, both by parties through renomination and voters through re-election. Of all the candidates who are contesting the current elections, 332 were MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha. And these re-contesting MPs (average score of 0.36) participated slightly more in Parliament than non-contesting MPs (0.35). And these re-contesting MPs (average score of 0.36) only participated slightly more in Parliament than non-contesting MPs (0.35). In the previous polls though, there was almost no difference between re-contesting MPs and non-contesting MPs—but the re-elected MPs did participate more.

These mixed results could simply reflect the complexities of politics. While parties may consider parliamentary performance in renominating candidates, it is just one factor among many.

In a 2014 study, political scientists A. Farooqui and E. Sridharan show that for major national parties nomination decisions were based on past performance, internal party processes and election timings.

*Arjun Srinivas contributed to this story.

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