Political Lampposts And Independent Candidates

Meera Sanyal, an independent Lok Sabha candidate for Mumbai South, has some interesting pieces up on her website. I like this bit, from a piece about why she has chosen to be an independent candidate:

It used to be said in Jawaharlal Nehru’s time that such was his charisma, if even a lamppost stood in the Congress’s name, it would win an election. Today, we have no Jawaharlal. But we have many lampposts.

I don’t need to elaborate on how true that is—though it must be said that charisma, by itself, is not a qualifier. Hell, Narendra Modi and Bal Thackeray would count as charismatic, and I’d rather vote for a lamppost.

And what about the lampposts standing against Sanyal? In another piece, she writes:

And what about my opponents? Two of them have criminal records, and want to make the city assume a narrower identity, with its doors closed and walls built higher. They go about terrorising Indian citizens who come from elsewhere in the country in search of a living. And another opponent, the sitting MP from this constituency, stays silent when gangs threaten bookshops in this city because they have displayed, and sold, novels by fine fiction writers from Pakistan. His party has even banned books and films in the past; he has nothing to say about that. How could he? I’ll tell you why: Since he is not independent of a party, he is not a free thinker.

Again, she is right, and I applaud her. If I lived in South Mumbai, a pathetic fate no self-respecting Andheri resident would wish on anyone, I would certainly vote for her.


I’ve heard the argument put forth, by friends such as Ravikiran and Gaurav, that parliament is really just an electoral college, and the utility of members of parliament is restricted to choosing the government that rules at the center. They don’t actually legislate on anything—and MPs don’t govern their constituencies, which makes their promises of better governance just rhetoric.

This is true, but I see more pros than cons to independent candidates such as Sanyal. Thirty years ago, an independent MP would be inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. But the political marketplace today is deeply fragmented, and every fragment counts. In this era of unsteady coalitions, every Lok Sabha MP can command a price, and whereas some candidates may use this power for personal gain, others may choose to make a difference, however small, to policy-making.

Also, the larger the number of people who vote for the likes of Sanyal, the more seriously other parties will take these voters, who vote on the basis of issues and not caste or religion. This can only be a good thing.

Also see: My friend Salil Tripathi’s piece on this issue, Independent Politicians.