Feb 16, 2010

The Office Of Representation

When I came over here at IIMK, I never thought I would have a 2 year stint like this.. I'm someone who had stayed away from practically anything other than Acads during my undergrad.. Infact 70% of the students at NITC would have been in some Ragam committee or other...but i've never been in one over my entire 4 year stay over there.
With such a background behind me, I found myself in the thick of all activities over here.. Got elected into Students' Council couple of months after I came here..and after that it has been an enriching ( & extremely difficult at times) life.. It has been a stint that taught me a lot.. In many situations my way of thinking has changed a lot because of this..
Words can never describe these, but I'll give a few examples to Illustrate..

* Often, an average Indian has a high tendency to blame the govt / authorities / whoever who is in charge for lot of issues that he's facing.. Like, he'll say electricity supply is breaking down frequently, petrol prices are spiralling up, cleanliness is not maintained in public places etc..All these are facts.. But the point that the common man might fail to realize is that the Govt / administration is working under lot of constraints....petro prices might not be in govt's control, they might not be finding enough municipal workers to clear garbage etc.. Now all these might seem to be excuses that Govt should not make.. it seemed to be so to me till 2 years back..
Here I've been at the receiving end of so many issues..washing machines not working, dogs in campus, budget money not deposited , marks not fair...and much more.. I'm in a representative position which exposes you to all these kinds of demands from people..Even as I'm writing these, complaints about the Mess bill are coming up in IP.. In other words, I've realized what it is to be like when you are running a govt ( can't equate this to the real govt running experience, but may be a minute fraction of that ) .. You might want to do a lot..but you are often bound my many constraints.. This 'constraints' might seem to be a political excuse to many..And many people might not buy this kind of an excuse.. but often thats the answer when people come to you with issues that you cannot resolve...The reasons could be many...may be you don't have the power..may be addressing that might lead to more problems..maybe you simply don't have time ...and much more.. The problem in such an office of representation is that it is very difficult for your constituents to realize the barriers that you have.

* In the earlier point, I mentioned about the lack of time..Again to a normal citizen, the excuse that govt does not have the time would seem to be an insulting excuse..But then, its a fact.. Here, there have been situations in which I've got many such issues to handle from different people.. Each one of them might have often felt that why my issue is not addressed.. Unfortunately, he's not aware of the entire set of issues that we are facing... He often thinks from a perspective that his is the only issue.. But we might have may be 10 identical or non-identical issues from 20 different people coming to us...And if we prioritize that, probably his issue might not figure in the top set.. And if we, being in an institute with about 550 odd people have face it, I can imagine the kind of pressure that a Govt would be going through.. And often this pressure would lead to govt into a non-action state..or in better words, a not-too-bothered state.. People call that inefficiency...but in reality, its not just inefficiency...its something more systemic.. govt cannot be thought of as an answering machine or a grievance addressing mechanism...those are just parts of the machinery

* B-school is perhaps the worst place theoretically to preach or teach altruism.. But I've realized value of being altruistic to a certain extent by being in this office..Before coming here, I had a strong conviction that by putting in certain correct incentive mechanisms , you can make people work...But thats not correct in many situations... Many of the so-called capitalistic things can be done in a better way if you sensitize your workers in an altruistic or socialistic way... And paradoxically this realization has come in a place which is supposed to be the rock-bed of capitalism in modern times - the B-school
What really makes elected representatives work ? You really don't have an incentive mechanism set up over there.. Constituents elect their representatives.. Maybe the only thing that the representative should be worried about is the re-election.. Now, that re-election threat alone is not enough to make people work.. Unless the representative has a dominant altruistic inclination, its very difficult for him/her to be motivated to work.. Just as in the case of a B-school were the carrots of CV point & all are not really enough to make ppl work ( these are motivating enough for ppl to contest ) , you cannot design enough carrots for an elected representative to work in a political system..

* In a democratically elected govt ( or for that matter, any type of govt ) , many of the decisions cannot be taken democratically..There have been situations in which we as a student body felt that a certain course of action was correct taking into consideration the long term interest of the institute, but felt that if we bring this issue up for discussion or voting among our constituents, we may not be able to get that done ( in a democratic way ) .. And we went ahead recommending the correct course of action in a non-democratic way (i.e, without taking the consensus in the batch) ...the fear might have been unsubstantiated though.. But the underlying point is this.. Whenever an issue comes, there are often calls from lot of people saying, lets do a poll..lets do what the majority feels..etc... But thats a very very wrong way of thought.. The majority in a democracy might not think in a rational way.. majority might not consider long term interest at all...Like, if we do a poll in India asking whether income tax should be reduced to 5% or not , a democratic solution would result in 5% tax...but with that tax, govt cannot sustain the system.. Democracy is often called a participative form of governance..But it should be participative only when the elected representatives call for participation...When to invite for participation is another call that representatives need to take ( and that call is often a tricky one )

And much more..I can go on and on in this subject... But enough for a blog post..

Few years later, I may pen down all these experiences , principles, learnings etc in a book :)