Strategy-based initiative by Swaniti is helping Members of Parliament effectively deliver development solutions in their constituencies, find Mridul Negi and Puneet Dubey
We elect to power political candidates in the hopes that they will help in development of the constituencies under their care. But the reality is that during elections—and many times long after that—party politics and internal dynamics take prominence over public welfare for these representatives.
Apart from this is the staffing at the constituency offices; it is full of people that do not help any cause either. The bickering and ulterior motives force the elected representatives to put aside implementation of policies or government schemes and fight the personal agendas.
Even the ones who want to work on strategies, lack the resources and mindset to deliver on it.
Founded in 2012, Swaniti is a social enterprise that helps elected officials such as Members of Parliament (MPs) —through data collection, research, advisory and liaison—improve the delivery of development solutions in their respective constituencies,.
In 2016, Swaniti, Headed by CEO Rwitwika Bhattacharya and MD Shantanu Agarwal, came up with Supporting Parliamentarians on Analysis and Research in the Constituency (SPARC) program. This is a fellowship that enables MPs to engage in the development programs within their constituencies and effectively implement government schemes.
“Under the program, we place one associate with an MP for a year. The associate then works at the ground level on various development programs and mobilizing government schemes for the public welfare within the representative’s constituency,” says Priyanka Yadav, SPARC program lead at Swaniti.
“We are currently working with 20 MPs across India on advisory basis, and support the development schemes in their constituencies,” Yadav says, adding that Swaniti plans to have 15 more MPs in the next batch.
Elected to become required
The reason for SPARC program is that MPs are usually busy with parliamentary sessions, or battling local and political issues. There is little or no time for strategic growth. And where the MPs want to make a difference, they lack availability or resources or skills—or all of them.
“Apart from a few, most MPs don’t have the strategic thinking to implement a development plan. And almost no one brings in development professionals to work in the field to identify ground realities, follow up and execute programs said Swaniti founder and CEO Rwitwika Bhattacharya.
“We look for representatives that show promise, or have the will to work for strategic development. We also track parliamentarians doing exceptional work in their constituencies and reach out to them for help,” Bhattacharya explains how SPARC functions.
“Most MPs work with either party workers or personal assistants. Currently, their job does not include identifying local problems and following up with other government offices to help the overall development,” she says.
Rwitwika also does not believe that most bureaucrats and elected representatives are corrupt and lazy. “I think they are often overworked. They lack the adequate support to work on the overwhelming paperwork. The officers are held responsible for everything that crosses their desk and every single one of them have tens of thousands of files to sort through,” she adds.
Program lead Yadav, however, believes there is also a lack of cooperation between different governmental departments and agencies. “We bridge that gap by reaching out to all authorities concerned, and form a common ground for productive working,” Yadav explains.
So far, so good
In Mahbub Nagar, Telangana, employment was a major issue that Swaniti was called in to help with. The region was on the verge of collapse—there was the imminent financial crunch and also unemployed youngsters. Agriculture and livestock were the only two major sources of income—and people didn’t want to move into anything else—but there were not enough resources to sustain growth.
To counter this problem, Swaniti appealed to the District Magistrate Office to disburse loan so that people could buy livestock. The associate mobilized over 400 people to petition for loans, which the district magistrate agreed to disburse, on the condition that people get training on rearing cows and other livestock.
Swaniti then partnered with another NGO to provide six-month’ hands-on training on handling stock.
Regardless of the good work, there is always a little scepticism. Bhattacharya said that though there is recognition and appreciation, at times people are doubtful about the work and Swaniti’s efficiency.
“In these cases, we try to work with them by acting as an observer initially, or showing them our work. We try to explain to the officials that we are there for their convenience,” she says. “When all fails, we pull out the MP’s letter of approval to smooth things out.”
There are some MPs who have been surprised by Swaniti’s approach, but there are also enough who come to them for help. “Just recently, Rabindra Kumar Jena MP from Balesore, Odisha, asked us to conduct a ground-level survey to identify the number of people that get access to government schemes in his constituency,” says Rwitwika.
To a better future
Despite all this work, Bhattacharya knows it’s a long way to go, and there are immediate reforms required in the public sector. “In India, government schemes, public welfare and development still lacks transparency. The way our largest administrative systems are set up are too broad,” she says.
Regardless of the roadblocks, Swaniti has done wonders and built themselves a strong reputation. Parliamentarians are now aware of their work and are eager to engage with them. The MPs who have worked with Swaniti also have nothing but good works for the organisation.
“Swaniti gives parliamentarians like me an opportunity to harness the talent of expert professionals to better govern our constituencies,” said Dinesh Trivedi, MP from Barrakpore, Uttar Pradesh, who has engaged Swaniti to help implement policies there.
In fact, Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar was so impressed with their work that he suggested Finance Minister consult with Swaniti or a similar think-tank for the next budget preparation.