A shrill, over bearing Barkha Dutt made for a very poor anchor but Mani Shankar Iyer in his dry, slightly supercilious manner and Patrick Heller in a calm, rational tone made a valuable point last night in "We, the people".
Citizen participation in the political process is not only about casting a vote in the Parliamentary General Elections. It is also about participating in the elections to and the activities of the local elected bodies, be it the gram panchayat or the nagar panchayat or the Municipal Corporation. There are more than 6 lakh villages in India and more than 5000 urban centres, which gives us at least 3 million elected representatives in the villages and 25,000 elected representatives in towns and cities at the local level. The local bodies carry out a range of activities which significantly impact our day to day lives, whether it be roads or parks or sanitation etc etc. How many of us know the name of the Municipal Councillor/Corporator? How many of us have ever voted in the local body elections or considered contesting the elections? How many of us have made an effort to hold the Councillor/ Corporator accountable in the sense of obtaining information about his duties and responsibilities, ascertaining the extent to which he is performing such responsibilities , and mobilising public opinion if he is not? How many of us have considered assisting the Councillor if he is inclined to promote citizen friendly initiatives but is bereft of the requisite skills (including technology) and possesses the right intention alone?
There are so many other ways in which one can participate in the community. There are citizen initiatives to do with environmental conservation, protecting our cultural heritage, sanitation, building zero waste communities, promoting pedestrian friendly urban spaces, creating parks, libraries and other public spaces, and so on and so forth. Upon reflection, one will see that each of these involves working in a group, engaging with the local administration, and improving the quality of life ----- which is partly what politics is about. We are so busy living our frantic 9 to 5 lives and over compensating over the weekends via movies and shopping and eating that most of us have no time or inclination to participate in any of these community activities.
Once a year, I organise a collection drive for GOONJ ---- collecting old clothes, utensils, linen, books etc for re distribution to the less privileged. In a community of approximately 1000 families, the same 50 or so families respond every year. Interestingly, these are the very same people who participate in all manners of citizen initiatives that impact the whole community ----- every one else is cocooned in the comfort of job and family and doesn't venture out, except to complain that the country's systems are rapidly going downhill and someone should do something about it!
If each one of us stepped forward and spent even an hour a week participating in community activities including local governance, imagine the difference it would make!