Saturday, January 12, 2013

Time to Change the Rules of Engagement With Government

As human beings, we bear the ability to reflect on events that went past us. Hindsight is the best vision as they say; however, it is imperative for us to learn important lessons that the past few days, months or even years have on offer for us to learn.

The protests over the past few years have shown the emergence of a new urban population that numbers significantly and is spread uniformly across the country. This population, predominantly young, may not be be considered rebellious, even though it is aspirational and angry about the status quo in this country on many fronts. This population is apolitical so far, since no one has appealed to them significantly, or has quickly belied their expectations, as was demonstrated by the fizzling of support for Arvind Kejriwal's disastrous Aam Aadmi Party experiment. This population is however ready to fight it out on the streets for what they perceive are their rightful demands, what they deserve as citizens across this country. This population, sub-consciously aware of the caste equations, is slowly trying to demolish the differences that have existed, one brick at a time.

With the changing profile of India's population, there is now a need to change the context and the paradigm of the engagement and the nature of political dialogue of our country. However, how will that change is important to understand. Long awaited political, legislative and executive reforms that have been in cold storage for over two decades have to be brought forth, since a significant chunk of electorate, which has started to blur the perceived divide between India and Bharat, will demand for it at every such occasion that will shock, horrify, anger or sadden this new populace, this new 'class' of this country. Moreover, the divide will have to be crossed over from both sides. On all such occasions, we have seen that the elected representatives have proved unable to engage with the protestors. It is also a failure of sorts on front of the so called protestors, as one would have to admit, since no attempt has been made to continuously engage with the ruling class. This is where both sides will have to bridge the barrier.

Protests are good to awaken consciousness, but they cannot always be the only way to force change, since it will only dampen their impact. One will have to engage more with the various levels of government. Let us discuss an example, say, the issue of street lighting. It is an easy tool to visibly reduce crime, as has been consistently demonstrated in literature on urban ecology. This is an area on which the local municipal councillor and the member of legislative assembly can take decisions. How many of us have actually approached these representatives in any form - be it personal, or even through letters? Trying to talk to these people will make the elected representatives understand more about the demands and the expectations of the new 'class' from its elected representatives. Due to its significant number, no one will be able to ignore them - however, to make this understood, one will have to come ahead and vote at all levels.

Another interesting area is that we have very few think tanks that talk about issues beyond health, environment,and rights of the weaker sections of society. A glaring example is the complete absence of people researching and talking about policing affairs and techniques of our country. Similarly, economic think tanks that actually discuss development are few and far between. While NGOs are doing a lot of work in this engagement process, people have to come forth as responsible and concerned citizens. We need to actively read about new laws and policies, participate in discussions and contribute our thoughts and reflect our level of awareness and concerns as well as our beliefs, thus helping change the dialogue of our political discourse, forcing everyone to talk development seriously, and not allow populist discourses in our country. It is thus time to engage with the ruling class - in fact, we need to change the rules of engagement and discover newer, more innovative ways to engage both ways. It is time to become the kind of ideal citizens we are expected by our Constitution, that wonderful document that envisioned an ideal idea. Change begins not at home, but in the heart. Let us do it.

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