There is a need for fresh political blood, and the good news is that we are seeing small amounts of it already.
As the election winds down, it is becoming increasingly likely that Modi will not be returning as prime minister. Not only are the NDAs number of seats in progressive poll of polls declining steadily, but more importantly, Modi himself is showing an increasingly hysterical nervousness, highlighted last week by his nomination of Sadhvi Pragya, judicially accused of terrorism, to represent the BJP in the Bhopal polls, followed up with his extremely rough justification—there was a time, not so long ago, when Modi didn’t deign to justify any of his extravagant acts.
It was also quite telling that some senior business figures endorsed Milind Deora, the Congress candidate for the South Mumbai Lok Sabha seat; before this, the entire business community appeared fully committed, if silently, to Modi and the BJP.
In any event, whatever the result of the elections, I think the most important outcome of the last five years is the huge wave of political activism that has resulted from the government’s multiple failures in creating jobs and security for farmers, its ham-handed attempts to emasculate the full range of institutions and, of course, the generalised regime of terror that it has permitted/encouraged. This activism will sustain on the ground whoever comes to power and the next—and succeeding—government(s) will have to be more respectful of the people and their needs.
In some senses, this is Modi’s greatest gift to the nation—it will be ironic if it is this activism that brings him down.
Of course, it will take time for this new activism to have sustained impact—while Modi was particularly bad, the rest of the crowd hardly inspires enthusiasm. Thus, there is a need for fresh political blood, and the good news is that we are seeing small amounts of it already. Meera Sanyal’s campaigns for the last two Lok Sabhas doubtless inspired many to step out from the sidelines; tragically, she passed away earlier this year but now that the environment demands it, I would expect we will see more professionals enter the ring over the next few years. From a separate direction, Kanhaiya Kumar is a wonder—hopefully, we will see more like him come to the forefront.
But, ultimately, it is up to us—you and me—to step up as citizens. Know your municipal corporator, although certainly in Mumbai, the municipal corporation is structured to where the corporators have very little power—at a recent standing committee meeting, there were around 90 items on the agenda, fewer than 10 of which were from the corporators. The administration led by the Municipal Commissioner, who is appointed by the state government, runs the show. So, if you are dissatisfied with the quality of civic services, you know who to blame.
To be sure, the corporation and the state government have some grand—and, in some cases, grandiose—plans. The Metro, for instance, will improve transportation conditions for most people in Mumbai, which is a crying need. However, the complete lack of transparency with which these mega-projects are set in motion is a crucial issue.
The Coastal Road is one more such initiative—there has been no environmental clearance, no simulation studies to see what would be the impact of the huge reclamation on flooding during the monsoon, and, indeed, near zero responsiveness to citizens’ queries. Fortunately, there have been several PILs filed which have stayed the work; my concern is that the powers that be have much more staying power than the motley group of citizens who are fighting heroically to turn this around. We need more—please join the Facebook group Save our Coast–Call to Action–Mumbai to add your energy.
To be sure, this close-mindedness is not unique to this administration—our elected representatives, at all levels of government, have never bothered about our needs, our beliefs, our views. They have simply gone where the goodies are. So, too, some of their “partners” in the corporate sector. The good news is that once we arm ourselves with information/knowledge and demand accountability, they will have no choice but to respond appropriately—indolence and corruption are signs of weakness; they back down at the first show of strength.
But, be warned—this is a long game. Not only are there decades of inertia built into the system, there are also the few who are in the game to make a few (or many) bucks. They will find more-than-Kafkaesque ways to thwart our best efforts. So, we need to stay engaged, find ways to distribute the load to ever-larger numbers of citizens, engage with good people in the administration and the political class, and, most important of all, never lose our sense of humour about all of the above.
Aa jao maidan mein!