Ideas for Change, post Mumbai 26/11

Among all the rhetoric and hyperbole overdose, it is refreshing to see some meaningful debate here and there in the media, e-mail and in other forums.
Can we ordinary citizens believe that this time, since the rich have been hit, it is likely that the Government will lend the ear that was hitherto deaf to the masses' cries? Let's hope so - CII, FICCI, and corporates have a huge responsibility and can easily make use of this opportunity to revolutionise political thought - something that middle class citizens and NGO's can only hope for.

It is easy to get emotional, and rant on the ills that have befallen our social and political space, and one needs some effort to moderate one's thought. Here are some of them.
1. Using the services of ex-servicemen for the purpose of bringing about societal change.
Being one myself, I know for a fact that there are several others, who pursue new careers post service-life. Every six months or so, there are considerable numbers of men from the ranks who (try to) join civilian stream. The more enterprising end up in civilian establishments in suitable roles, more often than not in the security departments. This lot can easily form a formidable group of already-trained manpower, with basic skills and sometimes specialised skills.
In the absence of compulsory military training at pre-college or college level, I feel that ex-service persons will continue to be of immense help to society's larger interests if there is a system to absorb them as soon as they complete their tenure. Two immediate roles for these personnel are possible
- Lateral entry into local police forces, at equivalent cadre level.
- As organizers and trainers for community-level civil defence groups.

2. Restraining and regulating the media
With the events of the past week, topped by the Navy Chief's valid questions on current practices in Indian electronic media, the moderate voice feels an immediate need for media restraint for the public good, and ultimate purpose of bringing about societal change. With too many channels crowding air space, "there are many inexperienced reporters and producers in the TV-news business."
This juvenile media gave themselves a free hand. It is gut-wrenching to realise that the very means which can mean a lot for positive change in society, is misusing that power for low and selfish ends.
For starters, we could restrict news channels to a few hours a day - what they have to say can be maturely conveyed in the space of a few hours, rather than day-and-night-long hyperbole. In these days, it was extremely comfortable to watch sedate DD, and its 'rukaavat ke liye khed hai' brings on nostalgia.

3. Exercising your right to vote as a duty to your nation
Corporates and other employers can assume the responsibility to inculcate the value of the franchise in employees and other citizens. The Tata Tea company's TV ad message that espouses the citizen to vote (visit www.jaagore.com), reaches but a small portion of the electorate. The majority of upper middle class and elite are indifferent to this Right, and there are address-less millions who cannot exercise this right.

An American staying in India can cast his or her vote and have the satisfaction that the vote is precious, and it counts. [I am an Indian citizen who has served in the defence and other government service, but neither my spouse nor I have never had the chance to vote. We have always been away from home for the past 20 years, during which time several elections have gone by, we have saluted umpteen defence ministers, and always placed country before self. (I do not think any of the serving brethren have ever cast their vote. Postal ballot continues to be on paper. Let us hope EC carries out its promise for the next general elections). Repeated requests at the local municipality office (at native place) have yielded no results. Perhaps our country can also have a system by which all eligible voters declare their political affiliations when they attain voting age, and then each favoured party can do the running around to get their voters registered].

It is time to popularize the Right to Vote as a national duty to select the right candidate, among all classes of society. Awareness campaigns in the media, employers' impartial campaigns within the organization, and NGO's targeted campaigns to educate their respective flocks, and panchayat level campaigns among the local franchisees, can bring about discernible change in larger numbers of the public.

4. Bringing about long-pending legislation
We all hope and pray that in the ensuing session of Parliament, anti-terror laws will be debated, and necessary Acts passed to provide teeth to the action groups.

Let us also hope that political thought has the courage to focus on the matter of placing these long overdue legislations as integral parts of the Constitution.
1. The Uniform Civil Code, lest the moderates in the majority be alienated. [Article 44, under the Directive Principles of State Policy, says - The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.]
2. The Right to Recall. I am a citizen who believes that MPs and MLAs are accountable.
3. The Bill to bar criminals, and candidates with doubtful antecedents, from contesting elections. An earlier chance slipped us by, despite Dr APJ Abdul Kalam's requests for reconsideration.
(No harm in daring to hope for even this: 4. Right to equal protection for all citizens: can politicians be made as vulnerable as every citizen?)

5. Setting a common minimum programme
A possible common minimum programme for any party that comes to power can perhaps be seen as a level playing field for political parties, in the assumption that they started off with the right intentions. There are some basic national necessities which have been neglected for decades. If the Executive has a mandate to complete certain tasks every year on the following agenda points, irrespective of which party or personality is in the boss's seat, can't we hope to see inclusive growth and development?

- sanitation
- public health
- basic housing
- environmental rejuvenation
- healthy agricultural growth

Going a step further, it may even be possible to channelise thought such that we actually have a two-party scenario - the UPA+ & NDA+ (or equivalents thereof), with their respective regional units intact. (See also A two-party system is possible)

Some measures are possible in the short term - others in medium to long term, but none are unrealistic, one feels. Neither are they too idealistic.
We live and think in hope.

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