Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

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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Blogger Happy Kitten said...

That was too good..

The right to recall, i believe is the best one. This would make the the elected representative to deliver the promises that he gave to his people.

but this still leaves out the NRI's.. since even we would like to be a part in this process.

03 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

Happy Kitten, thanks.
Good point - NRI's can probably influence family, friends back home? Meaningful, and purposeful debate will mean a lot.

03 December, 2008  
Blogger Happy Kitten said...

and Swarna.. what stops from letting us vote?

03 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

Happy Kitten
...Nothing should! A citizen over 18 shd be in the electoral rolls, and (s)he should vote, for the 'right' candidate or else exercise Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961
Not sure I answered your query? :)

03 December, 2008  
Blogger Indrani said...

Excellent, Swarna!

03 December, 2008  
Blogger Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi Swarna :)

Kudos to your excellent post with a lot of research , deep thought, amazing insight and impartiality.

If only some of your points can be implemented our country will be a wonderful place on earth.

Ministers should be made accountable for their performance and a system should be established for assessing their work at periodic intervals. If they don’t measure up to expectations, they should be sacked unceremoniously. No excuses should be accepted.

Recently I was walking on MG Road in Kochi. Suddenly the traffic cops brought to a standstill traffic on both sides of the road near Ravipuram junction. Soon two police jeeps came blaring their sirens. I thought they were chasing a terrorist. A huge expensive car followed and another police jeep followed. All these vehicles suddenly stopped near a building. My curiosity was aroused. I went close to find out. There were another four more police jeeps parked and at least 25 cops were there. When I enquired, I was told that the home minister was attending an inaugural function of his relative’s shop.

You can see an irresponsible minister inconveniencing the public, wasting his time, misusing police force and squandering public money. He is not accountable. This kind of misuse of power can happen in all others states. The general public watch all this stupefied as mute spectators. No one protests.

The top brass of the police force encourage their subordinate officers to do this kind of things to please the ministers and get into their good books.

Is it possible to find a remedy for all this? I am at a total loss.

My congratulations to you for educating and mobilising the blogging world for a better India.

Have a good day :)

04 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

That's an illustrative incident. The whole system needs an overhaul - top down and bottom upwards, all of us Indians need to recognize and see things in the right perspective.
Thanks for sharing.

04 December, 2008  

That is a brilliant post , full of necessary and practical advice. I hope someone in the right place sits up and takes note of it, and acts on the excellent points you have so painstakingly recorded.

04 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

Raji, I hope so too.

05 December, 2008  
Blogger I am said...

Excellent post Swarna,
I myself have been thinking how to get people outside India vote. India is a country with so many of its citizen living outside and each one us want our votes to count.

I was wondering if an ONLINE Election Option can be created.

This would be secure, fast and ensure that every Indian votes irrespective of where they are in India or abroad. Suggested this to Ashutosh as well.

2. WAS the EX-Army and Defense personnel in training civilians. I was having a discussion on similar lines with a friend who signed up for red cross disaster management program after the Mumbai attacks. If I understood correctly, I think you have been in defense and hence will be the right person to give this idea a proper shape.

If you wouldn't mind I will ask him to get in touch with you

06 December, 2008  
Blogger I am said...

sorry, forgot to say that I agree with most of your TO DO that you have come with.

But w.r.t Media, it IS because of Media 24 7 presence I think people got so angry and agitated to see the reality and not just given the superficial information.

Yes, Media can be more responsible BUT that depends on their group leaders and a commendable team.

06 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

Tanu - Thanks
Right now I am in a frame of mind where I feel that the present dispensation may listen to industry / corporate voices.
1. The current position vis-a-vis NRI citizens and voting is summed up here - from NRIs/PIOs and India – Mutual Expectations
"We thank Govt. of India for initiating the legislation to grant voting rights for Indian citizens living outside India in the Assembly and Parliamentary elections, provided they are in the constituency at the time of elections. This will make NRIs feel full participants for India’s developmental activities. GOPIO had passed resolution on this at its convention in Zurich in 2000 and has been campaigning on this issue since then. We would like to see a step further that the Indian parliament adopt a constitutional amendment to have up to 5 Lok Sabha seat to provide representation 10 million Indian citizens living outside India. With advances in information technology, it is not at all difficult to physically conduct such an election among NRIs/PIOs who still have Indian passports. Personally, after 34 years of my living outside India, I still hold an Indian Passport and my wish before I die is that I should have an opportunity to vote in Indian election. It is also just and is in India’s interest to engage those citizens of India to take an active role in its development. With increasing trend in migration, the NRI/PIO population outside India is likely to increase in future. In this borderless society, let India show to the world that Indian citizens, wherever they are, are full participants in Indian democracy and in India’s development."

Let us hope for a system where NRI's with Indian passports can visit the local embassy to cast thier vote in EVM's. Online voting - let's be optimistic about that as well! :)

2. Sure - this gives me an opportunity to familiarise myself with efforts of others.

3. As to media - let's put it this way - we don't need an 'electronic mob'.*
(*Harish Khare writes here -
"If a framework of unhindered leadership can be put in place, there will still be a problem: how to prevent decision-making from being stampeded by the electronic mob? The country paid a huge price in 1999 when the government of the day lost its nerve and gave in to media-induced hysteria over the Kandhar hijacking. The anti-politician nerve was touched to coerce the Vajpayee government into swapping major terrorists for hostages; the same mood is being created today to goad the country into an unfocussed confrontation with Pakistan. The same ambience of ‘public anger’ after the December 13 attack on Parliament House pushed the Vajpayee government into an ‘aar –paar’ (do or die) game with Islamabad. The itch for ‘doing something’ against Pakistan must be avoided.")

06 December, 2008  
Blogger kallu said...

Bravo, Swarna! Lots of good thinking there. To start with using ex-servicemen as a back-up unit in times like these and for training and organizing ordinary citizens would be good.
Sad that committed citizens like you can't vote. Rather, haven't been able to because our electoral system hasn't caught up with the idea of voting by post. Strange when we have electronic machines. Hopefully it happens soon.
Good post.

06 December, 2008  
Blogger Happy Kitten said...

So many ideas and we only need them to be implemented to make things right...

now that the corporates are also shaken, I m sure they will push from their side too...

As for online voting for NRI's, it is high time it is implemented. If USA can do it, why not India when we are supposed to be advanced in Information Technology.


06 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

Kallu, Thanks
Happy Kitten, I could cry at the irony of it. I served in Indian defence within India, yet have never seen my name in the rolls. Once in 1998 the locality did the digital photography exercise for the purpose of issuing voter I-cards, then we were told the 'data was lost'...

07 December, 2008  
Anonymous Apnitally said...

Two party system may be difficult to implement but not impossible.
the right to recall is the need of hour to keep the politicians working.

12 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

you are so right.

12 December, 2008  
Blogger Kat said...

Brilliant post and well thought out ideas.

Wish atleast NCC training is made compulsory to everyone, if not military training.

Yes, this epsiode at Mumbai has been targetted at the elite (railway station too..!!) and it would make everyone responsible to exercise their brains.

I read the touching article you wrote in Gardenia's... about the young men and women in armed services. How true and this country needs to respect their great contribution.

13 December, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

NCC for all students is a good idea.
And the comment in Gardenia's - it was an email forward - which came at the right time.

15 December, 2008  

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