“Why don’t you leave the government alone? Let them do what they want. Why interfere?”
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Engaging with public sentiment on the proposed elevated corridors in Bangalore recently, some people asked such questions.
Let *them* do what *they* want?
*Leave them alone?*
This reveals an elementary misunderstanding with who we are and what India is.
The elected are supposed to execute what *we* want, not what they want.
1. How do they know what we want?
India and it’s states have established processes for input & feedback gathering from the public for planning, decision making on large projects, implementation & monitoring, ongoing participation in governance and *every law and amendment state & central.*This should be done. The public should be engaged. By law.I am not saying this. It’s in THE book. The Constitution & the laws of the land.
At various levels, at the ward level, city level and upto the national level, there are various elected & statutory bodies like the city corporation, state level planning committees, standing committees of the Houses of Parliament etc. are supposed to engage with the public.
That’s how they can know what we want. But they don’t, since they don’t follow due process many of the times.
That’s not OK. They do not get to decide in lieu. In fact, such non consultative behaviour by the government is plain law breaking.
Antithetical to a *representative democratic republic.* Why?
They elected must represent what we want and we are supreme.
2. Who is we? How do they know who to consult?
“We” are those that show up for participation & consultation when they announce it in the media – newspapers. typically.
“We” are those who organise ourselves and talk to our elected representatives about problems in our localities.
“We” are those who form associations based on shared interests (like groups for working women, people with disabilities, slum rights etc.) and stay in touch with our elected.
“We” are those who show up at planned and announced in advance, public consultations.
“We” are those who participate in or engage with ward committee members, help plan & monitor ward works.
“We” are those who send feedback to state or central email addresses when they ask for it on a topic of interest (we each don’t need to track every law or every project but the ones we care about.)
That’s who is we.
So why are we here? Due process not followed by government! Due process unknown to people!
The concept of one person, one vote was astonishingly radical in 1947: each and every Indian, regardless of religion, gender, caste, creed & language would get an equal say in electing his/her representative.
Australia got in the 60s.
Highly liberal Canada in the 60s.
US in the 60s.
India, decades ahead in 1947. Even with social oppression and repression, grave inequities, poverty & illiteracy, every single adult was enfranchised.
(Notice that the communist countries all got universal franchise decades ahead of the capitalist ones.)
So, and proudly so, we began to rally one and all to vote. So enamoured of the vote, we made it the fulcrum of our collective citizenship. Placed so much emphasis on this singular act, it became the defining marker of Indian democracy.
To vote was democracy.
Elections were democracy.
To vote was to be done with democracy for 5 years.
As if elections defined a democratic republic.
That’s like selecting your architect with a rigorous process and then giving her absolutely no requirements, guidance, feedback & input; letting her build a house if HER choice rather than YOUR choice.
Remember, Hitler was voted in democratically. It made all the difference whether the then Germans chose to engage or let him run amok.
The core of a democratic republic is citizen engagement in governance. Not just in elections, but in ongoing, daily governance. Participating, feeding back, taking ownership for public matters, our land and it’s state of affairs.
Or, we can be here. We are here.