Work for the India you want to see, because it is you who makes the government

In most democracies around the world, citizens have forgotten that there was once a time when their governments did not exist. At such times, other citizens – much like themselves – banded together to create governments in their own imagination. They debated what their countries should look like, framed Constitutions and laws, and put together various kinds of Republics in which we live now.

‘Creating’ government is taught in our history books like a one-time event, but in fact it is something that needs constant renewal. Of course it is not sensible to re-imagine everything every year, and some things are more permanent than others. Nonetheless, it is important to remind ourselves, again and again, that government is a creation of the citizens. These days, in most countries, we go on as though citizens are a creation of the government !!

Why is this important? Because if we understood and internalised this, we would constantly ask the question – “how would we like our government to be, if we had the chance to re-imagine it?” And indeed we do have that chance. The Constitution and the laws of most countries provide avenues for constant revision, even significant amendments to the original guiding principles. Except that in most cases, we are content with tinkering at the edges of change, rather than looking at things afresh.

One of the things we need to dramatically re-imagine in India is the different spheres of influence of the local, state and national governments, and also of the relative distribution of power between citizens and the state. Modern India was created on the assumption of a powerful state, and inevitably the ‘sarkari’ world has come to dominate Indian life. But in the last two decades in particular, there has been a great challenge to this anchor – from capitalists, socialists and liberals alike. No one, it seems, likes the status quo.

The BJP national government, continuing regionalism, IAC, etc. must be seen against this backdrop. We are engaged on a great debate. What will the new India be? Who will be her anchors? And how will the institutions of state be re-shaped in the future? A lot of what NaMo says – dumping old laws and needless regulations, repositioning India in the world, a more strident focus on cultural nationalism – these things are part of the reimagination of the country. And there will be more.

As in any country, there will be those who like these, and others who don’t. There will be some things one likes, and other things that one dislikes. But whatever our respective views about how the country is changing, the most important thing that each one of us can do is participate in this re-imagination of the country. Like any course-altering debate, this is not one you can win without participation. Doers will win.

I would like to see a shift in power towards local governments. I would like to see a much stronger set of checks and balances against the abuse of power. And I would like to see a narrative of India that celebrates the most diverse nation on the planet, while at the same time projecting a united strength on the economic front to the rest of the world. I would like to see an India in which women are equal to men.

This transformation is possible. In some ways, it seems likely that different aspects of what we are going through now – the anti corruption struggle, the culture debates, the collapse and inevitable reimagination of education, a new global positioning – will all lead to something like the kind of India that many more people will like and be proud of.

In this, it is important to recognise that while we may want a set of outcomes for India, only a subset of these is favoured by political parties, in most cases. Strengthening local governments does not appear to be on the radar of the BJP or Congress. The national interest is often not in the vision of regional politicians. And liberty, gender equality and diversity are marginal thoughts in our political discourse, with little more than lip service from self-proclaimed adherents of these.

We live in times of great potential change, and of opportunity to do much better than we have in the past. Whether any of this happens as we would like it to, depends entirely on how much we work for the India we would like to see.

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About Ashwin Mahesh 96 Articles
Ashwin Mahesh has been involved in public policy for Bengaluru through his work with the Karnataka government. The views expressed here are his own. He is a member of the Lok Satta party. He is also CEO of Mapunity Information Services, and a director at Oorvani Media, publisher of Citizen Matters and India Together. He is also a visiting faculty with the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore.