Sunday, December 21, 2008

Are we really M.A.D ?

Yes, we ARE mad about what 'they' did to our city - and when I say 'they' I'm not referring to the Terrorists - I'm referring to those who allowed this to happen to us.

Still couldn't figure it out? Well, its us !!!

Yeah, right! WE allowed this to happen to us! (To know why I say, this read my earlier post).

Well, now that you (and I) are really MAD - are we really M.A.D - as in Making A Difference ??

Everyday, I receive at least 4-5 emails on how the NGOs are 'getting together' to 'make a difference'. Cool - everyone wants to do something about it and the only thing that seems to be happening is more emails, more meetings amongst fellow-activists (God, I HATE that word - I'd rather be called an alert citizen) and more public meetings being called for and more letters being written to the Administration.

It's almost becoming 'trendy' to be associated with some NGO Group, or the other. It seems like people have even lost faith in the existing NGOs (!) and so are creating new ones - with a combo of pretty much the same guys (say what?)

It's bad enough that the Administration has enough of problems to deal with - and everyday they get 'hit' by a few dozen well-drafted (for the Media) legalese letters asking them for explanations.

Chill guys - let these guys DO their work!! Isn't THIS what we are p!ssed about in the first place? Just think .. if we have each NGO/Activist (aargh!) write to the same 10 Admin guys - how many letters do you think these guys are going to reply to??

Everyday a new PIL seems to be filed, putting additional burden on the already burdened High Courts.

Everyday there is a new public meeting being called for (and the Police are expected to provide security).

Leave the guys alone ... STOP these letters .. STOP these meetings ... (I know I'm going to be VERY unpopular for suggesting all this!)

In the aftermath of 26/11, we seem to mixing up a great many issues here and we will end up confused and defocused.

Terrorism, Internal Security, Good Governance, Poor Administration, Corruption, Politician-Business nexus, etc. are being rolled into one big smelting pot. No wonder that we are angry and want to do 'something fast'...

I've said this before and I'm saying this again ... there is NO instant-coffee solution to this!

It's a long uphill task and needs constant, concerted and consistent efforts over an extended period of time. This is a Marathon .. not a 100m dash. Treat it with respect.

If we are really MAD about what happened, let's use RTI for small things..
~Why is the road not repaired sensibly? Who was the contract awarded to?
~Why is there no complaint book in the booking office of the railway station?
~How many times are the Fire Brigade actually supposed to inspect buildings?
~How many times was a builder penalized for sub-standard material?

Ok .. these are just a few random (and maybe, poor) examples.

Forget the big questions about political-nexus and corruption - ask questions about things that affect YOU - your roads, your surroundings, your railway platform. If each one of the Gateway team sends out 1 RTI application to any one department just once in a month - you will have 12 lakh questions being asked - and asked about specific things - things that affect YOU.

YOU will feel EMPOWERED (Man, I love that word!)

Sure, you may not get all your answers - but someone somewhere in the Administration has started becoming alert - that he/she may be called upon to justify his/her actions - and that in itself will be enough to set the ball rolling for fixing things (I owe this theory to Shailesh Gandhi).

Let's all start taking our voting rights seriously and ensure Voter Registration. The only way we CAN make a difference, is by getting sensible people elected in the chair and taking our democracy seriously.

Let's all volunteer to start a campaign of getting all the eligible people around us to register to vote. Let's facilitate this - circulate forms - post them on various Facebook/Yahoo/Google/Blog sites. Let us start with our own buildings and society complexes - to ensure that everyone around is registered. And when its time to vote, lets arrange for cars to get these guys to reach the polling booth. Let's make it like a party!

Next time when elections are announced, let's give our electorate a choice of deserving candidates. Let's find the right people and make arrangements for funds for them to cover their costs of campaigning. Let's get detailed data on other candidates, compile that and circulate that across their constituency. (Using RTI for this may also work). Let everyone really KNOW these guys, who are standing for elections.

Whoever is elected, let's ensure that they know WE can make a difference and have them thrown out for non-performance. We need to coordinate efforts and set up a 'elected-representative watch' (much like a neighbourhood watch?) and let these guys know that BIG BROTHER is really watching them closely.

Now .. all of this requires time - which not everyone has - but if we were to coordinate our activities sensibly, we can ensure that we have a platform in place - a support structure - so that even those who can commit one hour a week, can DO so .. and feel EMPOWERED and participate in this 'movement' for restoration of 'normalcy' in our lives and restoration of 'faith' in our own strength.

There are enough number of NGOs and Associations and Groups who are doing good work. Let's NOT keep creating more (this may dilute our efforts). Let us find a way of EMPOWERING each individual to Make A Difference.

The issue is not just about Terrorism and Good Governance - it is about participation in the democratic process (for which our fore-fathers fought and died) and about individual EMPOWERMENT.

Think about it!

Let's make a REAL difference...

Well ... and that's how I feel ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

New beginnings - why wait??

The fires have been doused - at the Taj, the Oberoi and Nariman House .. and unfortunately, also at a few homes of those who lost their lives. The city seems to be back to its daily grind. The Police, Fire Brigade and ATS are taking a (temporary?) breather. Walking down the streets, it may appear that the city has (limped?) back to normalcy.

The non-stop media coverage is gone, the 'burning' issues have been raised and chewed by all senior journos, the politico-bashing has had its pound of flesh, bloggers have had their share too (present company included!), the masses have lit their candles and vent their spleens, 49-O of the 'Constitution' has been highlighted, facebook/yahoo/orkut have had new Groups sprung up in great fervour, media has started their own awareness 'groups', prayer meetings have been held...

But ... (as the Ad goes) ... 'Next is What'??

Why do I still get the feeling that we haven't even BEGUN to THINK (leave alone ACT) in the right direction?

While people have compiled a list of questions on the holes in the explanations given by the authorities - so many that it would put Swiss Cheese to shame - I feel that going forward, our approach needs to be different ... very, very different.

Tell me .. truly ... What good did the Gateway march really do? Okay, so now I'm going to be VERY unpopular for saying this! But, I request your indulgence for some time before you click on the 'x' to close this window.

Here's what I feel ...
1. We need to get down to EDUCATING the common masses.
2. We need to VOTE in someone, or vote OUT someone.
3. We need to use the RTI to keep the bureaucrats in check.

And here are my reasons for feeling like this.

1. No matter what we say, we (the 'educated' class) still comprise only a minority in India. The literacy rate hovers around 35%. I've even forgotten what is the official definition of 'literate' - which is probably far removed from being 'educated'.

We need to get people to understand that politicians (well, most of them) are nothing but servile, self-serving, opportunists. And this will continue till we do not have people (read: voting public) who do not bring in the right people (leaders?) to run the administration.

We will continuously be held ransom to the types of the goonda-raj, or the dynastic-raj or just Raj (sorry, couldn't help taking a dig at him here).

We will always be 'ruled' - what a sic word - by people who really put their own, and their groups', interests above good governance. And all of us 'good' people - will continue to stay away from politics, since it is such a 'dirty manipulating game'.

2. We MUST Vote - whether literate (educated?) or not - vote, we MUST. No matter that 100,000 people turned up at the Gateway - even if ALL of them go to vote - they would STILL not be able to vote IN (or vote OUT) a candidate of their choice. It is going to take much more than this. The Gateway march and the human-chain link (inspired by the Hands-Across-America of 1986) is just symbolic of public sentiment.

Such gestures at best provide a cathartic outlet for people - and gives them a sense of belonging and also of 'being-in-control' of the situation. God .. very therapeutic, in such troubled times. But to actually expect CHANGE to happen by just this much? ... sorry to burst your bubble - but it's going to take a lot more!

And we must vote for SOMEONE. I hear a lot going around on the 49-O (negative vote issue). And just for the record it is not 'Section 49-O of the Constitution' as is being made out in many blogs. It is "Rule 49 (O) of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961". This allows a legitimate registered voter to register his intention of NOT voting for any of the candidates appearing in the list. In fact, but having to 'register' your name itself is a violation of the 'secret ballot'.

There is NO legislation (or Court ruling) which states that a large (or majority) number of NO-votes would displace the winning candidate. We will not get better governance by continuously THROWING out the bad guys - we will get good governance by BRINGING IN the good guys. Think about it...

3. Having 'educated' the masses and ensuring that we vote in (or out) the right (or wrong) politicians, we must ensure that we keep the bureaucrats in check. RTI is a good tool, if used effectively and wisely, to ensure that none of these guys 'get away' with their wrong doings and their lethargy.

The common man does have this strong weapon to actually rein in the rot. Ok I admit that its implementation has not been as it should be and there are Info Commissioners who are reluctant to penalise the bureaucrats (since most of them belong to the same brotherhood!) But its there - available and we can start making those changes - one baby step at a time.

I'm not naive to know that the above is easier said than done - but we need to start thinking on these lines (IMHO) and change WILL happen.

How long do we keep playing into the hands of sectarian groups and keep blaming religious groups and 'foreign hands' for the mess we are in? What's happening in Orissa, in Bihar, in Assam and in Chandrapur - has got next to nothing to do with a 'foreign hand'. We must stop blaming Pakistan or any other country for our own failings to curtail inland disharmony, violence and criminal activity.

How many more times do we subject peaceful and pious muslims to also wear black bands on Eid to 'prove' their Indianness? How many more times do North Indians have to 'prove' that they are from Mumbai and 'feel' for Maharashtra?

What's next .. the Catholics and Christmas? ... when there were the series of blasts in Mumbai in 1993 - I don't remember any call for the Hindus to wear Black bands during the subsequent Holi?

Let us stop this nonsensical, misdirected effort and get down to doing the things we really need to do! I'm angry .. and upset ... and hurt ... yet, what am 'I' doing about it, besides ranting on my blog, and that too, in my SPARE time??

I have often asked myself, "Would I leave everything and join politics?" ... tough call ... and I have always been guilty of answering "NO!"

Because the system is such that it makes you CHOSE!

Why does one have to make a choice to enter politics?
Why can't he/she do it alongside whatever other responsibilities he/she has?
When will this system change?

In developed countries, ordinary working class citizens can also participate actively in the Political process - and become Senators (without being made to CHOSE between their vocations and politics). Sure, Obama can't dream of doing anything else once he's elected.. but the rest of the Senators can!

When we are able to do this we WILL have a new breed of people in politics. This is what will give rise to a new breed of thinking - which will have the wherewithal to CHANGE the system, to make it more 'people-friendly' - after all, we all DO want a better place to live in, for us and our children.

So while we must douse the external fires, we must keep the inner ones burning brightly, and use it to kindle awakening - and awakening that will empower us to build the foundation blocks for the next 100 years.

Why do we need to wait for a symbolic date or year - let the New Year begin TODAY and let us make a NEW YEAR's RESOLUTION right now!

Well ... and that's how I feel ...

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Our weapon is stronger, but ...

The past few days have seen a backlash against the authorities - their failings, their shortcomings, their opportunistic methods, their limitations, their greed ....

We seldom realize that all of this is OUR fault!!

One of the strongest weapons we have - is our VOTE - and we sadly use that the least! It is rightly said, 'We get the Government we deserve!" Again, sad .. but true.

When election time comes around - how many of us really go and vote? Those who do - get the rulers they want - who in turn protect the interests of the voters who voted them in. In turn, the rulers extract their proverbial 'pound of flesh.' It's really that simple - ironic .. but true.

A living example is what happened in the BMC (MCGM) election in the Juhu constituency (in Mumbai city). Adolf D'Souza was elected as an Independent - no political affiliations, no caste affiliations, no family links, no mafia links (!) - nothing, but sheer hardwork and dedication to his credit. Just imagine if that were to happen across the city - do you think that we would have such apathy towards the common man? I don't think so!

Another issue is the Z-category of security being provided to these elected representatives. Z or Y ... I say WHY??

When the average Senator in the US moves around with NO gunman - why does the Indian Minister (or political head-honcho) need these gunmen? .... and why does the Government (meaning.. you and me) pay for this?

These guys walk around with heavy security and never feel the lack of security felt by the common man on the street!

I say we remove all categories of security for all Ministers, etc. (barring just the President and the PM, if at all) and deploy those resources into protecting the common man. I believe we WILL see the difference!

Somehow, if this is done, these guys WILL find the wherewithal to tighten security across the country, terrorist incidents WILL come down, we WILL suddenly discover the much needed political will to do what is necessary.

Or so I believe .. and it can all start with our VOTE.

It's high time we take OURSELVES seriously - and first fulfill OUR responsibility, before pointing a finger at those opportunists.

Let's get our act together - let's ensure we all have ourselves registered to Vote - just as eagerly as we sign up for a Group on Facebook or Hi5 - and I believe we WILL see the change beginning to happen...

Our weapon IS stronger than theirs .. if only we would use it collectively...

Well ... and that's how I feel ...