यह एक ऐसा स्थान हैं, जहाँ पर हम राजनीति और नेताओं पर एक खास नज़रिये से बातचीत करते हैं, जो हमारी भिन्न स्तरों के नेताओं के साथ आमने सामने हुई चर्चाओं और उनके साथ किए गए शैक्षणिक और ज्ञानवर्धक कार्यक्रमों के अनुभवों पर आधरित होगा । हम आशा करते हैं, कि यह ब्लॉग हमारे प्रजातंत्र के अनछुए और प्रेरणादायक पहलुओ पर प्रकाश डालेगा और संभवत हम सभी को हमारी डेमोक्रेसी को जीवंत रखने के लिए व्यक्तिगत स्तर पर प्रयास करने के लिए रास्ता दिखायेगा ।

Monday, 16 June 2008

A clean Neta, literally!

Any politician has to just spend a few hours cleaning up a public place in my constituency to get my vote. Even if he/she does it only once in five years, but does a thorough job of it (not just for the photo op), I am willing to vote for him. The elections are round the corner in Delhi, I do hope some candidates will take notice :-)



Some of the new age political advisors tell me that this is one of the best ways to warm the hearts of voters. The act of cleaning up is extremely symbolic of all things good that we wish to see in our public leaders – humility, dignity of labour, a desire to clean up the system of corruption and an expression of concern and care.


I have a penchant for cleaning up public places, while working with an MP a couple of years back I used to clean up public parks in slums, open nallahs and water bodies in not so clean and green part of Delhi. Once I even got some 1000 young people (part of a Gandhian National Camp) to take a long stretch of open nallah to clean up. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi provided the tools.


So when I came across this story of a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) cleaning up garbage and not just once, he had been doing it for years, I just had to share this with all of you....


Here goes the story-




PUDUCHERRY: N Anand, fondly called "Bussy" Anand, is a busy man. A first-time MLA, he was elected from the Bussy assembly constituency in the Union territory in 2006 and hence the prefix. And when the 44-year-old legislator of Puducherry Munnetra Congress is not pushing for schemes, meeting voters or discussing local politics over a cuppa, he's clearing garbage, cleaning clogged drains and spraying mosquito repellent across the town. And he does this with his own money, spending Rs 75,000 to Rs 85,000 every month from his earnings. Anand's dual role began nine years ago when, disappointed with the government's slack conservancy work, he started a garbage collection unit of his own. Since then, he has been going to the 'field' himself, assisting a small team in spraying mosquito repellent, clearing blocks in drains and undertaking door-to-door collection of garbage from all households in his constituency. When his nine-year-old unit launched an intensive cleaning campaign last week, the MLA was spotted going around in a spotless white shirt and pants with a mosquito repellent kit on his back, covering the thoroughfares of Puducherry. And he doesn't do it for publicity: for long, he was neither given a party post nor a ticket while he was in Congress.



But Anand plodded on with garbage-clearing, not letting the mess in the Congress stop him from cleaning the city. "The government is not effectively undertaking garbage clearance work," he says, as he expertly sprays repellent on an open sewage drain. Anand's unit, which started with a single tricycle and two men in 1999, has 14 members today, equipped with four tricycles and gadgets "to carry out our mission". So much so that residents refuse to hand over garbage to the government conservancy staff and wait for Anand's unit every morning. The members visit all households daily, barring Sundays, from 6am to 12 noon, and from 4pm to 6pm and collect segregated garbage. "People appreciated my work and rewarded me by electing me in 2006. I am grateful to them, but my garbage collection campaign will continue forever," said the first-time MLA.

(From Times of India)

Thursday, 12 June 2008

My Conversations with Political leaders- A Dalit medical doctor turned politician

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In this sub series, I plan to write mostly about my conversations with politicians across the country, these would be supplemented by my observations while seeing politicians and politics in action.
Unless I am writing about an inspiring leader, I am not going to name either them or their constituencies but would put forward their backgrounds and roles to make the narrative meaningful. I would largely refrain from making generalisations.
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A Dalit medical doctor turned politician – Dr. Sidarth Yashwant Dhende
Represents one of the oldest slums in Pune
Election Manifesto
Dr Dhende grew up in the same slum fighting for basic services. He continues to run his medical practice in the same area. Nagpur chawl is the oldest chawl in the Pune city, it was supposed to have been regularised after a visit of Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma (Ex president of India).
In his political campaign during his elections Dr. Dhende promised not only what he would but also what he would not do. He said he would not go to police chowki to bail out somebody who has been caught by police and he will not help anyone in getting a government job.

Key Focus Areas
Water, Meter (electricity connection) and Gutter (sewerage connection)
He recently conducted a Ward Sabha (as prescribed in the 74th Amendment to the constitution- which enables decentralisation of power in urban areas) to pass a resolution on increasing the floor space index in lower income group housing. Incidentally ward sabhas are very rarely used as a tool in urban governance in India.
Floor Space Index (FSI) is the ratio of the total floor area of buildings on a certain location to the size of the land of that location, or the limit imposed on such a ratio. A higher ground coverage and higher FSI improve viability of affordable housing for poor in urban areas, where land prices are sky rocketing.

A typical day
He begins his day at 8 AM with a round of his ward; he has set up an office in his ward which functions from 8 AM to 10 PM. Then he sits in his office to meet people and listen to their grievances. Most of the grievances that people come to him for are related to the functioning of the municipal corporation. Most of these are about schemes related to water, public transport (increasing the frequency of buses), housing, and slum rehabilitation authority.
Then he sits in his clinic which is in the same area till 1 PM seeing mostly poor patients. The second half his day mostly goes in meeting government officials. He is a member of City Empowerment Committee of the Municipal Corporation.

Long Term Concerns- Room for poor in a growing city
One of his first questions is what has growing IT industry contributed to the poor of the city? The growing purchasing power has meant rise in prices of essential commodities as well as land and housing stock. The skilled employment seems to have gone mostly to the outsiders and not the city dwellers. The growing number of vehicles has meant that higher pressure on the roads of the city and regular traffic congestion.
Support System
He is deeply influenced by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and regularly participates in their conventions. His own party is very small but he is able to take support from other seniors. The corporation organised an initial training in Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA), which he found quite useful.

He thinks that a regular capacity building system should be in place to help politicians clearly understand their roles, government machinery and emerging issues.

His Biggest roadblocks
The biggest problems that he faces in his work are 1) All pervasive corruption 2) slow government machinery and 3) extremely competitive politics

If you wish to write to Dr. Dhende, pl send in your comments either here or at info@democracyconnect.org and we will pass them on to him.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Let’s run for the office of citizen of India!

Let’s run for the office of citizen of India!

Democracy Connect is a journey which began with a few youngsters wanting to explore why lack of political will is considered the biggest roadblock to the achievement of several of our “widely shared” developmental objectives... more importantly can something be done about it and most importantly finding and playing our role to the fullest in that “ something”.

After all there is no reason that a nation of our stature should continue to remain complacent with still widely prevalent poverty, disempowerment and lack of opportunity. Or to put it more bluntly there can be no acceptable reason for putting up with a chalta hai attitude in this regard. Almost 50% of our children don’t get the nutrition they should get to achieve even their physical potential and if we care to measure our poverty statistics correctly we will find almost 75% of Indians having less than 1$ a day income.

Fortunately or unfortunately it is not the lack of resources that is stopping us from altering this situation, to illustrate on an average government spends a Rs 1800 crore a day, to achieve a complete sanitation coverage we need about 140 million toilets, these can be built with just 2o days of government expenditure and similarly to construct 1.6 million classrooms would only require 9 days government expenditure. The recurring expenditure of schools can be met with just 5 days of government expenditure (based on an assessment by Lok Satta, a new age political party). Even if we only take the figure of Gross Budgetary Support of Rs 243386 crores in the Budget 2008-09, we will still be able to achieve these objectives with a few months’ government expenditure.

Much progress has been achieved but much more needs to be done. It may sound clichéd but there are several Indias living at the same time, the answer for some of us who have had opportunities in life to grow out of our humble beginnings is not to feel guilty and offer palliative grants to some harmless charities but to explore what can possibly be done to address this in a fundamental and systemic way.

That fundamental way, we believe is constructively engaging with the political process (not party politics). It is an empowering belief and an empowering journey!

There is much cynicism about politics and politicians, which is mostly not unfounded. The lure of Political Power does not always attract people who wish to use it responsibly for public good. There are structural problems in our polity which possibly allow entry of higher number of people with no intention to serve anybody other than their own selves.

And yet we wish to undertake this journey along side our political leaders and not leaders from business, bureaucracy or the not profit space. Some of our greatest civil society organisations from every sphere of life will show us the way, but we believe that in a democracy an uplifting vision to liberate our country and her people from the chains of poverty can only come from our political society.

We are a non-profit that works with members of the Indian Parliament and other national / sub-national political players across the political spectrum to provide knowledge and capacity building support to help them play their constitutionally mandated role more effectively.
We wish to facilitate the creation of 1) informed frameworks and 2) Enabling environment for those in democratic governance, especially around their agenda setting, knowledge building and Rule Making roles and processes.

Democracy Connect is a growing family of people from all walks of life, who wish to contribute to preserving our democracy and contributing to its effectiveness in addressing our deep challenges in governance.

We are running for the office of citizen of India and we believe that we can influence some of this political power to be used for eradicating poverty and glaring inequity that exist in our society.

“Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever did” - Margaret Meade

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

India Shining:Its Children are not!

I have had the opputunity to study closely the prevalance of Child Malnourishment in India.India is home to 400 million children out of which 47% of the children are malnourished.A very number for a country which runs the most complex and extensive Child care programme(ICDS) in the world.

To me what was most surprising was the fact that child malnutrition does not happen only due to saricty of food.There many other varied factors at play here.One important and often overlooked factor is the co-relation between DOMESTIC VIOLENCE and MALNUTRITION.In India it is a common pracice to withhold food to women as a part of torture.This continued practice renders a person weak.This abuse gets magnified when she becomes pregnant.A weak mother gives bith to a weak and malnourished infant.

Another pertinant fcator is that child care practices in India especially with regard to nutrition is shrouded in superstition.Often women are not aware of nutritous food to be given to growing infants and children.This creates a situation where the nutritional needs of children are not met.

These two factors result in a vicious circle , where intergenrational malnutrition as a pattern is established.

There is hope at the end of the tunnel though.Like minded politicians cutting across party lines as well as eminent personalities from various field have joined hand to create an alliance.The alliance has been initiated recently and its main aim is to create awareness about malnutition in the masses and to minimise child malnutrition.

A committee is also being established under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister , this committee will directly look into the causes of Child Malnutrition and work on it in a "focussed and effective manner".

Hopefully, this move will ensure results.

POLITICAL REPORTING: OUT OF FOCUS

A regular reading of the newspaper(s) is filled with gruesome stories about murders and thefts, cricket, and Bollywood, not to forget- the unruly politicians who are portrayed as “murderers of democracy”. The Parliament usually convenes thrice a year with this year’s Budget session commencing on February 25 to March 20 with a recess till April 14, before resuming on April 15 and finally adjourning sine die on May 5, 2008. Yet, there is little other than disruptions that get reported. But for a few stray incidents, the Budget Session 2008 saw surprisingly fewer disruptions but the major national dailies have chosen to focus on the "action"! One newspaper which reported more than about disruptions, covered the participation by young MPs but chose to focus on the dynastic and celebrity types.

Many of the more recent articles stressed on the worn-out line of how the Parliament did not function for the stipulated number of days and highlighted the fact that this session saw the least number of working days when compared to the Budget sessions of the past three years. However, there have been several interesting and insightful discussions that have taken place this session. One such has been that on Rural Development which saw 40 MPs participating enthusiastically and 10 more submitted written versions of their speeches. The debate covered specifics on allocations to various states, the progress of various rural development projects and monitoring the implementation of these schemes. Some went further as to stress the involvement of NGOs to ensure that financial and social audit of the schemes is performed satisfactorily. A majority of the MPs stressed the pitfalls of the definition of BPL which has resulted in excluding many deserving people from the benefits of rural development schemes. More importantly, many MPs mentioned that there needs to be better coordination between all schemes of rural development. This is but one of the several interesting debates that took place in the Budget session 2008 and it is an indicator that parliamentarians are not necessarily ignorant or unwilling to participate in parliamentary discussions.

So much has been written about how politicians are disruptive and unruly and how they are “working overtime to kill democracy” but have we, as citizens, tried to understand how the system works and under what compulsions our elected representatives work? The environment within which parliamentarians operate is politically and emotionally charged, causing them to tread in murky waters. It is difficult to make objective assessments and MPs end up taking rhetorical or standard party positions, and relying on anecdotal narrations or random experiences. They are invariably caught up in the immediate implications of an event and are sometimes unable to look at larger issues in development. There is lack of a forum or facility which brings knowledge from diverse development actors and customizes it to make it useful, relevant, and contextual to support MPs. The internal policy and research bodies of the major political parties remain largely dysfunctional and there is no space for debate and discussion on party policies or the stands adopted. Voters pass verdicts once in five years and there is no mechanism at the hands of the electorate to provide systematic feedback/guidance to legislators and influence policy-making in the interim. Clearly, if such a dynamic feedback loop can be created between the electorate and the legislators, it would enable the latter to be a more powerful representative of the vox populi in Parliament and would positively impact parliamentary proceedings.

Given the current environment, it does not help that the media continues to harp on the obvious. The continuous cynicism reflects a sense of defeat, of accepting the status quo, of relegating democracy to the likes of anarchy. What has prevented us citizens from wanting and pursuing a functional democracy? There are organisations that work with citizens to improve participation in democracy by urging them to be more informed and to vote. Equally, there are individuals and organisations (albeit a minority) that engage with parliamentarians to improve their participation in the parliaments and improve the quality of legislative debate. One can engage with and empower parliamentarians by providing knowledge and information in a manner that is simple to understand and yet usable, objective and situated within his requirements and comprehension. I am not claiming that our parliamentarians are not at fault and that misgiving about their performance is invalid but they are, after all, our elected representatives and it is our duty, just as it is theirs, to ensure they perform in accordance with their constitutional roles.

डेमोक्रेसी कनेक्ट का ब्लॉग- यह क्या है?

यह एक ऐसा स्थान हैं, जहाँ पर हम राजनीति और नेताओं पर एक खास नज़रिये से बातचीत करते हैं, जो हमारी भिन्न स्तरों के नेताओं के साथ आमने सामने हुई चर्चाओं और उनके साथ किए गए शैक्षणिक और ज्ञानवर्धक कार्यक्रमों के अनुभवों पर आधरित होगा ।

हम आशा करते हैं, कि यह ब्लॉग हमारे प्रजातंत्र के अनछुए और प्रेरणादायक पहलुओ पर प्रकाश डालेगा और संभवत हम सभी को हमारी डेमोक्रेसी को जीवंत रखने के लिए व्यक्तिगत स्तर पर प्रयास करने के लिए रास्ता दिखायेगा ।