The recent 16th Lok Sabha elections mark a turning point for two reasons, and none of these have to do with the remarkable majority that the NDA got. The first is that the decline of the Congress party has now become obvious and plain to see. Under the umbrella of the UPA and in power for ten years, it wasn’t very apparent to the world how much mass appeal the grand old party had lost. But the elections threw the closet open, and out came the worst-kept secret of Indian politics. Rahul Gandhi has demonstrated multiple times that he’s a man with good intentions as long as they don’t hurt his and his sister’s families interests. Given that the Congress party’s identity has become the Gandhi family, we’re looking at a pretty sorry future for the party with such strong connections to India’s history.
The second was the surge in interest and involvement of us the common people of India in the politics and the electoral process. This was amply demonstrated by the record voter turnout percentages. The street protest movements, the Aam Aadmi Party that was born from them, and their subsequent victory in the Delhi assembly elections were precursors to this huge turnout. This may be the start of a new era in India’s politics and governance, one in which elected representatives find it hard to take the voters for granted.
I see hope that the average person’s voice may finally begin to matter in India. I see hope that we may finally begin to create a governance system that responds to the citizen’s needs. With the comfortable majority that the NDA government has at the Centre, one of the best changes it could bring about in our country is taking existing government institutions and departments, and making the citizen the centre around which they function.
What are some of the things that this government can do?
– First up, transparency. And I’m not just talking about the processes through which government contracts are allocated. Of course, that is big deal. But apart from those, a common citizen needs information like the processes to say obtain a driving license; what are the documents needed; can they be submitted online; what is the fee; what is the expected turnaround time; what’s the status of an application at any given point in time. I picked up the driving license as an example, but this relates to anything that the citizen needs to interface with the government for. Currently, the processes are opaque and people are driven from desk to desk, to eventually middlemen who take their cut and get stuff done. Use the internet and make these things available online so that anyone can access and get what they need. This will restore respect to the common citizen, and re-instill the faith people have lost in government.
– Second, decentralization of governance. Make the lowest levels of government more powerful, if not the most powerful. Let citizens decide on what’s more important to them: a better road, or a better school, or better streetlighting, etc. Once people start participating in these issues in their neighbourhoods, this will also give rise to a sense of community, something which is increasingly getting lost in our cities. Community and a shared sense of existence are essential to reducing crime and improving the quality of life.
– Farm sector revival. A large part of the food inflation that we’re reeling under for the last few years can be attributed to supply-side issues. Food inflation hits the poor the hardest, since there’s very little wiggle-room for most households in this area. The last improvement in agricultural productivity happened in the Green Revolution, way back in the 60s. Reduction of wastage in storage and transportation, improving farm yields, and removing middlemen from farm-to-market must be taken up on priority.
Our current Prime Minister comes from a very humble background. I see hope that he will continue to keep his ears to the ground, and pay attention to faint voices that will reach him, of the labourer sweating in the sun at the construction site, or the farmer working his fields, or the family living in crowded quarters at the edge of a city struggling to make ends meet. As well as the software engineer working in a multinational in the city, the business-owner looking at the next deal to expand his business and create more jobs, the social worker working tirelessly for a cause, and the students in India’s bustling educational institutions, dreaming of a good life ahead. For we all are the smorgasbord that comprise this rich and diverse country of ours. It’s not an easy task for any PM, but I see hope this time.
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