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Jamal Mecklai: As the year turns...

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 27, 2012 19:00 hrs

…it is clear that India’s governance revolution is well under way.

The loudest evidence of this is the doggedness with which the government has been pushing the Aadhaar programme. While there is, no doubt, some politics in the timing of cash transfers using Aadhaar, the fact remains that this is a far-reaching initiative that, over time, will take our governance up several notches.

Additionally, the reams of hysterical newsprint and electronic babble over the past 18 months or so have brought corruption front and centre of the Indian consciousness so loudly that there is no turning back. Corruption is generally somewhat contained when GDP per capita gets to around $5,000 by which time people have sufficient personal comfort and the luxury of time to start demanding better governance. We are at $1,600 per capita, still a long way from that number, but the judiciary, the media and assorted anti-corruption crusaders have been shaking the bushes so vigorously that a long list of no-surprise suspects stands exposed — remarkably, the process of change has already started.

Of course, it will not be an easy road, as so many of our government institutions have been largely corroded away by years of corruption. The good news is that just as the Anna Hazares and Arvind Kejriwals are highlighting the problems, there are dozens of organisations such as Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Parliamentary Research Service (PRS) and Praja that are – and have been for years – working away to strengthen the fabric of our political institutions.

ADR was one of the groups responsible for getting candidates to disclose their assets as well as their police records. Their next steps involve getting elected representatives to explain the increase in their assets if they are running for election again, and, critically, getting political parties’ accounts properly audited, correlating real expenditure estimates with expenditure reported by the parties. This will need a systematic process to ensure coverage of at least 80 per cent of real expenditure. Perhaps, consultancy firms like McKinsey, Bain, ATK, etc could, as part of their corporate social responsibility, develop these modules for ADR. C’mon Adil, Amit and gang.

PRS has been providing objective technical information on Bills placed before Parliament to elected representatives and, recently and with great success, placing young people as interns with MPs and MLAs. No country can ever get its act together until politics becomes a viable career option for young people, particularly those with privilege and education. PRS’ work, which has, surprisingly, seen huge interest from elected representatives and overwhelming demand from young people, is pushing in just this direction.

Praja has been monitoring and scoring the performance of elected representatives in Mumbai for several years now. Their report cards – which have generated considerable interest and, in some cases, terror amongst politicians – are supported by high-quality RTI-based research on healthcare, education, and law and order. Going forward, Praja is working to leverage its outputs (particularly the report cards) to make a measurable impact in municipal and state elections.

All these organisations – and doubtless dozens (perhaps, hundreds) more – are steadily transforming the undercarriage of our political framework from the tattered fabric it has become to something a little more respectable. They need your support. So, too, foundations backed by high-integrity corporate India need to support work like this that is focused on building a stronger and more accountable politics in this country.

Better than all this is the fact that if there are a hundred Prajas; there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of plain people working away to improve your lives and mine. I attended – for the first time in my foolish life – the Sanctuary awards function. The main man of Sanctuary is, of course, Bittu Sahgal, renowned environmentalist, but much more — someone once sent me a mail asking me to list the 10 Indians I admired most and, without a thought, Bittu’s name was the first on the list. He is great not just because of what he does, but because of how he has retained an open heart in the face of continuous torment from vested interests in the world he is changing.

But the real story – the even better news, as I said – was the award winners: 25 or so individuals (or small groups), each of whom was working away quietly to save, protect, improve the environment. Hearing the stories of these “peace warriors”, as Bittu called them, toiling away every day often in the face of hardship and oftentimes threat, brought tears to my eyes.

With this sort of force already deployed and gaining both experience and numbers by the minute, the governance revolution can only accelerate.

And, finally, the best news ... the party season is here. Happy New Year!

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