Friday, October 23, 2009

How to change the statusquo?

Another election over in Maharashtra. People voted to power a government which cared little about the farmers dying in the cotton belt of Vidarbha, most of its representatives were in their Malabar Hill bungalows the night Mumbaikars battled the unprecedented cloudburst of July 2005, who did little before and after the July 11 2006 serial train blasts, and the Nov 26 terror attacks.
When the farmer suicides peaked in Vidarbha,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to the region guided by senior journalist P Sainath, who had been consistently writing about the issue when much of the English media wasn't. Singh announced a Rs 3750 crore package, but didn't give in to the primary demands of the cotton farmers - a complete loan waiver, better minimum support price for cotton. From Aug 2006, the suicides increased to over a 100 per month.
The demand for a complete loan waiver was rejected by the government. Nothing happened on the increasing the MSP for cotton - assured price by the government for cotton price. 2007 passed. With Lok Sabha elections due in May 2009, the government got into action, and inked the Rs 70,000 crore loan waiver in March 2008 budget. The package was implemented from July 2008. I am not denying that the waiver helped farmers, but the timing of the waiver showed that it was aimed more at getting the UPA voted back to power. In May 2009, UPA formed the government on its own.
Much has been written about the state government's role in the other three emergencies the city and its people faced. As the Oct assembly elections began nearing, the Maharashtra government got into an overdrive. It partially released the findings of the Ram Pradhan Committee probe report into Nov 26 terror attacks. It doled out sops worth Rs 20,000 crores in a series of cabinet meetings. It showcased the Bandra-Worli Sea Link Project and touted it as its achievements. That it was in the making for years and it cost almost four times of Rs 400 crore originally allocated didn't matter.
In 2003, the government promised it would set up new power projects and by 2009, it would make Maharashtra loadshedding free. In 2009 manifesto, it makes the same promise but extends the date to 2012! Large rural hinterlands get power switch offs upto 12 hours. Children there have to study during the day or in candle light at night. Even Thane on the outskirts of Mumbai has four hours of loadshedding. The autos, which run in CNG, have to queue up for upto three to four hours to fill up the gas because the petrol pumps can't function due to loadshedding.
People are just fed up of voting. A close friend's father, who has been a regular voter, and a loyal Shiv Sena voter, skipped voting this time. He was unhappy with the whole process of electoral politics which, he feels, is an eyewash. He said politicians are just bothered about the power and wealth the profession brings, and has no connection whatsoever with their primary role as people's representatives who should work for the people. Quoting Greek philosopher Polybius who wrote that monarchy turns into tyranny soon, and democracy grows into a mob rule.
I found another example of a young 22 year old voter who, equally disenchanted with the sham, atually went to the booth to cast a protest vote. But, the poll officer in charge himself did not know the "protest vote" process, and drove him away.
What is the way out of this? If you are not voting, then can you really complain that the system does not change? What is the use of such complaining? And if we all don't speak and actually give this proces the time and energy it demands from us, then how will change happen? A government that did not perform well gets voted in for a third term is really disturbing.
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