Politicians and people’s manifesto

Tags: Op-ed
Politicians and people’s manifesto
SAD STATE: Poverty is still a big issue in our nation because we have neglected our villages, and this neglect of the poor and the attempt to hide poverty in creative ways is going to be rampant
The 2014 general elections are on. Parties big and small are promising the sky and everything in between. Some promises repeated ad nauseam in every general election and never fulfilled, like the Congress’s “Garibi Hatao” and the BJP’s “Ram Mandir” remain mere slogans without the power of conviction, and without any sincere intention. The political class doesn’t care about what India really wants, and what Indians — a majority of them — really desire.

There have been 21 general elections so far, this year’s will be the 22nd. They claim to be elections to empower the common man, but this has not happened so far. The lacunae in our electoral processes have been exposed, but no effort has been made to correct them. Criminals easily become lawmakers because of caste, muscle and money power, but our democracy has not been able to insulate itself against them, and there is no desire to do so either.

The process of making ours a democracy for the people has been subverted and no effort has been made by anyone to begin the process of empowering the poor and strengthening the weak. Electoral reforms as well as reforms in governance to make it efficient, transparent and honest is not on any political agenda. It took 21 elections to make the symbolic NOTA option available, but it does not influence the result. Voters must have the power to recall elected representatives.

Indians must, in the ensuing elections, reject all politicians with criminal records, and all criminals masquerading as politicians. If voters repeatedly reject ‘criminal politicians,’ political parties will be forced to rethink their electoral strategies. Political parties must also promise and implement electoral reforms and legislations to stop the criminalisation of politics and insulate our democratic institutions from criminals. Criminals belong in prisons, not in legislatures. Even wives and children of criminals must be debarred so that criminals don’t have a proxy presence.

Poverty is still a big issue in our nation. It remains so because we have neglected our villages, and with the new breed of economists, who believe the only way to eradicate poverty is by massive urbanisation, the neglect of the poor and the attempt to hide poverty in creative ways is going to be rampant. Schemes like National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (NREGA) and direct to home cash subsidies have not eradicated poverty, but only perpetuate it and make the poor lazy.

There must be a holistic scheme to alleviate poverty, both rural and urban, which empowers and encourages entrepreneurial initiatives and incubates them. Cooperative agriculture must be encouraged to turn nonviable holdings viable and replace inefficient agricultural practices with sustainable modern innovations.

A realistic, sustainable and holistic agricultural policy, which not only improves agricultural practices, but makes them more efficient and profitable, and is district-unique and implemented at the village level, must be put in place. The farmer must be allowed to sell to the markets where they get maximum profitability. All restrictions and curbs on marketing of agricultural and horticultural produce must be removed.

Also, until the government implements a more efficient grain storage and distribution system which reduces the waste that occurs in its warehouses and medieval storage facilities, it must stop procuring grains from farmers. Unless this is done, rural poverty and the cyclic debt traps the farmers find themselves in, will take a toll of them perpetually.

Similarly, traditional crafts and artisans must be encouraged and empowered; rural entrepreneurship must be nurtured and incubated. Villages must become producers, not markets. The government must promise to be more disciplined in its fiscal practices, and a government that continues to have a deficit budget must be dismissed.

Rural education and health security must be shored up and the quality of education provided to our poor and rural populace must be increased, both in the urban and rural areas. Facilities must be increased and instead of having them according to area, they should be linked to population. One school for a particular population instead of many schools in villages, taluks and districts. Teacher training schools must be increased and all government schools’ teachers must be subjected to continuous evaluation on their knowledge quotient. Teachers must be provided with continuing skill enhancement training and subject to strict evaluation.

Besides, rural health facilities must be enhanced and radically upgraded. Traditional medicine must be incorporated into the primary health facilities. A villager should not have to travel more than five kilometres for basic healthcare; more so, it should be available in every village itself. Women must be unshackled from the tyranny of men, not by mere slogans but by policy and legislation too.

There are many more issues that political parties must address as voters demand a lot more than ‘gifts’ showered on them by politicians around election time. We have made our votes cheaply purchasable today that politicians unscrupulously exploit and perpetuate their strangle hold on our democracy. We must demand honesty and sincerity, but in return, we must be honest and unselfish ourselves too.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)


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