Memes often tell it like it is. When I stumbled upon one of many during Tamil Nadu’s recent political potboiler, as I hopped from one tv studio debate to another, I couldn’t help exclaiming ‘Bingo’. It read: “We fought for Maadu. What about Nadu?” The reference was to the peaceful and successful struggle for jallikattu but the near silence from those torchbearers of ‘Tamil pride’ during the change of guard in the State. Barring those compulsive facebook posts and tweets, the odd midnight rap and a handful of voices of film stars, some cryptic, where were the slogans? Where was the crowd? Where was the resolve? Was it fear? Presumably PETA was hardly a formidable opponent. Was it indifference? Cynicism? The ‘nothing will change anyway’ mindset? Was the cause – clean governance not glamorous enough? Or just a case of selective outrage?
Although the letter of the Constitution does not empower ‘we the people’ to micro manage our legislators, the collective will or conscience that they were expected to reflect, became a mockery. Survival trumped will. And the rest is political history. Or chicanery. You can take care of Non Performing Assets in banks. However, in the political arena, the absence of the Right To Recall, makes our voice quite the Five Year Plan! We were helpless now. We were not helpless 10 months ago.
Just what is our voting record? While Tamil Nadu notched up its highest turnout last year since 1951 with 74.26%, Chennai was among the lowest with 60.5%. How strange for a city that bore the brunt of political apathy during the 2015 floods and displayed admirable volunteering to fill the vaccum. Some prominent stars who preached about our duty to vote, did not show up at the polling booth.
Now, this is not a local phenomenon. The Mumbai Civic polls were held recently. Maximum City that is home to the most vocal celebrities who raise their voices over potholes, flyovers, traffic and crime, was able to register a shameful 52% polling. In other words, almost every other person chose not to get inked. Here too, the brand ambassadors of the Election Commission were missing in action. After Rule 49 (o) ushered in a button on the Electronic Voting Machine to exercise the ‘None Of The Above (NOTA) option, the excuse of ‘disenchantment with the system’ that these celebs parrot in fake accents, went out of the window. When questioned on national tv, a well known socialite tried to divert attention by tweeting about an obese cop on duty. It turned out that the policeman was suffering from a medical condition and his waistline had nothing to do with the insinuated gluttony. The cliche that ‘we get the government we deserve’ rings so true.
A sweeper needs to have some basic qualification and skill. So does a driver. A peon. A watchman. But lawmakers? Nothing? I’m not insisting on degrees as knowledge need not come only with formal education. But Honesty? Accountability? Competence? Conscience? And what about criminal antecedents? How can we possibly expect ordinary citizens to make politicians listen to their inner voice? When tickets to contest are auctioned to the highest bidder, and election expenditure is several times higher than the prescribed ceiling, wouldn’t the goal from day one inevitably become ‘return on investment’ rather than ‘fancy’ things like duty and conscience? When there is no State Funding of elections, wouldn’t the next goal probably be to squirrel away enough vitamin M for the next poll? When the State is not merely involved but also dependent on retailing liquor to its own people, how can we expect priorities like public health and safety and education and nutrition? If ‘deals’ and caste calculations hold sway over governance, how can we expect infrastructure and investment and jobs?
The jallikattu clamour was for an ordinance and that ‘express’ law for a seasonal tradition. Will the success tasted there spur a similar peaceful initiative for good governance 24×7? That cannot be an overnight antidote. Some solutions may even call for amendments to the constitution, without, of course, tampering with its basic structure. For that to happen, ‘what’s on your mind’ must not be restricted to a facebook status message but due diligence at election time. How many of us know the names of our MLAs and MPs? Here’s an out of the ballot box idea. Why should election campaigns be only about ‘one way street’ poll promises? Why can’t Residents’ Welfare Associations conduct interviews with candidates in the fray and display marks obtained based on certain parameters like honesty, track record and service bent of mind? It’s time the loudspeaker and manifesto are replaced by report cards for aspiring thalaivars and thalaivis. If borrowers can have a CIBIL score to avail loans from banks, why can’t those aspiring for public office also have Report Cards? Let’s make the Oath of Office meaningful and not just a photo-op.