//Only affirmative collective action can save India

Only affirmative collective action can save India

Arvind Kejriwal is a mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur. He joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1992 and set up his NGO, Parivartan, in 2000. He resigned from the Government in February 2006. Arvind's sustenance is supported by Ashoka's fellowship. An ardent activist, he was honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2007.Despite aggressive “Go out and vote” campaigns and thousands of Mumbaikars thronging Mumbai roads to express their anger at 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the voter turn-out in Mumbai actually decreased rather than going up. It is easy to blame the middle-class as lazy. But a deeper analysis would show that the people actually do not see a connection between voting and a solution to their problems. In the last sixty years, almost every political party and leader has been tried. But things have gone from bad to worse. People do not see elections bringing any change. They vote and then plead before the same people the next five years.

For example, can you as a citizen do anything if a school teacher does not turn up to teach at your local government school? If a doctor in a government hospital does not attend to patients? If a ration-shopkeeper is siphoning off ration supplies? If a policeman does not respond despite repeated complaints? If the engineer colludes with the contractor and makes a road which wears off within a few days? If a sweeper does not turn up for work and your area remains dirty and unhygienic?

All we can do is complain to higher authorities. In all likelihood, these individuals don’t care to act on our complaint. In short, we have no control over the teachers who don’t turn up to teach at government schools, or janitors who sweep the road, the ration-shopkeeper, the government-hired contractors, the politician, the policemen or the bureaucrat.

And that’s the reason why, 62 years after Independence, there is so much illiteracy, there is so much poverty. So many people die of simple diseases like TB and so many others go hungry while roads are broken and cities are filthy.

This has to change. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to give complete power to the people. He stood for swaraj. He said, “Twenty people sitting at the Centre cannot run true democracy. That should be run from the bottom by the people from each village…The centre of power today is located in Delhi, Calcutta or Bombay i.e. in big cities. I want to distribute it amongst seven lakh villages in India.”

But this is not what we got after Independence. Swaraj is about giving direct control over all local affairs to people’s assemblies – mohalla sabhas in urban areas and gram sabhas in rural areas. These sabhas would have complete control over funds, functions, functionaries and land in their area.

These assemblies would meet every month and take decisions regarding all issues in their area. Decisions taken by these assemblies would have to be implemented by elected representative and bureaucrats. People’s assemblies would have the power to recall elected representatives and penalize bureaucrats if they act against the will of the people.

The people’s assemblies would have complete control over all public funds spent in their area. The people would have power to spend public funds in such a manner that no one starves, no one is homeless, no one is illiterate and no one goes without adequate health care in that area. Why should the schemes related to our lives be made in Delhi or state capitals by some politicians and bureaucrats who have no clue about our problems? The people should have the power to plan for their own lives and surroundings.

Therefore, the people, through people’s assemblies should directly manage all affairs of their area, which can be managed at their level. Only such issues which cannot be managed at their level will go to higher levels of government.

If a majority of gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas in a state vote for a particular issue, the state government should implement it even if it requires legislative amendments. That would be true democracy -government by the people. This would be swaraj. This is self-rule. This is Lok Raj.

This is how it used to be since the Buddha’s times until 1830. The villages were run by the people assemblies. Those who invaded India merely took control of the central government. Villages continued to be governed by village assemblies. But after 1830, the British demolished this system and introduced collectorates taking away all power from the people handing it to the British bureaucrats. Unfortunately, we did not restore the powers back to the people after Independence.

Today, in many countries like the US, Switzerland, Brazil etc, people collectively take decisions on all local issues in people’s assemblies.

For urban areas, the Central Government recently sent a draft Nagar Raj Bill to all state governments, which seeks to create mohalla sabhas in urban areas, but does not give any power to them. After extensive consultations with various people and experts on this issue including Anna Hazare, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Prashant Bhushan, S C Behar etc, a redraft of this Bill has been prepared to give complete control over local affairs of an area to mohalla sabhas. For Delhi, this Bill needs to be passed by Parliament. The important points and the complete draft of this Bill are available at www.lokrajandolan.org.

Swaraj Abhiyan is a campaign by several eminent citizens, NGOs, groups etc who are encouraging people to demand swaraj from the parties in these elections. They are encouraging people to vote for that party, which will bring in necessary laws to give swaraj.

Author of this article, Arvind Kejriwal is a mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur. He joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1992 and set up his NGO, Parivartan, in 2000. He resigned from the Government in February 2006. Arvind’s sustenance is supported by Ashoka’s fellowship. An ardent activist, he was honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2007.