Candidates converse with voters

While political parties in Bangalore are campaigning for votes, Vote Bengaluru, an initiative by a constellation of city-based NGOs, organised "a dialogue with political parties" on 1 May 2008. Political party candidates were called in to sign a charter put forth by citizens demanding specific responsibilities and accessibility from politicians.

B L Shankar, INC

B L Shankar, from Indian National Congress at the mike while other candidates look on.

The legislative elections of the state are knocking on the door and all parties are getting ready for D-day. At a time when all parties are usually perceived as out to grab votes, this programme for once brought all the party candidates on one stage where they were not campaigning but talking to the citizens on topics raised by citizens themselves.

The charter, evolved by CAF (Citizens Action Forum) spells out the Citizens’ rights and expectations on how citizens would want their elected representatives to behave towards them after they elect him/her. Most of the demands pertained to proper accessibility and accountability.

Charter highlights

The main points included the right to meet with elected representatives as and when needed, and to communicate with them and expect a response within specific timeframes. Elected officials should setup a formal system to consult the public on all legislation, budgets, projects, programs that the government proposes, the citizens asked.

Other demands: Elected officials should also agree to complete transparency and public and continuously updated disclosure of assets. They should assist citizens in obtaining public information,and should not resort to or support protest marches or dharnas. One interested point was the undertaking to "set up my website for proactively providing such information, so that there would be no need to seek common/general information".

Full text of the Citizen Charter here. See also list of issues that elected representatives should take up and resolve.

The programme was held in the RV College auditorium, Jayanagar and was attended by more than 200 people. The younger generation and the middle-aged population were conspicuously absent, with attendance mostly from senior citizens.

Key engagement

The highlight of the programme was when the candidates were asked to sign the citizens’ charter. While most of the candidates signed the charter, the Congress representative, M V Rajashekaran seemed reluctant. He was not ready to sign on behalf of his party and did not agree with the points related to transparency and non-interference with the functioning of a government official. He said that politicians alone should not be blamed and the system cannot be cleaned by just signing of these charters. So the organisers asked him to present a modified charter, get it signed by all Congress representatives and then publish it in the press.

The organisers later explained that they will take it that Congress does not agree with two specific points but was agreeable to the others.

However, the BJP representative Ramchandre Gowda agreed to all the points of the charter while signing and raised the issue of people not coming up to vote. He pointed out that the right candidate is seldom selected because most people do not vote

The independent candidates like Vivek Menon, Ravi Reddy, R N S Gowda signed the charter wholeheartedly. The Lok Paritran party did not agree with the point on continuous asset declaration but agreed to all others. JD(S) candidates were not present in the programme.

Criticizing politicians in a blunt speech, former Lokayukta and Chief justice M N Venkatachaliah called them "the bottom in the league to manage the responsibilities." He also mentioned that while on one side the country is booming in science and technology, democracy is the last thing we think about. He insisted on the point that we need a cleanliness of political system. Most of the political leaders are double faced. While Mr Venkatachaliah was firing all cylinders on politicians the candidates who were seated on the stage were sheepishly smiling.

The programme later moved on to discussing issues and problems. One of the main problems discussed was complete transparency in the governance and accountability. While most of the politicians were just nodding their heads, the public was making a lot of noise about various issues. Many raised questions on Sakrama and wanted the government to remove such schemes. People wanted politicians to reach out to citizens, listen and solve their issues. The issues though got diplomatic answers from the politicians.

G Govardhanan, a citizen present in the audience actively asked the politicians on stage a number of questions but seemed skeptical about the working of this move. "I agree that this is for the first time that citizens are able to question the politicians directly but what the effect will be after the elections is very dicey," he said. A lot of others shared the same opinion.

Citizens’ Action Forum
Tel: 080- 26791436
admin @ citizensactionforum.org

The organisers though seemed enthusiastic and promised of following up with the charter even after the elections. "There will a follow-up after six months and the candidate who is working accordingly will be answerable," said N S Mukunda, head of CAF and also one of the key organisers from Vote Bengaluru

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