On Saturday May 23rd, Meta-Culture Dialogics (MCD) convened the tenth session of its popular community dialogue series, Bengaluru Speaks. Held at the Ashirvad Community Centre, the dialogue explored the topic: “Dare to be an Agent of Change? Your wish list for the new government.”
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The Bangalorean participants varied in age and profession, and there was a fairly equal ratio of men to women.
To kick-off the dialogue, the Meta-Culture facilitators asked the participants to reflect on the election campaigns and results. Many participants felt the candidates put forward party-oriented issues instead of focusing on social development. Some participants said they were unclear about what each party represented, while others admitted they did not feel involved in the election process.
The participants then spoke about the election process. Some people felt there was no interaction between the public and the candidates, and that the voter registration process was unclear. Another participant voiced great discomfort with the practice of vote buying amongst economically downtrodden populations. At the same time, one participant said he was satisfied with the speedy election process and quick results. Some people expressed surprise at the low voter turnout in Mumbai given the middle-class backlash against the government’s handling of the 26/11 attacks.
When asked if anyone was prevented from voting, one young woman spoke of her frustrating experience. In spite of registering for her voter’s ID well in advance of the elections, she was asked to return after ten days every time she went to collect it. Other participants who had changed their residence to Bangalore were not able to vote here because their eligibility was only for their previous place of residence. While some individuals admitted that they chose not to vote, majority of the participants considered the right to exercise one’s franchise (whether or not their vote is blank) vital. One participant vehemently opined that there was no excuse for voter non-participation in India.
Participants gave a mixed response to whether the new government would bring positive change. Several said they were relieved when they heard the election results, citing their beliefs that the new government would bring economic stability, good governance, and a voice for small political parties. Because of tough economic times, one participant said, stability in government is a good thing. Some participants expressed confidence that the new government would be composed of seasoned parliament members capable of handling social and political dilemmas that may arise, and that the change in ministry officials would promote a more effective cabinet. Another participant said he thought the election results proved that politics was not based on caste.
Positive opinions about the new government were balanced by strong criticism and even skepticism from some participants. . One participant emotionally insisted that no major changes would take place in India despite the Congress victory. Other listened attentively as the participant recounted what he saw as challenges too big for the new government to address with adequate effectiveness: Indian citizens as targets of terrorism, the bureaucracy of national politics, and child poverty.
Other participants then expressed their concerns about challenges India faces. Some voiced frustration at the lack of clearly defined responsibilities for state- versus national-level government.
Participants were also skeptical of the government’s ability to coordinate with local-level society in advancing peacemaking efforts and reducing cross firing at the Indian borders. One participant shared his concern about whether this new government would be able to prevent India from going to war with Pakistan.
After listening to the famous quote by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy – Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country – participants were then challenged to consider the role of government versus their own role in creating societal change. In small groups, participants brainstormed two lists: 1) a wish list for the new government, and 2) a list of ideas about how everyday citizens could contribute to achieving change.
Of the new government, participants said they expected:
- Accountability in education and security
- The elimination of corporate influence on politics
- Payment of government debt
- A limit to the number of political parties that can contest elections
- Better housing facilities for the poor
- Continuous uninterrupted water and electricity supply
- Develpoment of alternative energy sources
- Rigorous local sanitation programs
- Increased promotion of public transport
- The development of youth leadership in India
Participants then came up with ways they, as Indian citizens, could contribute to change in Bangalore. Some of their ideas included:
- Use personal skills and resources to build houses for the poor
- Form a citizens body to inform the public of existing social programmes
- Create a neighbourhood association for collective garbage collection
- Create a Citizen Watch Group and a mom’s security patrol to promote safer neighbourhoods
- Educate Bangaloreans about civic responsibility
Meta-Culture’s facilitators identified common themes based on the participants’ comments. The participants were by no means unanimous on the subjects they discussed, However, they were able to consider new ideas and opinions after listening to their fellow members responses to the facilitators’ questions. Most participants left the dialogue energized, with new insights about how to bridge the gap between their expectations of government and what they themselves can do to contribute to sustainable change in the city.