Is Bengaluru an apathetic city?

End of the year, and all that, plus the festive season, and perhaps for a change we can look at something positive, instead of the quotidian litany of cribbing-complaining-and-reading-about-corruption – Which reminds me, there were rallies earlier this week, to mark an initiative to say "enough" to the growing menace  of corruption. Attendance and participation was modest, in a city of 60 lakhs, in a state that was described by the Congress chief  a few days ago, as one of the most corrupt.

The Lokayukta has been addressing a series of public meetings on the subject, and at one that took place at Seshadripuram Law College a fortnight ago, the hall was full to overflowing, with students jostling each other to put questions to Justice Santosh Hegde. That was heartening.  At another meeting, however, on the same topic, at the Institute of Agricultural Technology on Queens Road on  December 8, there were mostly elderly people, mostly men,  with half the hall empty, and hardly any questions or discussions.

Does this say something about the city and its residents? I pondered over this, and came up with the following deductions –

One: We do have a generation of youngsters who still retain some idealism and enthusiasm, in spite of the pervasive belief that this GenX is only interested in partying and riding fast bikes and gathering at fast food joints and in general exhibiting a brash cynicism laced with a complete lack of social commitment.

Two: When it comes to attending public meetings even on subjects as vitally important as pervasive and increasing corruption that touches everyone  – from having to pay a bribe of a few thousand rupees euphemistically known as donation, even to get one’s college marks card at the end of the semester, to having to shell out money in terms of crores to get one’s tender chosen over other contenders for lucrative public works contracts; it is only the elderly, the community of retired men with nothing to keep them occupied, who turn up for meetings – I say "men" deliberately, because I see very few women in the audience at such meetings. Perhaps because women never ‘retire’, their housework stretches over their entire lifetime ? And yet, it is women who are supposed to be socially concerned and committed.

The age group falling in between the two sets, one made up of young college students, and the other consisting of retired elders  – those in the 30-55 range – do not show up, and cite "lack of time" or being "busy" as an excuse. This age group of working adults is just as much affected by corruption and demands for bribes, as the youngsters and elders, but they don’t seem to think they need to make the effort to show solidarity with groups that need public support in their campaigns to fight corruption. One hundred people turning up for a meeting is one thing, two thousand is another – the message that numbers send, to those against whom accusations of corruption are being raised. And two thousand in a city of so many millions is not an unreasonable expectation by any yardstick.

Three: What is more, I find that even the hundred or so in the audience, is made up of the same individuals who make up a small cluster of dedicated and committed activists. The numbers of stray participants who come out of either curiosity or genuine interest to make the time once in a way, even if they cannot attend regularly are almost negligible.

Bengaluru that used to be once upon a time Bangalore, also known as Garden City or Pensioners Paradise and IT Capital, has over the last decade and a half metamorphosed into many avatars – and one of them is apathetic city.

We don’t care.  Whether it is to ask why Minister Shobha Karandlaje declares, as she did according to news reports of December 14-15, that the power situation is now "comfortable" and that there will not be any load shedding, scheduled or otherwise, when the electricity keeps going off, daily, even on the days of the week following her public assurance. Or to ask why promises are routinely made by politicians, only to be just as routinely broken (whether it is ensuring that all potholes on our roads will be filled up "by next Thursday" – they weren’t, and aren’t – or "looking into allegations of malpractices in various departments" (I stopped cutting out these news reports from the daily paper, because it was becoming a huge pile of clippings that only made my blood pressure go up when I went through the items periodically, to pick a topic to write on).

There is a saying that we get the rulers we deserve. That’s only more so, in a democracy where governance is "by the people, of the people". Except for the hundred odd activists who put  in time and effort to mobilise public opinion and support, what are the rest of us doing, in terms of participating in a government  that is supposed to be by the people?

Answers, anyone? Answers other than, "Enu aagolla, bidi"?

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About Sakuntala Narasimhan 73 Articles
Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Jayanagar based writer, musician and consumer activist.