He is not even a corporator. But many of his ideas have been implemented successfully by various government and civic bodies, to make life better for most. He came up with the idea of big-10 buses, and the BMTC implemented it. As an advisor to the Bangalore traffic police, he came up with a smart traffic management system. Today Bangalore traffic can see the entire Bangalore traffic by sitting at one place. He experimented with empowering of local businesses in various wards of Bommanahalli, by mapping them, and distributing it via digital and print media. Now he has decided to plunge into electoral politics, by contesting as a candidate for Lok Satta party from Bommanahalli constituency.
He has an MS and doctorate in astronomy. However he found that his heart was searching solutions for public problems. He got involved in various tasks that made life simple for the people around him. His wife works at Just Books, where she edits their literary magazine. He has two daughters, both studying in primary school.
In an email interview to Citizen Matters, Ashwin has revealed his vision on governance, citizen participation, long-term solutions to various problems and more. Here are the excerpts:
Why did you enter politics? What’s the motive?
I think what you mean is, ‘why did I enter ELECTORAL politics?’ In a democracy, the ideal situation is that all of us should be involved with the work of developing society, the economy and the country. And a lot of this is inherently political. Many of us would like to solve public problems and we do things with our friends, neighbours and others to solve them. The electoral arena also leads to a similar situation. Whoever is elected has to work on public problems, with many others. I’m interested in electoral politics because it offers the opportunity to do things in large scale, and involve many more people in solving public problems.
Do you have any figures in politics /life whom you want to treat as model?
Not particularly. More than individuals, I look at processes and systems, to see what might work today, and in the Indian context. The world is changing, and to keep pace we must adapt and adopt the practices that are working well elsewhere. I am interested in city governance systems, participation in public decision-making, technology, and media. In many parts of the world there are ongoing efforts in these fields which we can learn from.
What is your ambition? (Where you see yourself in 5 years)
At any time in my life, I would like to be doing the things that interest me, and which have the potential to solve public problems. Beyond that, I haven’t thought of this.
What is your budget for the campaign? What are the sources of your funding?
There’s no fixed budget per se. There are many things we’d like to do, to reach voters with the campaign message, and we try to raise funds for that. The election rules also specify how much one can raise and spend, so the budget can’t be more than that, in any case. The only source of funding so far is supporting contributions, by cheque or online, from those who would like to see my campaign succeed.
What are the problems faced by your constituency?
Like any other urban constituency, there is a deficit of physical infrastructure – roads, drains, water connections, sewerage – all need to be strengthened. But there are also larger deficits – housing, employment and skill development, education, healthcare – and these also have to be tackled. The first set can be tackled purely with a local lens, but to tackle the second set we need to strengthen public institutions and processes across the state. There is a lot of migration in the outer urban areas, which adds to the complexity of what is needed to be done.
Three reasons why should the people of your constituency vote for you.
I’m interested in solving public problems, working with others. I think pretty much everyone in the constituency wants problems to be solved, so this has to be the single biggest reason to support me. I am confident that by my work so far i’ve shown that I can solve some problems, so if I’m elected I could work on ever more, and even larger problems in the future. Two, I’m interested in people’s personal empowerment. I don’t think the State should do everything itself; instead it should help people get ahead with their own lives as much as possible. Third, I am interested in building the capacity of public institutions – unless our government departments can keep pace with the changes going on around us, we will struggle to achieve development goals.
If elected, will you support commercial or residential development in areas where there is neither BWSSB water supply or bore well permissions?
There is a risk in asking such questions. If one is willing to let development happen anywhere, one is also obliged to say where the resources for that development will come from. On the other hand, if we oppose that, we should have a plan for where such development should take place instead. We need to get all the utility we can out of existing water supply systems, and also keep pushing conservation initiatives.
What plan do you have to provide sustainable water supply for your city if elected?
We have to stop the encroachment of the lakes, revive them, and ensure much higher levels of rain water harvesting in homes and in natural systems. We should also look at some of the larger lakes as sources of local water supply, and I’ve been doing this with the Upper Ambalipura lake. We can also re-use a lot of grey water in large housing societies and in big employment clusters. Tariffs need rationalising too – there is no point in making BWSSB bankrupt and then scrambling to fix water supply. Lifeline water should be free to the poor, but beyond this there has to be cost-recovery pricing.
What do you think should be done to increase citizen participation in governance?
The simplest thing that can be done right away is to put more and more government data in the public domain. When people know what is going on in the different departments, they can participate much better. We can also do the budgets better – by asking people what they would like to see funded, and working on those projects.
What are your views on – 1) long term garbage management system for the city. 2) long term plan for sustainable land use.
Segregation and recycling are the keys. We must set targets for reducing the stuff being sent to landfills, and keep measuring how we are doing. We must make producers responsible for the packaging and other materials they produce. We must strengthen small businesses involved in recycling operations.
Land use – unless we maintain the separation of lands for social and economic purposes everything else will fail. The practice of ‘change of land use’ has harmed a lot of social things. If we want affordable schools, hospitals, etc., we must ensure that these facilities can get land at cheaper rates than commercial activities. If every activity has to compete with commercial use of land also, then we will end up driving up the cost of social services, and make it impossible for many people to buy their own homes.
What’s your reaction regarding the latest facebook controversies some of the candidates of your party got into? What would be the ideological stand of Loksatta on such matters?
What we should all be alert to is public policy and how these positions are shaped or articulated. The rest, especially private views, are not that important. Loksatta’s interest is in promoting personal liberty and clean governance, and I’m sure our public actions will always reflect that.⊕
Disclosure: Ashwin Mahesh is a director at Oorvani Media, publisher of Citizen Matters and India Together.