50 years ago, a ‘Summer of Love’ in the United States brought together the anti-Vietnam war movement, a desire to create a counter-culture and a generation longing to rid itself of the perceived stifling mores of the earlier generation. The “flower children” of the 1960s didn’t just listen to the Beatles and distribute flowers. They were the rebels of the day and they had their own “Beku” and “Beda” philosophy which today most serious observers of the time regard as naive, directionless but well-intentioned. So we had the “We want World Peace”, “We want disarmament”, “We want Lyndon Johnson to quit” and a whole lot of other stuff that went along with it.
It appears that Bengaluru is witnessing a “flower children redux” moment in 2017. How else can one explain the desire to simplify public policy into simple #beku and #beda hashtags quite disconnected from nuance. Public policy for those who can’t or don’t want to spend the time and effort to master policy. Just tweet a hashtag and hey — you’re in business!
So we have what started out as a well-meaning movement to get citizens together to decide what they wanted in the city and what they didn’t. I came to the event, both to support the concept, to participate, and to discuss issues with other serious motivated citizens. But that wasn’t exactly what I ended up getting.
An entertainment mela with post-it notes to stick around saying “footpaths #beku” or “clean air #beku” is great theatre and certainly provided a very colourful atmosphere for the day. There was music, there was a convivial discussion between friends and the energy levels were positive. If there was any serious discussion on policy or any debate on the pros and cons of any aspect of any matter, it must have happened on another planet because nothing of the sort transpired on the day.
Busloads of school kids were brought in to add their hundreds of post-it notes. These ranged from “School bags #beda” to “Examinations #beda” and a few other post-it notes that adults were encouraging them to write and turn in. There were speakers who took their turn at the mike — one of them milking the old “outsider versus Mannina Maga” tired argument for whatever it was worth to desultory applause. You get the picture of what was happening.
Suddenly, a one page summary is presented and civic society is being asked to endorse a ridiculously simplistic, unworkable and in some cases, vague and reckless set of #beku and #beda hashtags some of which are unexceptionable, some of which are debatable, some of which are plain unworkable, and some of which are downright dangerous.
This is our Public Policy 101 on Steroids. Reducing public policy down to the lowest common denominator with catchy hashtags embodies the twitter moment of today. It won’t build you a road, get the city safer for ourselves or our children or do squat for anything that matters in Bengaluru. But hey, we got onto Twitter — we’ve done our part as citizens — let’s go back to doing what we do best — blame the Government and bask in some self-righteous glow that we have done our civic duty.
So no one wants to ask the question “How wide?” after “#widefootpathbeku. No one wants to ask the implications of “No Skywalks except on Ring Roads” conferring a special status on those attempting to cross a Ring Road. You get run over on Sarjapur Road nearby, it’s all your fault — you didn’t cross on a ring road, remember ! “Pedestrian Crossing with a sign saying Walk” – didn’t stop the guy who mowed down all those crossing near Esteem Mall a few months ago, right ? Last I checked the Airport Road ain’t a Ring Road — so what do we suggest ? We ask more people to play with their lives so that we can keep playing with our hashtags ?
“Salaries for Contract Pourakarmikas ?” — Sure. Yes Surree. Let’s park inconvenient questions of how much, who pays and how this is funded. “Tanker Mafia Beda” — sure. We don’t want any Mafias. Why not the Sand Mafia ? Or the Liquor Mafia ? But hey, it’s not sexy. Tanker Mafia Beda !! — it’s the cause of the moment.
And along the way, throw in a few special agendas also — bring in the “Flyovers#beda” as well . Demand the scrapping of MLALADS (why not for MPs ? – no one seems to know or care). Questions #beda. Quick fix hashtags #beku.
Scope of anything concrete emerging from this twitter mania ? #Nil. Bring out the flowers and let’s turn on “Hey Jude” — this really looks like a Sad Song that needs to get better — in a hurry.
Note: The opinions expressed are author’s own.