Despite being pitted against formidable rivals, AAP’s candidate from Bangalore South, child rights activist, Nina P Nayak is the picture of positivity and confidence, as she speaks to Citizen Matters on elections and life before and after her foray into politics.
How is the world of politics different from that of activism, considering your background?
Politics is quite a different ballgame. I joined at the invitation of AAP and I’m really enjoying it as this movement has percolated at all levels. After a long time, people are actually interested in being part of governance, something that was missing all this while.
All the eight constituencies of Lok Sabha in Bangalore South, already have a well-established network of volunteers that comprises of common people from every strata of life and It has been humbling for me to see this and work with them. They are all unified by the desire for a corruption-free India and of course the need to rectify the other issues to which corruption is linked – health, education, infrastructure etc. They want clean governance and they want people to benefit from clean governance through economic independence.This is why I am here – to join hands with them.
Being a child rights and welfare activist all along your life, what made you decide on contesting for Lok Sabha?
My efforts when working with the child rights commission, were focused on analysing policy issues and trying to influence the various laws and schemes related to it. I found that there was a huge lacuna between the way things were being visualised to how the schemes ultimately get implemented. The problem, according to me, is that the intent to make this happen is lacking in the people who manage governance. A large part of the budget lies unutilised and the aam aadmi does not have a say in it.
400 million of our middle class are educated, so they have access to certain minimum services and they know how to get it. 93% of the labour class have no access to Social Security and they have to work to live Above the Poverty Line. There is so much inequity in our society. I think this 400 million who form the marginalised part of society need to be empowered, and AAP has entered at the right time. If the BJP and Congress, the bipolar parties ruling the country had done their job, there would have been no reason for AAP to come in. The ideologies of AAP are really in sync with the aspirations of the common man and I felt that it was a great opportunity to be in this team and make a difference.
If not in AAP, would you have entered politics with any other party?
Never! I would not have joined BJP and Congress as they have been so corrupt, reducing India to the sorry state it is in now. They have made politics a dirty word, where nobody wants to venture in. AAP coming in and fielding candidates with credible backgrounds has been a game changer. Hopefully more Indians will feel good about joining politics and try to bring about a change. Thats exactly what I’m here to do.
What will your area of focus be? Will it be in the organised sector or the unorganised sector?
My expertise is in working with the children’s sector and with women’s issues in the unorganised sector. Crores are being spent by the government and as Rajiv Gandhi himself once commented, only a miniscule amount of this actually reaches the people. I will primarily work to my strengths.
AAP will obviously have to look at the host of issues that relate to governance – economic growth, transparency and accountability, as well as reforms – electoral, judicial and in the police, thus working towards a corruption-free India. All of us who have joined AAP are determined to make this happen. If we get the number of seats so that our voices are heard, it will be the voice of the people that’s heard. Its high time that we stopped the entry of vested interests and power mongers into politics. Now is the time when more and more youngsters are getting involved and engaged with the process; there is so much passion on the ground, they are eager to transform India.
There are allegations that you weren’t successful in controlling the schools that did not fall in line in implementing child rights. Your response to this?
Almost 80 to 85 percent of the schools in our country are in the public sector. As a monitoring body, we were only equipped to make recommendations to the state government, it is they who have to act on it. The Commission was a toothless tiger and though there was a lot of enthusiasm, the resources available to us were minimal. The system is so entrenched in corruption that it can’t be changed in a few years. More people from civil society have to get involved.
The way commissions have been set up in our country till date have been a concern to activists everywhere. Most are political appointees and have no idea on how to run the process. The February 25th judgement from the Supreme Court clearly states that people appointed to commissions should have a credible background and have some experience in the field and this will hopefully ensure that only the right people get in. Once these commissions are functional, the load on the judiciary will be much less as we know our job and will ensure positive changes.
The quality of food served as part of the midday meal scheme has received flak several times. A few days back you mentioned that 68,000 children in Karnataka are severely malnourished. Should we continue with mid-day meal scheme?
It is a fact that plenty of systemic changes need to happen. Money is available for this and a sizeable section of civil society wants to come in to help, but government doesn’t want to bring them in, maybe because of various threats. All parties need to work together on a transparent and accountable service. The Integrated Child Development Scheme for instance reaches out to 60% of children below the age of 16, but there is so much corruption involved. In some schools, there are 400 children marked present, but only 150 are present.
The same is the case with Anganwadis. Where does the surplus food go? People are not empowered to know that these are their entitlements. Whatever the kind of entitlement – job, medical or food-related – if it does not reach the people, it is a human rights violation. I want to work with relation to this and bring in the right perspective. AAP will ensure that there’s no mercy shown for those who are corrupt and do not perform.
What is your take on the exorbitant fees being charged by the private schools?
The government has a huge rule to play in the way these schools perform. There is a hunger in middle class India to put their children in the best schools. The schools are exploiting this as there is a big gap in demand and supply – the priority of the education sector seems to be in manipulating this. What disturbs me is that when 85% schools are in the public sector, why are we unable to bring them up to the level of private schools? The government has the ability to do this, as is evident from the way Kendriya Vidyalayas have clicked. All strata of society get a chance to mix in the KVs and there are tremendous opportunities for children there.
Why can’t the government do this for the common man and bring the public schools on par with them? There are thousands of vacancies in public schools and so many initiatives from civil society have come into this area such as Akshara, Azim Premji Univ etc. The govt needs to actively partner with civil society to ensure that the quality is maintained in these schools. Then the children of the common man can also partake of the same benefits that opulent India is providing to its children.
Is there a need for strong reforms in the private sector?
Reforms should be participatory. We don’t want to stifle or antagonise them. It’s a free economy. At the same time, the common child should have access to quality education. There should be interlinking between the private and public schools. Children from private schools should interact with those in public schools, to know the reality of the other India, making it a win-win for both. This will be a good partnership where the private sector can appreciate its responsibility and contribute to nation building. There are some schools that are already doing this and it needs to be furthered.
What is your take on the multi-crore project coming up on the Bellandur wetlands?
The government is trying to gallop as far as development issues are concerned. We need to develop other parts of Karnataka like Shimoga and Gulbarga, so that Bangalore does not get overburdened. IT majors and other business honchos will be ready to do this in the interest of the nation. But that can happen only when civil society gets involved. Corrupt politicians take over when there is money to be made. The issue here is undoubtedly corruption. The nexus needs to be broken. The common man needs to be heard.
What does it take to be a woman in politics?
Thanks to the Reservation Bill, more and more women will be able to enter politics. We are natural multi-taskers and very good managers. So many women are juggling their family life and career. Invest in a woman and you are investing in the family and in the growth of the nation. I hope I am an inspiration to talented women committed to nation building. More of us should enter the arena and make politics clean. AAP will be the game changer.
On one side you have five-time MP, Ananthkumar, and on the other hand you have the famous Nandan Nilekani. Who do you think is your biggest competition?
While it is true that both are titans in their own right, neither has touched base with the aam aadmi, according to me. One is a stalwart, but he talks only about his PM candidate, not about his contributions. The other is a technocrat, who doesn’t talk about his party, which is a basket of rotten eggs. The Aam Aadmi wants to know what comes first – identity or dignity. All Indians want to live with dignity. We want the latter first, and after that comes identity or Aadhaar.
How has your engagement been with the voters, this being your first time in campaigns?
Though I fielded a lot of questions on why I entered politics, I see that there is a palpable interest among the aam janta who want change. I received blessings from elderly voters for my journey. People still have a lot of questions, but I feel that if we get clean politics, we will succeed in taking the people along.
How is your campaign funded – party funding, or well-wishers, or self-funded?-
In all the eight constituencies, volunteers are working at ground level for funding and people have been donating. It is a collective dream. My current office was donated by someone in the neighbourhood. I have also a car and driver that is taken care of. Occasionally, food also comes in, all voluntarily. AAP will not buy votes. It is a participatory move. The other day, I was in a huge apartment complex where people came forward to volunteer for various roles. I was touched to see that all that people want is clean, transparent governance.
Why should people vote for Nina?
I have the hands on experience of working with governance issues and participating in policy and laws. Knowing how the system works and how to infuse intent to make a change, will enable me to ensure citizen participation. I have always worked with teams. United we can rule better.
Do you think you will win? What happens if you don’t – will you quit politics?
The way the constituencies are working, I am confident of a win. That said, AAP is more of a movement on the ground; irrespective of whether we win or not, we will initiate constructive action. We will set up AAP ward committees soon after the elections. They will work as helplines and we will work together to make governance happen. We will have regular public hearings to ensure accountability. Agreed that BBMP has several such initiatives, but they have not been working efficiently. We will change that. Our volunteers are primed up, and people are approaching with multiple problems. When people are empowered and they demand, politicians have to respond.
Media also has a crucial role to play as it has not been reporting correctly on what happens in the other India. It’s a shame that 400 million people are living in deprivation. India has to change. I look forward to people coming in and making that change together.
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