By Shivani Singh, PRIA
Lok Sabha Election fever is in the air, anyone who is someone is suffering from the fever of LokSabha Election 2014 a very contagious disease indeed! So are we in the urban poverty and governance team. The team has buckled itself to travel in all the four direction of India: Rajasthan, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. These stateconsultations are our tool to make the voices of urban poor heard and their contribution to the country’s GDP,to those who sound and look like servants of people just once in five years yes they are our politicians and government representatives. In the consultation urban poor get the opportunity to speak directly to their leaders. What is interesting is that all the representatives have their own ways of facing the people. Some believe in interface with people and some shy away from it. The state consultations that are being held across the states are a platform to make the urban government and political representatives accountable to people. The consultations are a step ahead in developing a culture of sharing, dialogue, interface, discussions and confrontation between the urban poor and urban representatives. Unfortunately this culture predominantly remains a phenomenon in rural areas but requires to be developed in urban areas as well. A few interesting anecdotes, views of people that were shared during such endeavors are as follows:
Selective Amnesia vs. Preparedness:As mentioned earlier that urban interface between people and their representatives in gaining ground. The state office people shared about their concerns especially in inviting the political parties and government officials for events that are ultimately meant for their own and state’s benefit. This still remains as a question in my mind that why despite of inviting the government officials for any public event they don’t turn up. Many times the government officials give assurance like: I will definitely come; I am on my way; I will send someone on my behalf to attend the event; oh I had an urgent meeting! And they don’t turn up.However in Jaipur consultation a BJP representative came prepared with a copy of his party’s manifesto. He was systematic and logical in presenting his manifesto. He kept on asking for changes and correction from the participants (Urban poor). Also the manifesto was an example of paradigm shift as many of the issues were related to the needs of urban poor such: house guarantee yojana, survey of slums, ration cards, BPL cards to slum dwellers, free gas connection etc. The question is what path does an urban representative chooses: shying away or presenting their ideology with full preparedness is up to them to decide.
Fear or Lack of Confidence: In Jaipur State three major political party’s representatives attended the consultation. One party’s representative entered bare hand with no notebook, pen or documents to share with the people.He sat on dice for some time, looked around and listened to the conversation happening between the Mayor and the urban poor who came from slums. Suddenly he tried to make a point which was overruled by the mayor as she was in a hurry to attend another meeting. After a minute he listened to the conversation between another political party’s representative and urban poor. Looking at the preparedness of other political party and instant clarification of doubts of people, he got up from his seat pretending he received a very urgent call and after some time when we went out to search him it was found out they he had already left! What does this reveal? On one hand a party is sharing its manifesto, seeking changes from people, telling what they have for the urban poor if they get elected and on the other hand we see an urban representative did not inform before leaving? What made him leave the consultation was it lack of confidence or lack of preparedness to face people’s questions is a problem in itself?
Harassment Quotient: As part of event preparation a formal invite is always being sent to the people’s representatives accustomed with personal visits to their offices. Yet many time their behaviors and attitude remains so unfriendly and untrustworthy. As shared by one of the field office female staff that they also face harassment with mental, sexual, verbal, psychological words attached as prefix to it. One statement I also get to listen from most of the female field staff whenever they visit a government officials is, “they first look at us from top to bottom and even call us after working hours”. This further strengthens the mistrust on them and puts a question mark on the sensitivity of system towards working female.
Afraid vs. Abuse: I happened to meeta woman named Shaheeda, age 62, addressing the BJP representative, shouting on top of her voice that, “you just make a lot of promises and never fulfill them.” She kept on listing the promises the earlier government made to them and still remains unfulfilled. But what I saw was quite different. The BJP representative listened to her problem and told his assistant to write down her query whereas many other participants from other slums were hardly able to articulate their concerns. I asked Shaeeda how does she feel when she has to shout for her rights and she said, “I not only shout I also abuse them on their face, they do not listen to us many government are formed but we still live without electricity, without ration, without road and without security”. Conversely many urban poor in the consultation did not even have the confidence to put forth their needs and demands. They were just listening and looking at the politicians. Are people afraid of their leaders? Or are they so distressed that they resort to abuses, screaming, pointing fingers, and blame etc. needs a good enough thought. The voices of urban poor are also scattered its need to be collectivized so that urban poor instead of representing an individualistic or mohalla level problem they collectively present the issues of urban poor as a whole.
Powerless Counselors: The counselors are directly elected by people. As a matter of fact in any consultation or interface with people their presence is expected but as shared by the state office that the counselors are inaccessible and unreachable, whereas the Mayor never misses a chance to meet the people. She was also present in the Jaipur consultation. What this showcases is that the counselor though elected by people lack power to bring about any change or address any demand of urban poor whereas the mayor has power can address and answer the needs and demands of urban poor. This raises a pertinent question that is there a need for the counselors, mayor and political parties to come together and work collectively for the betterment of urban poor or just voice their individual concerns as an independent entity?
The process of reducing the gap between the urban representative and urban poor has started. The state level consultations are a tool to achieve this goal. There is need for collectivization and convergence of voices of both urban poor and urban people’s representatives who at this hour are scattered and acting as individual entities propagating individualistic approach to deal with the problems of urbanization, urban poor and urban governance as a whole.