Saturday, October 25, 2008

Out to grab a billon votes

The agency Janagraha’s One Billion Votes campaign is timely. In particular it attempts to address the apathy that many middle class urban people demonstrate towards their civic duties and responsibilities while assuming naively that things would always work. The task is ambitious and labor intensive for the Jaago Re campaign does not merely educate the youth abut their fundamental duty as citizens to vote but also facilitates the process. Interested voters can actually enroll their names on line and then take a print out and submit the form to the local election office and Jagoo Re promises to track the applicant’s details till his or her name appears on the electoral rolls eventually.

The campaign has evolved from last year when it began airing advertisements on television provoking debates on the kind of politicians that should run the country and in what way they should be equipped in terms of education, experience and commitment. In a country where candidates are voted in either because of their personal charisma or their party affiliation, these were and are indeed path breaking questions and relevant across the country and not just the urban constituency where Janagraha is primarily engaged.

The advertisement now airing on television, challenges the youth to be involved in the decision making processes that go into shaping the manner in which the country is governed and begin doing that by not using the public holiday declared on election day to take in a movie or catch up with friends, but first do what is required – go and vote. The imagery use is strong : if one election day, you haven’t chosen to go and cast your vote and are instead doing other things, then you are asleep and need a wake up call is a strong one.

Hopefully the campaign will evolve further as Janagraha’s vision is much more than herding the electorate to the polling station, though that is a very important. Swati Ramanathan, the co founder of Janagraha states that a central tenet of their vision of democracy is that the electorate should not merely elect their representative but also remain engaged with them in the post election scenario and work to make elected representatives accountable and answerable on a long term basis.

How this is achieved will be an object of interest to many ; after all a major reason for the apathy of many towards the electoral process is that irrespective of who is elected, there is no institutional and formalized mechanism to enforce accountability from the elected representative. Once elected, the chasm between the electorate and the politician invariably widens to the point the electorate has little access to the one he or she has elected. Possibly these concerns will find expression in Janagraha’s other efforts in advocacy ; another of their thesis is that India’s ddemocratic institutions and processes are out-dated and do not adequately reflect the progressive needs of India of the 21st century, Janaagraha’s advocacy efforts are focused on structural reforms. For scalable, sustainable change most of the reforms require institutional change backed by appropriate statutes, policies and procedures.

While this campaign caters to the entire nation, certain services of the website will initially be available for those residing in the top 35 Indian cities and towns (7 Metros and 28 Class 1 towns), which account for 30% of the urban population. Going forward these services will be made available across the country in a phased manner.

The partnership with Tata Tea will facilitate the process and provide all the necessary support needed for the mammoth project. It is a perfect example of corporate-public partnership aimed at bringing about meaningful change in the society and possibly will model a meaningful kismet connection between a corporate entity, civil society and the common man.

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