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Make yourselves heard

Even if efforts are being made to link the anti-corruption movement in India with the Arab Spring uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, or the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, or the very recent Russian movement for re-election, there are perhaps some differences. India is a functioning democracy unlike Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria and so on. India has also been a democracy much longer than Russia. And fighting multinationals and corporations has been the hallmark of some of our political parties and politicians, from George Fernandes throwing out Coke and IBM in the 1970s and the Left parties trying to remove all industry (foreign and Indian) from West Bengal. And Indira Gandhi did nationalise banks.


Knowledge is power: Turning up in large numbers at protests 
won't solve problems. Try setting up ALMs and knowing who you are 
voting for, for a change. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi 

But what the popular reaction to the anti-corruption movement shows is that the people have a desire for more participation in how India is run. The methods employed by Anna Hazare and his team may be questionable and so are the figures of support being trotted out. But it would be a shame if both the political parties and the leaders of the anti-corruption movement fail in the promises made, because then they would have stamped out hope and left cynicism in its wake. If the issue is corruption, then we have got lost in ego battles, intransigence and diversionary tactics.

But filling large grounds with thousands of supporters to prove your case -- or cause -- is not always so easy. As the experience in Mumbai on Tuesday shows with low figures turning up, making a living takes priority over other matters, however compelling (or even that people in Mumbai work harder than people in Delhi!).

But even without getting into the potentially dangerous libertarian ideas about participatory democracy, there are ways in which the people can demand more from their elected representatives. The easiest way would be to start small and to engage. Mumbai city, for instance, has plenty of NGOs who work with government on civic issues. It does not take much to get involved. This brings you face to face with those who affect your life on a day-to-day basis. Middle-class India always feels that its concerns are not addressed. Why not make yourselves heard?

There are problems here, but that should not be an impediment. The needs of middle-class India are often inimical to those of underprivileged India. It is not possible, for instance, (apart from being unfair, undemocratic, unjust and cruel) to demolish all of Mumbai's slums and throw the slum dwellers out as so many of us have heard the middle-class demanding. A more effective way to improve city life would be to demand affordable housing and sanitation in accessible areas for the less privileged. Shifting all slum dwellers to the outskirts of Pune will be considerably detrimental to everyday life in Mumbai, even for the upper classes.

It is also possible to make a demand for town hall type meetings with elected representatives and not just once in five years. Constituency visits are not just about MPs going to the hinterland -- they come to big cities as well. Form pressure groups to meet and discuss pressing issues. 

It would make life easier if the different areas covered by different legislative bodies are paid attention to -- it does not help if you discuss bad pavements with your Member of Parliament. He or she cannot help. 
Sadly, naivete is not to be of much use either, even if it is more hopeful than cynicism. Know who you are voting for and why (assuming you vote at all). 

This puts the power in your hand. If politicians hang on to their power by any means, don't treat your own with disdain. It doesn't have to be about TV-generated hysteria, inquilab and jail bharo excitement. It could be as simple as your Advanced Locality Managements. It could be as simple as not being indifferent. It could be about everyday, not when someone else tells you on social media.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter@ranjona

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