Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

The past year has been a tough one, for our country as well the rest of the world. As we step into a new year, lets all take out a few moments from our respective busy schedules and stop and think how can we shape 2009 to be as we want it 2 – a year of revival, a year of peace and a year of overall growth of the human civilisation.

SAHBHAG wishes everybody a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sahbhag's First Seminar

When Ved Marwah was serving as the governor of Mizoram, he came to Delhi once to attend a governors' conference. A senior bureaucrat happened to introduce Marwah to another bureaucrat and said," Meet . Ved P. Marwah, Governor of Nagaland." Marwah objected to it and corrected the gentleman, saying, hesitatingly, that he was the governor of Mizoram and not Nagaland. It is hard to discern, whether the bureaucrat’s reply to this correction offered by Marwah was his attempt at being humorous or it was a testimony to the general perception about the North East. His profound reply was, "Kya fark parta hai, ek hi baat toh hai (what difference does it make, for they are one and the same.)"

The seven states in India's North East have quite often been looked upon as a single entity. So how do you expect people who can not even differentiate between seven different states to know what their problems are, let alone understand those problems? This was one of the several facets to the North East problem that were discussed at a seminar, organised on February 17, by Centre For Democratic Research. The centre is the research wing of Sahbhag, an organisation that works for strengthening democracy.

The seminar focussed on evolving an understanding of the various threads that make up the socio-political fabric of the North Eastern states. With elections in three of the states in the region round the corner, the aim was to put under the scanner, various claims of free and fair elections and peace and progress, made by the government, political parties and other pressure groups. Introducing the topic, General Secretary of Sahbhag, Charu Kartikeya, said that after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, it had become clear that there is an external force which is trying to create instability in the region. Keeping this and certain other factors in mind, concern arises whether the upcoming elections woulds be held in a free and fair manner.

Marwah’s years of experience as Governor of two different states in the region were very helpful as he informed the seminar participants of the forces at play there. He corroborated what studies have been saying for a very long time now, that throughout the country there is a general apathy towards the seven states and their people. Corruption was also rampant in the region, with the former Governor himself recalling government projects regarding which his investigations revealed a 100% siphoning of funds.

Senior journalist, Ram Bahadur Rai, turned the compass to point solely towards the political aspects of the problem. He wondered what kind of a democracy was this, where the party coming to power at the centre also determined what type of government would be formed in these states. As Marwah, who presided over the seminar, explained, this was because if there were divergent camps in power at the centre and the state, the latter would find it difficult to secure government funds. And the states, at least in the North East, were in the least favourable position to survive on their own resources.

Rai also pointed out to certain other distinct features of the politics in the region. Corruption is witnessed not just in the day-to-day functioning of the administration, but before elections as well, as seats are openly bought and sold. Rai mentioned the findings of a confidential report, commissioned by senior BJP leader LK Advani, which Rai had access to. According to the report, every MLA has to arrange for Rs. 15 lakh to save his seat!

Apart from corruption, the government also resorts to other measures to maintain its hold on the region, violence being one of them. Rai informed that after the infamous Nelli massacre in Assam, 25 years ago, polling was held on 110 constituencies in state elections, 109 of which went to the Congress. Several winning candidates had secured as low as 10-25 votes. And this was just one of several similar instances of electoral violence and ensuing victory. Marwah also spoke later about maintenance of private militia by all ethnic groups in the region, the reason being that people just don’t trust the police and other symbols of state machinery. Consequently, these groups “govern the rules of the game”, Marwah noted.

Rai also spoke about two other features marking the political landscape of the North East – identity politics and border politics. He said ever since Jawahar Lal Nehru allowed the creation of an entire state from just one district (Arunachal Pradesh), he gave recognition to identity politics in the country. As far as border politics is concerned, it is widely known now that one needs a special Inner Line Permit, for being able to visit at least 5 of the 7 North Eastern states. This permit, Rai alleged, was a symbol of vested interests at play in the region.

Marwah had the last word on the topic. Stressing on the need of protecting and strengthening the democratic institutions in the North East, he observed that the substance of democracy was empowerment of the common man. Sahbhag feels that the government, the political parties, the non-governmental sector and the various activism-based associations must strive to help the country in achieving this ideal.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sahbhag : An Introduction

When the debate over the inclusion of the word ‘democratic’ in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution started in the Constituent Assembly, Pandit Nehru said, ‘The whole of our past is witness to the fact that we stand for democratic institutions. Obviously we are aiming at democracy and nothing less than democracy. What form of democracy, what shape it might take is another matter?”

We, as a nation, adopted Representative Democracy then, which we are still practicing. It was expected
that the system of governance this representative democracy would evolve into would eradicate all the
evils which our society was suffering from and lead the whole country towards achieving the cherished
goal of a glorious development. Today, we have a proud claim of sustaining our democracy through all
odds. But we are overburdened with acute problems in all walks of life. A vast population of India is still illiterate and starving. A major section of our society still lives below the poverty line. We are facing problems of terrorism, communalism, regionalism and many more such roadblocks.

We have a large population of sensible, educated and committed youth. But most of them are disillusioned with the prevailing political scenario in the country. They don’t think that the anomalies plaguing our nation can be removed through the present political system. The ever-decreasing voter turn-outs in the general elections are clear indicators of this fact.

All these problems call for a systemic change in order to empower each and every individual. A system that can ensure transparency and accountability at every level of governance is very much essential. Sahbhag believes that for all this, we need grass-root level political education of our citizens, which we failed to deliver during 60 years of our independence. We are desperately in need of a kind of education which can motivate every citizen to exist as an embodiment of humanity and the ethos that our nation stands for. A more vibrant democracy, which can ensure the participation of the common man in policy-making, its implementation and consequent monitoring, can be the answer. Sahbhag, therefore, believes that it’s the right time to mobilize the whole nation for a switchover from Representative Democracy to Participatory Democracy.

Center For Applied Democracy (CAD) , the research wing of Sahbhag, earlier known as Centre For Democratic Research (CFDR), was established to evolve proper instruments for moving ahead in this mission and provide proper research inputs to the movement.