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Our Mussoorie, Our Athens

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We, the Government

By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer

Once Upon a Distant Time Ago, a few people got a really crazy
idea. All around them there were god-like emperors, demented dictators, religious fanatics, and those who believed that powerful gods had decreed that One Family, or one Special Clan, had a divine right to rule. Rulers were elevated so far above ordinary mortals that their subjects were brain-washed to believing that their magical touch could cure diseases. In some kingdoms, kings got the right of the first night with brides!
Then came these folk from a small town in Greece who said, “Hold on! Who gave you the right to tell us what to do? Your blood is the same as ours. We are all conceived by the same process. We all die and are re-cycled back into the earth. So, since we are equal, we shall carve out our own destiny!”
Democracy was born. The greatest exercise of this wonderful process was recently completed in our country.
Globally, however, things have evolved very far beyond that original process. A neighbouring country once said that they have a “Guided Democracy”. All their “guides” wore uniforms and military regalia! Another claimed to be a “Peoples’ Republic” with all the “people” dressed alike, chanting in harmony, sitting in serried rows, in that superb auditorium called The Great Hall of the People. Then there is the Hyper Macho Don who wants to trump his Arsenal of Democracy into an Arsenal of Colourless (Coloured excluded) Autocracy.
All, however, is not lost. The great structure of our Indian Democracy still stands on the bricks and mortar of the panchayats and the small Municipal Boards. “Small” is important. Athens was small enough for every citizen to either know every other voter or to share a mutual acquaintance. That is the essence of Direct Democracy. It happened in Athens because that enlightened city state had a population of between 40,000 and 60,000 citizens. Mussoorie has a census-determined population of 30,118. Mussoorie is our Athens.
This begs the question: are the citizens of Mussoorie well informed about the civic affairs of their little town? Possibly not. We try to fill that gap with this column; which is why we call it We, the Government. We are not chest thumping, flag waving, dharna organising Activists. We are not aspiring Politicians or fiery-eyed Crusaders hell-bent on changing your opinions. Our politics, like our religion and our family, are our own affair. All we do is to provide information and then leave it to our informed readers to decide.
This is why we were delighted to make an unexpected discovery. On a dusty shelf, in a little-visited place, we found The Annual Administrative Report of the Mussoorie City Board for the Year Ending 31st March, 1942. It had been printed by the Art Printing Press, Mussoorie, so there was nothing hush-hush or Top Secret about this very informative document. It bore no security classification even though it does contain a virtual treasure trove of facts. Most significantly, this Report carried the Lion and Unicorn crest of the British Monarchy. In other words, our conquerors had no problem in getting the City Board to reveal its inner workings to the ordinary citizen.
Here are some interesting facts gleaned from this fascinating publication. Mussoorie’s population at that time was 21,895. The DM was the Administrator of the Board from 24-4-1941 to 9-11-1941. The election of the Chairman was held 10-11-1941 and the Board started functioning from that date. Because many of our citizens migrated down to the plains in winter, there was a normal Committee with a Chairman and 14 Members; and a Winter Committee with a Chairman and 6 Members. There are also very revealing figures which seldom come to light: the attendance of each Member at the meetings. These varied from member to member. Some had a 100% attendance at 15 meetings others clocked a low 4. But “No member remained absent for more than three consecutive meetings”
Democracy was born out of an informed citizenry in the small city-state of Athens. The Annual Administrative Report of the Mussoorie City Board gives such information to the citizens of Mussoorie.
Why was it stopped after we became an Independent nation?