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Tilling the Grass-roots

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We, the Government

By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER

We have stepped into a new decade. It’s time to pause, take a deep breath, and consider where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading. Our focus is on our little town, district and peaceful state. We’re concerned about the barber whose grandfather gave our son his first haircut: a great, heartless, civic organisation is threatening to evict him from his tiny saloon. We’re worried about our friendly bookstore owner who fractured his leg and is recovering but cannot go home because a civic organisation has dug up the road and he can’t risk falling again. We’re appreciative of a powerful neta who gave a wheel-chair to a crippled man whose wife was a domestic help. We salute a very senior politician who keeps recalling his humble origins and realises how embarrassing it must be for women to use open fields as toilets. And we think of Democracy: and wonder where it lost its way. Today, in many places, the titanic work of Sardar Vallabhai Patel is being undone. Politics is morphing into a family business where sons, daughters and nephews believe that they are entitled to rule while being indifferent to the Prime Minister’s very creative SAGY scheme. It called for every MP to adopt a village and nurture it into the status of a model one. This would have had a multiplier effect and have changed our rural eco-system, progressively shrunk the rural-urban divide, and had a transformative impact on the nation. We now learn from a news-report in a national daily that more than six months after the formation of the 17th Lok Sabha about two thirds of the members of the Lower House have not selected a Gram Panchayat. Are our legislators so divorced from reality that they feel that they can ignore We, the Government who voted them into power? Or does the fault lie even deeper? Have our netas grown so self-obsessed that they have lost contact with their grass roots? Our father was the Chairman and, later, the Administrator of the City Board, Mussoorie. He would walk to work from our cottage above Caineville Estate to his office near Landour. On the way he would greet linesmen atop electric poles, sanitary workers sweeping the streets, tradesmen and other common citizens whom he knew. Every walk gave him insights into the civic needs of our town. On his death, our mother also kept herself aware of people’s needs which led her to forming the Save Mussoorie Society (SMS). It pioneered a very successful civic movement to fight the depredations of the politically-connected limestone contractors hell-bent on destroying our little town. The SMS ceased to exist after Mum’s death but, by that time, and thanks to the help of Avdhash Kaushal of RELK, Mussoorie had been saved. This column continues that response to the civic needs of our town. Our challenges, however, are slightly different to those faced by our parents. Though people are willing to speak to us about their problems, most do so only on the assurance that we do not mention their names. When we probe deeper we often find that they have, in the past, sought a tweaking of the rules for themselves and are, therefore, scared of repercussions if they challenge the Powers That Be. But why did they need to ‘lubricate’ to find solutions to their rightful concerns in the first place? Which drives us to the conclusion that though the roots of our society need tilling, to cleanse them from the gnawing of pests, it is only the very young, and the very aged, who have nothing to hide and everything to lose by their silent subservience. Consequently, they are spearheading the recent epidemic of civic agitations. Brute force might be an obvious response but SAGY seems to be a more sagacious one. A contented rural population is much larger than a discontented urban one especially as most of the urban agitators seem to have strong rural roots. There is absolutely no reason to believe that all predatory termites, fattening on the sensitive root-tips of our civilisation, have come from across our frontiers. We have many desi, light- averse, termites in our land. We will continue tilling.