Why do we keep blaming politicians for all our ills? We know most of them are bad news, nothing better can be expected of them, so why do we go on grumbling like a stuck gramophone record? Blaming them hasn't improved our lives in any way—neither reformed them nor the situations we are trapped in, be it corruption, poor infrastructure or lack of accountability. The answer seems obvious—we prefer blaming them because we'd rather not take responsibility for our own lives, our neighbourhood, our community and finally, our country.
When it suits us, we grumble that it would be so much better if the government stayed out of our lives. A common refrain is that we don't want the government to support us, we just want them to stop interfering. The less government there is, the better it is for all concerned. And yet when things go wrong, or don't work well, we petition the government to come and solve our problems. If the government still behaves like a feudal patron, much of the blame must fall upon us for behaving like feudal subjects, constantly depending on the authorities to run our lives.
It's high time we took responsibility for the situation we are in. And in that, we should take the lead from Pune's citizens. People here have taken it on themselves to solve the city's problems, usually in tandem with the authorities. The local Sakal daily has mobilised volunteers to clear the city's garbage. They use the corporation's fleet of garbage trucks, except now there is a ten-fold increase in the number of trips made daily. So instead of the earlier 65 truckloads, now 650 truckloads of garbage are collected and disposed of daily. Says Pratap Pawar, Sakal's MD: "Motivation and incentives are necessary to ensure citizens' participation." The newspaper has instituted awards for clean neighbourhoods and use its pages to make celebrities out of the city's unsung heroes.
Nothing can be achieved without teamwork. But for it to be effective, there has to be a few leaders and many followers. The trouble is most people want to be leaders, none wish to be followers. And sooner or later, the crab mentality surfaces. For the one person who tries to do something constructive, 99 others emerge who make it their business to destroy and drag that person down. Too many good people have fallen to this combined pull. Here again, one can turn to Pune as a fine example of leaders and followers complimenting and complementing each other.
There are action-oriented leaders, men and women of clout, captains of industry, media, politics and bureaucracy. And there are the followers, men and women of integrity, grit and intelligence. The leaders aren't snobs, they are down to earth, friendly, accessible, humble. The followers are not servile, they are proud, committed, hard-working.
Together, they have made Pune one of our finest cities. Leaders and followers share one common bond—their love for the city. Involved are the longstanding residents of Pune, whose forefathers lived here and whose children will continue to live here long after they have gone. They have strong roots in the city and want to ensure that carpetbaggers and fly-by-night operators don't plunder and destroy it as has happened to many other prosperous Indian cities. And instead of blaming the government, they have decided to improve their lot themselves. Whether it be nations or individuals, problems and solutions invariably lie within.
Instead of complaining that the city corporation doesn't repair roads, industrialists have adopted the maintenance of 10-km stretches of road. Usually, governments co-opt people, but Pune's citizens have co-opted the government. Instead of creating obstacles, bureaucrats have become facilitators. A dynamic group of leaders oversee improvements in infrastructure, health, sanitation, sports, industry, IT, biotechnology, culture and tourism. To encourage the last, plans have been devised to make Pune the "city of festivals". From now on, there will be a major festival every three months. The Ganesh festival in September draws many foreigners and even some of the ambassadors posted in Delhi. In December, there will be a major dance and music festival against the magnificent backdrop of the unused Sivaji fort. In March, there will be an arts and crafts festival and in June, when everybody wants to flee the Delhi and Mumbai heat, there will be a theatre and film festival. Pune, after all, has impressive film infrastructure with the best archives, the film institute and a highly evolved Marathi theatre. The point being proved is that the city has plenty of resources and assets. So it's time it was utilised to its full potential to create fresh opportunities and jobs.
There are leaders with potential in many cities. But barring a few exceptions, why is it that the Pune Phenomenon hasn't been replicated in other Indian cities? Undoubtedly, Pune has a history of activism. Further, as media personality Sabina Sanghvi, who has taken the lead in converting Pune into a city of festivals, says, leaders must fulfil two criteria: first, they mustn't have an agenda of their own. The minute the public feels the politician is doing what he is doing because he wants to garner votes, or an industrialist is beautifying roads because he wants to bag government contracts, they lose faith and turn away in disgust. People have to be convinced that leaders are motivated only by their passion for the cause. Second, leaders must have the influence to get things done. They must have a public profile, proven integrity and dynamism. If they don't produce results, followers will wither away.
The deterioration that we see around us is not sustainable. Instead of whining about politicians, citizens, in their own enlightened self-interest, should realise that the buck stops with them. And have the confidence that each and every individual can make a difference.
(The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)