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  • Ashwin Mahesh

Swaraj in action

If swaraj is the USP of new politics, then how can we implement it meaningfully, so that individual citizens and communities feel empowered by it, and demand this as their right from all parties? Here are a few things that can be done. (a) Devolve money - it's good that the Delhi state budget has given 15% of its money to MCD, something that other state governments are reluctant to do. This can be made even stronger by saying that this money is for communities, and that it will given not to the corporations themselves, but directly to the ward committees of citizens in their respective wards. That would create a new impetus for participation, from citizens who know that they have a voice in selecting pre-funded projects in their local areas.

(b) The party whips in different legislatures should be abolished. It's an insult to elect someone and then say they cannot independently exercise their own thinking while voting on bills. This has made lawmaking itself irrelevant - more like an administrative process in which what the government of the day proposes is agreed to by the legislatures.

(c) Create a Human Dignity Budget - set a threshold for health, nutrition, education, skills training, access to public facilities and spaces, affordable housing, and a few other things that are the minimum right of all citizens, and fund this FULLY before taking up any other item in the Budget. It is true that in governance, many things need to be funded, but we can't be making trade-offs between dignity and discretion.

(d) Separate regulation from government, especially in sectors where the government itself provides services too. An independent regulator with oversight rights over both public and private institutions would demonstrate intellectual honesty, and commitment to open scrutiny of all institutions. Don't appoint only ex-babus as regulators, but bring in people who have ideas about change-making in their respective fields.

(e) Put a price on all 'externalisation of costs'. Don't allow garbage to be transported out of the communities of origin, for example, without putting a price on it. Anytime the actions of an individual or community create costs for others, make them bear those costs. It is difficult to protect the freedoms of all people without putting an end to their ability to externalise away their actions that harm the interests of others.

I'm sure that many more examples and themes can be thought of. At their heart, they contain only 2 principles - keep government as close to the people as possible, giving them a direct voice, and beyond a layer of protection against discrimination and irresponsibility, put a premium on outcomes created by different approaches. The rest will take care of itself. Democracy will bloom in a way that people will ask for it everywhere.

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