After the attacks, the candlelit marches and the vigils were appropriate for expressing our sorrow and anger. Mumbai rose as one in castigating the concerned statutory authorities and elected representatives, who it felt had let the city down.
The authorities were quick and magnanimous in their promises to upgrade several facilities. Similarly, citizens voiced their eagerness to participate in change.
A year later, civil society is obliged to given an account of its actions. Has it lived up to its slogans, “Yes we can” and “Citizens take charge”?
During the parliamentary and recently concluded state elections, the city had a fine opportunity to convert chatter into action. But our show was dismal, even though the administration in general and the election commission in particular made a considerable effort to help voters register by setting up helplines, launching publicity campaigns and encouraging citizen groups.
It is easy to say, “There were no worthwhile candidates. What is the point of voting -- nothing changes!”
This is an excuse for doing nothing.
It is true that some people participated in the electoral process by standing as candidates. New political outfits also emerged with promises of change.
But they did not meet with much success, because before the election most had not taken up issues either in their own neighbourhoods or in the areas they sought to represent.
We come to the crux of the problem. If we want to effect large-scale change, we must begin small, in our own localities.
We must first learn about our immediate surroundings and get involved at the neighbourhood level, whether in our housing societies, children’s schools or civic wards.
All too often, the authorities are unable to implement change because civil society’s demands lack force and conviction. Citizens do not doggedly follow up issues. But only if we knowledgeably and whole-heartedly pursue issues with the statutory authorities will political representatives give due attention to these issues.
The way ahead is through consultation, not confrontation, with the authorities. They have the budgets, the manpower and the authority to implement change. The three pillars of society i.e. elected representatives, statutory authorities and civil society, all need to work together to find sustainable solutions.
Indrani Malkani is a founder-trustee of the Malabar Hill Residents' Association.