This election, heed the voice of people

This election, heed the voice of people

The coming together of some 70 citizens' groups to push political parties to adopt a people-friendly agenda in their party manifestoes for the upcoming elections to the Karnataka Assembly deserves applause. Going by the name of Civil Society Forum (CSF), the umbrella grouping, comprising public-minded individuals and organisations like Child Rights Trust and Environment Support Group, has put forward a 'People's Manifesto', which includes issues of concern to the common people.  Among the issues that CSF would like parties to include in their election manifestoes are strengthening of the Lokayukta institution, effective enforcement of the Sakala  Act and universalisation of basic rights to food, water, education, health and housing. The 'People's Manifesto' also calls on political parties to enact a law that would hold elected representatives accountable for not fulfilling promises. In addition, it calls on parties to implement the minimum support price - 1.5 times the input cost and investment cost of land - as recommended by the M S Swaminathan committee. An issue of particular concern to Bengaluru that the forum has stressed on is the need to set up an integrated water management authority to deal with water supply, sewage, storm-water drains, lakes, and groundwater issues.

Clearly, the activists and civil society groups have drawn up the manifesto from an understanding of grassroots level issues and thus given voice to the people of the state. Karnataka's civil society groups have raised their voices and pushed lethargic ministers and government officials to address an array of issues, from filthy lakes to land grabbing. To this list, they can now add their activism to set the agenda for political parties to address real public concerns.

Will our political parties heed the call of the CSF? That the forum has had to articulate such issues as food, water and education is a reflection on the failure of political parties and successive governments on these basics. Yet, that parties are little interested in changing that record is evident from their cavalier attitude to the People's Manifesto; there were no representatives from either the Congress or the BJP, the two main parties in the election fray, at the event where it was released. Worse, all we have heard from the leaders of the two parties by way of election campaigning are personal attacks on one another and much communal and casteist venom. This is a shame in a progressive state like Karnataka. Parties must stop the cynical practice of bringing out manifestoes just before polling day merely to make some perfunctory promises in it. Instead, they should present programmes, policies and priorities that would inform the content of the work agenda of our elected representatives. They will do well to draw ideas and inspiration from the People's Manifesto.

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