OPINION | Modi 2.0: Realising Sabka Vishwas

Modi 2.0

Citizens and volunteers from various citizens group conduct social impact assessment along the planned alignment of the elevated corridor in Bengaluru. DH PHOTO

Addressing the challenge of exclusion and ensuring that we ‘leave no one behind’ must constitute a first principle for the new government. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s articulation of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ augurs well, realising it will need more than the narrow ‘government scheme-beneficiary’ binary approach.

Speedy roll out of government programmes, thorough audit of the existing schemes and targeted disbursal of funds in high priority areas seems to be the chosen modus operandi of the government. Will mere supply-driven efforts, even if honest in intent and measure, help achieve inclusiveness? Is the Modi government 2.0, like past governments, missing the critical dynamic of the development process, the absence of which would render all efforts futile?

The answer lies in a simple, yet often shelved, approach — the importance of social mobilisation. Development is organic in nature and people are at the heart of the process. Social mobilisation entails three key conditions: first, creating incentives in the community for collective action by kindling hope and aspiration; second, restoring to it the locus of control by enhancing community agency to act not as mere beneficiaries but as agents of change; and third, to enable community-based institutions in segueing the impact of external interventions to forge the collective will against a common enemy – such as education poverty, health poverty and livelihood poverty, not against individuals or a community. The value of identification of this common enemy cannot be stressed enough.

The model works on the simple premise that no effort to improve human development of the people will reach fruition unless the focus of these activities — the individual citizen herself — is actively involved. So long as the garbage in one’s neighbourhood is seen as the problem of the municipality alone; the washing away of the slum-next-door due to incessant rain as the distress only of the migrant labourer; or, the child maid servant a concern for just her mother but has ceased to rouse our conscience, inclusive development will remain a distant dream. Simply put, the absence of citizen engagement in the governance process, combined with widespread public apathy, is the primary obstacle to inclusive development.

This brings us to the crux of the challenge — how do we restore the locus of control to a poor woman and how do we catalyse a community to collective action? Given our colonial past, till date, it is incorrectly and mistakenly vested with the government, local authorities, and often, religious leaders.

This external locus has reinforced fatalism and resulted in constant complaining, but little effort to modify behaviour to influence the shape of things to come or for the resolution of a problem. In comparison, those with internal locus of control initiate positive reform, seek and sift knowledge and information, delay gratification, assume responsibility and do not remain silent, sometimes callous, bystanders, to obtain more substan-
tial and sustainable long-term benefits.

This simply means that those disadvantaged or discriminated against no longer need to wait for a knight in shining armour but own their cause and act to challenge injustice and deprivation. The #MeToo campaign or the LGBTQ pride marches across the country are illustrative in this regard. Platforms must be created for the voiceless, opportunities need to be provided to the disadvantaged, but social mobilisation is central for results on the ground. And history is replete with success stories – B R Ambedkar and Dalit mobilisation being the prime example.

This profound change in outlook also has another dimension to it — the rejection of mediocrity. With individuals realising their ‘invaluable’ role in disrupting sub-optimal functioning of a system, community agency can forge structural changes. If all goes well, the next election campaign will not see debates on the scams of governments past or the political inexperience of a man-child but will be fought on definitive development challenges peculiar to the 21st century.

For this to happen, the government must address structural inequalities, financial obstacles, non-availability of, and lack of access to, opportunities and resources for those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable.

But the shift of the locus of control to the individual would be hollow in the absence of hope and aspiration. A young girl of 10 years would not show interest in school if she expects marriage to be the dead end, a mechanic’s son would not dare dream of building a car if he is not allowed to move beyond the confines of his neighbourhood, a woman would not want to give birth to a child if she expects an abusive, non-conducive environment for its growth. It is essential that current circumstances are not taken as given and efforts are made to break the shackles at every instance.

But from a macro perspective, this will only solve one part of the problem. Social mobilisation is a necessary condition to achieve sustained, inclusive development. Strengthening the third tier of government and enforcing the principle of subsidiarity by empowering local governments will help the community to function as a cohesive unit, supporting one another. In essence, the government must address structure and agency issues that constitute barriers contributing to the aspiration-attainment gap. To paraphrase T S Eliot: between the idea and the reality falls the shadow. Getting things done can be so hard. Dreaming up what might be done is, in contrast, easy.

The sooner the mistaken belief that inclusion can be guaranteed by a top-down approach is dispelled, the faster will inclusion be realised. The State and the citizen must share a symbiotic relationship rather than the extant paternalistic one. Indeed, if there is just one thing that Modi must do for ‘Sabka Vishwas’, it will be to federate the development process and restore in the citizens a stronger sense of self and the community, eager to be the change they want to see.

(The writer is an Intern at the Public Affairs Centre, Bengaluru)

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