Friday, Nov 21, 2014

How politics works for the poor

Posted: January 28, 2014 3:34 am | Updated: January 27, 2014 11:35 pm

OM

A grassroots politician and Congress party worker contests two of the AAP’s big assertions.

The electoral success of the Aam Aadmi Party has led to many claims about Indian democracy that should be put to the test on the basis of actual experiences of the poor. I am not an MLA or an MP. I am the head of a local NGO and live in an unauthorised colony in west Delhi. I am also a Congress party worker. My analysis is based on my experience of working for security of tenure, getting electricity, water and sewage treatment in our colony. Here, I take up just two of the AAP’s many claims.

The AAP’s first claim is that democracy has failed the poor because politicians make electoral promises and then disappear. But the poor are not so uninformed as to not understand that it is they who have put politicians in positions of power and that elected representatives thus have a responsibility to help solve their problems. We have been striving for the last 20 years to get our colony recognised as an authorised colony.

Since our colony has grown in a haphazard manner, till 2004 there were no proper street names or addresses for the houses. There were multiple claimants over the land on which our jhuggis and pucca houses are built. We have fought a court case against a powerful private foundation which had claimed that the land belonged to them. We formed an NGO (Punjabi Basti Sudhar Samiti) and its functionaries conducted a search of revenue records to establish that the plot numbers in revenue records did not match the area that the foundation was claiming as part of its land.

We subsequently commissioned an authorised map of the area and paid for it ourselves by getting contributions from every household. At each phase of the mapmaking exercise, we faced objections from various officials from the MCD and the ministry of urban development. But we pressed our case through the Bhagidari system established by the previous chief minister, in which our resident welfare association was represented. The point is that we did not establish our rights to the land we live on by receiving patronage in a mai baap system but by going to the courts, finding out what the procedures for receiving recognition as an authorised colony were, and creating networks of help and support both within the locality and with political parties, elected legislators and even some officials and lawyers who guided us. For us, democracy is measured by the spaces for action opened up and not by the free gifts we might be given as charity. We have worked to shift the perspective of our fellow residents from  one that expects charity to one demanding rights.

The second claim is that the AAP has established its pro-poor credentials by offering free water and by reducing electricity tariff by 50 per cent. In the early years after this settlement came into being, continued…

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