Almost every day, I go for a morning walk in a beautiful garden next to my residence in Mumbai. The garden is mostly crowded with three kinds of people: The Young — running with headphones on; the Middle Aged — walking in a group, discussing politics and money; and The Old — mostly part of the laughing club, meditation club who discuss life, family and illness. After doing my usual one hour of run, I spend few minutes with some of these old people. They get company and I get life lessons. Win-win.
Yesterday, while on my morning walk, an old, old friend with a walker, called me and asked if I watched Bharat ki Baat, Sabke Saath, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Westminster, London.
"Yeah, I did," I replied.
"Did you hear that thing about railway concession for senior citizens?"
I remembered Modi talking about his suggestion to Indian Railways to put a request box for senior citizens to forego their concession if they could afford the full ticket. At least, 40 lakh senior citizen gave up the railway concession.
"Yeah, he spoke about it. I feel proud of those 40 lakh honest senior citizens who want to contribute to country’s growth."
"Do you know, I am one of them."
"Really?" I had a smile of disbelief.
I had spoken to him so many times and always thought he is shelled in his own world and doesn’t care for anything, anymore, accept for his weak knees, medicines and his family.
"I often travel to my daughter’s house in Pune. I used to take the subsidy thinking it’s my right. But sometimes I also had a doubt if I can very well afford to travel in air-conditioned class why should I take subsidy? But there was no option. When I learnt that about the new option to forego, I gave it away immediately. Now, I pay full ticket and feel as if I am also part of making poor lives better, it's my contribution to India’s success story," he said with a glint in his eyes. His drooping shoulders straightened a bit.
In one of his Independence-Day speeches from the Red Fort, Modi had appealed to well-to-do citizens, to give away gas subsidy. Beyond everyone's expectations, 1.25 crore Indian households gave away their subsidy which is a big number out of 25 crores households out of which only 2.5 crore households are in affluent or elite category. This shows that Indians are looking for opportunities to correct the wrongs and contribute to India's success story. Modi was absolutely right when he said, "My country is fighting for honesty, and it’s willing to face any struggle to achieve that."
India is going through a churning. A mass of people who want to bring about change is increasing at an unprecedented pace.
In Bharat Ki Baat, Modi said that his job is to channelise, manage and lead such energies of Indians for development. There were many themes that Modi addressed but more or less all his answers were centred around one umbrella theme — of making development a people's movement like the freedom movement.
“My job is to understand the people’s power and take them along, then only we can get results. It’s not a labour contract between voters and the government, it’s a participative democracy,” Modi said from the stage where once Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Martin Luther King spoke.
“My job is to channelise people’s energies and make development a mass movement, A people’s movement.” And it resonates with the New India which is enterprising and wants India to succeed. The impatient young Indians, who think enough is enough and it’s their turn, relate with Modi’s definition of a ‘participative democracy’. An impatient India means an inspirational India.
If one looks at it practically and apolitically, there is no other way out for India to succeed. Any society or a country that has become successful is only due to people’s initiatives and participation. Germany, France, UK and almost all of Europe rebuilt itself, after WW-II with such quick pace, only with people’s hunger to get over the tragedy. Japan rebuilt itself to a technological giant after a WW-II disaster. This also raises a very pertinent question. What should be stronger – society or the nation? If India has to rebuild itself the answer is: the society. If India has to win, it has to be a people’s effort with the government just facilitating it.
I live near Versova beach in Mumbai. A young man, Afroz Shah, who lives near the beach, frustrated with the inaction of the government took the responsibility of cleaning the beach. He started alone. Slowly, more people joined in. Eventually, it became a movement in the neighbourhood. Together, they cleaned 15 million kilos of plastic and filth. Now, the beach has been inhabited with rare Ridley’s turtles, indicating the emergence of a new marine life, and the beach doesn’t belong to the government anymore. People own it, together. It has found a life of it’s own.
Temsutula Imsong who hails from Nagaland, started Project Prabhu Ghat in Varanasi and in no time, one of the filthiest Ghats became one of cleanest Ghats where now people go and sit for peace and meditation. When asked how does she do it, an ever-smiling Temsutula said, “With the help of the locals, young people and women of the area. The neighbourhood took the ownership of the project… for them it was their Ghat that they were cleaning, I just led the process.” Temstula said that she learnt that ‘participative democracy’ is the only way forward.
A few days ago, a video had gone viral on social media where a local in Goa stopped a tourist from littering and forced the passengers to pick the littered plastic bottle. This is not a one-off example. It happens all the times when one litters, few people certainly raise eyebrows. Slowly, the number of ‘cleanliness warriors’ is increasing. One doesn’t need statistics to prove this. This change is becoming part of our lives.
Modi spoke about the NEEM project where he stopped the pilfering of urea by coating the Urea with Neem oil. I have worked very closely with this project. This was also a people’s movement. The women who were employed to collect Neem buds and extract oil not just found employment and became economically empowered but their lives improved. The violence against women dropped, discrimination stopped and the feeling of community building increased manifold. Alcoholism and crime rate dropped, education improved and general health indicators became positive. It worked at multiple levels - theft of urea stopped, the efficiency of Urea increased due to organic strength of Neem. It brought about not just an economic transformation but the much-needed social change. It really empowered women. I have seen those faces, those smiles. This is a New India developing behind the noise of media and political discourse.
This is probably one of those times when people were reminded that it’s their country, their cities, their roads, their lanes, their neighbourhood. Its’s about their lives. So far it has been a government-versus-us game. Why should we do anything when the government doesn’t do anything for us — is the usual way we think. In politics, it became a paradoxical monster which nobody dared to change. It resulted in lose-lose proposition for both India and its people.
Modi is trying to change that mindset. By constantly reminding that this isn’t a country of a political party. It’s a country of 1.25 billion people. Talented, capable and inspirational people. By motivating them, Modi is attempting to pave the way for an India which is also independent of the state — which decides its own destiny. Only takeaway from Bharat Ki Baat is that there hasn’t been a better time for 1.25 crore Indians to kickstart the ‘Participative democracy’ as movement if we seriously want to be the next superpower. Because we deserve it.
The author is filmmaker, writer and motivational speaker. He is the founder of#IAmBuddha and School of Creativity. He tweets at @vivekagnihotri
Updated Date: Apr 23, 2018 15:33 PM