Suriya Subramanian (mssnlayam) wrote,
Suriya Subramanian

Uniting voices: More thinking aloud

Uniting voices: More thinking aloud

This is a rather long post (like a lot that I have written in recent days). I implore you take a couple of minutes to read this and let me know what you think. I would like to know if you think this sounds idealistic or practical. Also, I am not committing myself to any of this. I won't unless I can see some support, and if people share a belief that this is useful and doable. I am merely writing my ideas, and maybe others can take this forward.

I am not being a comment whore. I would genuinely like to hear your opinion.

I had written about bringing like-minded individuals together, and Shantanu responded with his plans. There was also an elaborate comment on his blog in response. My original post was a bit abstract. I will try to make it more concrete.

Here are some of my key considerations.

Get the silent majority on board

There are already activists either in politics or in the NGO sector. They know what they want to do. What I would like to happen, is to get the silent majority on board. We should convince them of their ability to shape the discourse if they speak out in enough numbers. They can carry on with their own lives, passively keep themselves informed, vote to decide the group's action, and most importantly, once a month or so, shout together and shout loud.

Unity at all costs

Every effort should be made to keep such a group's unity intact. Members can actively debate and vote what the stance to an issue should be. But once the decision is made, members should display a united face. Look at the presidential primaries in the US. Parties started with several candidates and factions. There was a long drawn-out battle of sorts in the Democratic party. Finally, the party united behind a single candidate.

A person will be in the majority in some issues, and in the minority in others. Going with the majority is a compromise everyone has to make.

Sanjeev Sabhlok comments:

Some people may well hope for socialism, some may hope to destroy property rights and equalise wealth. Some people may hope that the government should fund them from cradle to grave. Some others may hope for utopias where people are perfect and everything works to their personal liking. Some may hope for a Ram Rajya where their version of Hinduism prevails!

We should decide what we will NOT do or support. Other than that, (at least personally) I will be okay with what the group decides. I will not be a part of a group that argues in favor of untouchability. But, I could go with either side of the socialism or capitalism debate. There are some irreparable wrongs like slavery or untouchability. However, we can always repair a government program, though change is slow to come. Also, requiring more than a simple majority will help ensure unanimity in decisions.

Focus, focus, focus

The issue we pick at any point of time should be very clear-cut and narrow in its focus. For example, the group may decide to oppose or support the nuclear deal with the US. We should not however be saying, "Improve India's nuclear and energy security." "We want to remove corruption" will take us nowhere. "Amend the Indian Penal Code in the following way" will get us somewhere.

Everyone will have a different issue that is dear to their heart. The group has to decide what battles to fight based on the resources in hand. As another example, one issue that is dear to my heart (proposed by my friend Ron Victor) is: "The Indian Government government should award construction contracts, and individuals should purchase houses only from a child-friendly developer" It is invariably the case that construction workers migrate from place to place. Consequently, their children cannot go to school and receive an education. A child-friendly builder is one who makes it a priority to ensure that these children are educated. Middle class India, when they buy a home can afford a small fraction to support the children of laborers who built their homes.

This issue deserves a post of its own, but serves to highlight how I think the group should operate. I would propose this as the group's issue for the next three months, say. People would vote on it, and if agreed upon by the group, everyone will make enough noise to get the news media talking about it, lobby the government to get legislation passed, sensitise people about the issue that they consider this when they buy a house. We can then measure our success or failure.

This is tied back to the "silent majority" mentioned above. It takes one concerned individual like Ron to come up with this idea, but thousands of others merely by repeating it aloud in a united voice can make it happen.

Start with the easy things first

If we cannot solve a simple problem, we cannot solve a hard problem. I understand the utility of a grand vision. But it will remain just that, a vision. What is more important is to tackle small issues, succeed in them, and move on to bigger goals.

Not to pick on Freedom Team of India (I like their vision), but I would like to say what I do not like. Their goal is to provide a platform for candidates who will win a majority in India's national elections and state elections. They are looking for leaders who "will contest parliamentary elections." Before getting there, I would look for people who can read something and click a mouse button. (If your argument is: getting a great leader would make it easier to wake up the silent majority. My response: we don't need to search for leaders. They will emerge on their own.) What would be better for them is to get people to contest five seats in India where there is a reasonable chance of winning, focus on those seats. Together with a vision, please show a workable plan.

Tags: activism, india, ngo, politics

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