Forty countries will hold elections this year and the world’s largest democracy will see a demographic shift with 10% of the electorate voting for the first time in 2014. Be it Lalu Yadav’s twitter debut last month or CPM’s entry to social media the past week, every party is vying to attract this strategic group – the youth.
But how to separate the wheat from the chaff when the youth remains wanting of a leader? Not one who panders to narrow parochial interests but one who promises to transform India; not one who belongs to the old school but one who marches with the times and connects with the youth; not one who just reacts to situations but one who acts on time to create favourable ones; not one who only relies on affirmative action but one who also acts as an enabler.
Past is a good indicator of the future and one way to analyse is by going beyond good intentions and looking at the policies adopted by the leader. Enrapturing crowds at his rallies, Narendra Modi has often enounced, “Nation First”; “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”; “Enact one law when you repeal ten” but what do his policies espouse?
If equality of opportunity is the goal then access to quality education is the means. A lack of focus on outputs and absence of commitment from the top has resulted in the acute deficiency of learning levels in children. To address this pressing concern, Gujarat began Gunotsav — an accountability framework to examine kids and assess the performance of grade teachers and schools. Top IAS officers personally evaluate 25% of schools in each taluka while other schools are self-graded. This information is then entered into an online child tracking system which generates block and district wise reports. Started even before the enactment of Right to Education Act in 2009, Gunotsav has come a long way. Today, all children of classes 2-8 have been assessed and detailed reports are available for the last four years. This policy was carried forward making performance not infrastructure the basis of granting recognition to schools.
The disparity between boys and girls requires special focus on the latter. To foster education among girls, Kanya Kelavani Nidhi – a dedicated fund for the cause of girl child’s education — was setup in 2005-06. All gifts received by the CM for inaugurating public works, attending functions, or cutting ribbons are auctioned and the resulting money is deposited into the fund. Saving taxes on one hand, this innovative scheme puts a healthy premium on Chief Minister’s time. While Rs. 23 cr was realised from the auctions and donations in the last five years, several individuals and organisations have come forward and contributed Rs. 10.53 cr in 2012 alone.
Even after completing high school or college, large scale skill deficit plagues the youths. To augment education with skills, Gujarat has established Kaushalya Vardhan Kendras (KVKs) at the village cluster level to offer popular courses such as computer fundamentals, tally software, welding, hairdressing, mobile and appliance repairing et cetera to the youth. Kaushalya sabhas are organised for awareness building and identification of courses while implementation is monitored by the village community through Kaushalya samitis. Being DTH enabled, KVKs conduct special training sessions by experts from other locations using satellite communication. Participatory approach and proximity to villages have made this scheme widely successful resulting in one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Lauded by industry and government alike, KVK bagged the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration in 2011-12.
In an otherwise dhandewala state, how does one revive the culture of sports? To shed its backward image in sports, Gujarat began organising a mega annual sports festival — Khel Mahakumbh. What began in 2011 with 13 lakh participants has quickly risen to 31 lakh participants competing in 21 events for prize money of Rs. 24 crore in 2013. The festival left a mark not just on India but the world when on 24 Dec 2010; a Guinness World Record was made when 20,000 players played a game of chess simultaneously. Present on the occasion, Vishwanathan Anand remarked, “I am happy that his dream has become a reality today, with Gujarat holding a historic event bringing laurels to the state as well as the country”.
Existence of a strong and vibrant democracy vests with the citizens of the country. Many youths despite being eligible to vote aren’t registered as voters or don’t take the effort to go to the polling booth on the polling day. To address this, Gujarat state election commission, first in the country, conceptualised and implemented a system of e-voting in 2009 and has since run pilots in Gandhinagar and other areas successfully. This reduced the number of trips to EC offices for voter registration to zero and results were encouraging: more than three quarters of registered e-voters cast their vote in comparison to less than 60% of EVM voters exercising their franchise in a 2010 pilot. Election Commission of India and Kerala Election Commission are looking to replicate the system for NRIs seeking to vote from overseas locations. Once the secrecy and security challenges are addressed, this technology transformation holds promises to increase voter participation and consequently strengthen our democracy.
While the previous Delhi government called off a janta darbar owing to concerns of a stampede, Gujarat was celebrating the 10th anniversary of SWAGAT – an online grievance redressal mechanism at the state, district, taluka, and village level. Every 4th Thursday between 9 AM and 12 noon, citizens register complaints online at the nearest SWAGAT office followed by a three hour period in which the officials file their responses. Sharp at 3 PM, Chief Minister and all concerned officers directly interact with the applicant through video-conferencing and pending applications are disposed. Between 2003 and 2010, SWAGAT resolved 99.4% requests at the district level and 96.7% requests at the sub-district level while the success rate at the state level stood at one hundred percent. Acknowledging the policy marvel, United Nations awarded SWAGAT the UN Public Service Award in 2010.
A great leader is remembered by the institutions s/he leaves behind. These ideas are not the brainchild of one man but are an outcome of a motivated and hard-working team. Gunotsav and Kaushalya Vardhan Kendra are among ideas that emerged from Chintan Shibir, the annual four day retreat of Gujarat government involving all secretaries and district collectors.
I will end by quoting Albert Camus who said, “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
The author is thankful to Kush Sharma and Akshika Bansal for their inputs
About The Author:Â The author is a former LAMP Fellow and is working in the policy space since the last three years. HeÂ tweets at @tathast_manush.