A unique action has been launched in Rajasthan for raising the crucial issues of public before the political parties in the run-up to the Assembly election in Rajasthan on December 7 through a “Jan Nigrani Abhiyan” (people's watch campaign). Led by eminent social activist and Magsaysay Award winner, Ms. Aruna Roy, the campaign is aimed at bringing transparency and accountability in the functioning of parties and making an impact on their election manifestoes.
The Soochana Evam Rozgar Adhikar Abhiyan, Rajasthan, which is a network of more than 100 organisations in the state, has been working towards ensuring transparency, accountability and participation of citizens in fighting marginalisation, strengthening social sector entitlements, and deepening democratic governance.
Led by Ms. Roy, the activists attached to the movement have also been campaigning for a comprehensive citizen-centric accountability regime and advocating for a grievance redressal and social accountability law to be passed at the state and central levels.
With the model election code of conduct coming in force after the announcement of Assembly election schedule, the people's watch campaign is keeping a watch on the electoral process (election watch), practices and manifestoes of all the political parties (manifesto watch) and administration and governance during the elections (governance watch) through a 15-day-long state-level “dharna” (sit-in) and a series of “Jan Sunwai” (public hearing) in Jaipur.
Ms. Roy said here that the election watch, manifesto watch and governance watch were going to be the major planks of the people's campaign over the next few weeks. Apart from small yatras in several districts already conducted across Rajasthan, the public hearing at Shahid Smarak, opposite the Police Commissioner's office in Jaipur, is demanding the inclusion of Peoples’ Manifesto, prepared by the Abhiyan, in the manifestoes of different political parties.
At the sit-in site, the activists are organising public hearings everyday on the issues of concern to ordinary people, with special focus on a certain area or issue each day. The subjects include women's rights, Dalits' rights and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, discrimination against minorities, transparency in governance, rights of unorganized labourers, unemployed youths, tribals' rights, agriculture, education and social security.
Women raised their issues on the second day earlier this week and said that they may be ordinary workers, but were in no way helpless. People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) president Ms. Kavita Srivastava said the government had merely made policies for women and it had not done anything to realize them on the ground.
Homeless women who participated in the public hearing raised demands of adequate housing and toilet facilities for all and their rightful share in their paternal and husband's properties. Ms. Sunita, a cab driver in Jaipur, said that women should also be allowed to drive low-floor buses now and the procedure for women to get licences should be simplified.
Women from the Muslim community also participated and presented their demands in the event. Ms. Nishat Hussain of the Nation's Muslim Women's Welfare Society raised demands of employment and other government schemes for Muslim women, a firm stop on mobocracy, violence on and exploitation of Muslim women and improvement in health and sanitation facilities in Muslim-majority areas. Tribal women who came from different parts of the state also exhorted the political parties to include their demands in their electoral manifestos.
Interestingly, there are only 27 women MLAs out of 200 in the current Assembly, while the population of women in Rajasthan is about 3.50 crores. There is no woman representative of Rajasthan in either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha and the representation of women has fallen in the panchayat elections due to introduction of minimum educational qualification criterion of having cleared 8th class.
The members of the minority communities shared the platform on the third day and raised their issues and asked the political parties to include their demands in their manifestos. It was pointed out that the Rajasthan government’s failure to ensure justice in cases of suspected hate crimes against Muslims was enabling a climate of impunity in the state. There is a total loss of faith in the law and order mechanism and the BJP-led state government. The participants said that the main opposition party, the Congress, had also failed to address the issue and mobilise opinion against communal attacks on citizens and arrests on false charges.
A resolution adopted on the occasion demanded punishment to the killers of Pehlu Khan, Rakbar Kahn, Mohammed Afrazul, Talim Hussain, Umar Khan and Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi, who were all victims of mob lynching and hate crimes during the last two years. The dropout rate among the minority girls at the secondary level is 24.12% and only 47% of the funds for minority welfare has been utilized. Against the 11.41% Muslim population in the state, there are only two MLAs from the community as of now.
The series of public hearings, involving activists, academicians and ordinary people from different areas of the state, are expected to achieve the desired objective of compelling the political parties to bring the people's issues at the grassroots to their main agenda for fighting the Assembly election by including them in their manifestoes.