The promise of All Fools Day

Start of largest ever census and implementation of right to education make it a day of great promise for aam aadmi

kapil

Kapil Bajaj | April 1, 2010



April Fool’s should be the last day to heed promises, especially for the Aam Aadmi who has seen enough of tokenism while suffering chronically bad governance.

It’s impossible, however, not to be tempted by the many promises of today.

It’s the day when the Right to Education Act comes into force and what is billed as the ‘largest ever census in human history’ begins. It’s also the day when Bharat Stage IV emission standards come into force in 13 cities.

Seen with the recent return of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council (NAC), which is expected to bring sharper focus on government’s social agenda, it’s a very significant day for governance.

This morning, Indians woke up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talking to them – one of his very rare public addresses, apart from the routine ones -- of redeeming the Article 21A's promise of providing free and compulsory primary education to all children.

The Aam Aadmi touch was unmistakable, as Singh recalled the long distance he trudged as a child to reach school and kerosene lamp that he studied under.

Millions of Indian children still trudge long distances to reach school, or have no hope of being enrolled in a school due to poverty, or are offered a quality of education that will never earn them a decent work opportunity in modern economy.

Many of them toil in farms, factories, shops, and households to survive poverty.

For now, a statutory right to education means little to them, but it’s a legislation that should be seen in the wider context in which India is gradually trying to address the questions of equity and justice at a time when economic growth seems to have exacerbated the gulf between haves and have-nots.

Effort to bring transparency in governance (RTI) and giving the rural poor a modicum of guaranteed livelihood security (NREGS) belong to the same wider context.

The debate over iniquitous distribution of resources – food, water, shelter, livelihoods, education, healthcare – is getting shriller with each passing day. Struggle for political representation is intensifying. The State seems cornered; it must now seen to be working for the poor.

Census 2011 promises to do a comprehensive mapping of India’s socio-economic landscape by capturing statistical evidence of the plight of communities that have lagged behind socially, economically and politically.

If the Census does manage to live up to this promise and National Population Register/unique ID cards materialize, then the Indian State will have a historic opportunity to renew its social contract with people, especially the have-nots.

Today also brings into force Bharat Stage IV emission norms, which means better quality vehicle fuel will be available in 13 cities — Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.

That’s another great development in terms of governance of this country.

India must ensure that the health of 1.2 billion of us – including those at the bottom of the pyramid – is not a dispensable commodity in the mad rush to achieve higher and higher economic growth.

Today will prove to be no April Fool’s day if only we the people of India do our best to ensure that the State fulfills its promises of better governance in the months and years ahead.

Eternal vigilance, after all, is the price of democracy that we must be ready to pay.

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