March 28, 2009

Namma Chennai in Lok Sabha

Interesting people are stepping into General Elections 2009.
You may have read about Meera Sanyal. If you haven't, you will get to see her on TV and read about her in your newspaper.
Meera has not even filed her nomination but she is dominating some of the Q and A programmes on television.
Meera is the CEO of ABN Amro Bank and is based in Mumbai. She is also a Mumbai girl. And yes, she wants to contest from India's financial capital.
Meera has also been involved in community projects while being a banker and now she says she is taking a sabbatical and contesting under the banner of a less known party which is said to represent professionals.
I have been keenly listening to the longer interviews that Meera has given so far.
Her focus, she says is Mumbai.
One point on her agenda is the state of the security in this metro. Against the background of the 26/11 terrorist attacks, this is obviously a key issue.
Meera also talks about doing a lot for the infrastructure of the city. She says that millions of people use the trains and that a lot more has to be invested in this sector.
And she is talking about the relocation of the port since its business and location have been affecting the city.
Meera is certainly pushing the 'amchi Mumbai' agenda as a contestant in the General Elections-and doing this strongly.
So, do we have candidates in our city who are pushing the 'namma Chennai' agenda with pride and conviction?
And will we begin to get calls from people asking for top priority for this metro in the promises and plans that our candidates may be drawing up just now?
Now there could be people who might say that the agenda for our city has to be drawn and pursued by our councillors and our local MLAs.
That Members of Parliament have a different role to play.
I don't think so.
Considering the fact that sensitive issues, progressive laws and huge projects are debated in Parliament and drawn in the ministries, an MP from a metro has a lot to do.

So what does Chennai want?

March 21, 2009

Jaago Re

You must have seen the Jaago Re commercials on TV.
The campaign to get young people to vote in elections. A campaign that Tata Tea is promoting.
The campaign reached our city on Friday.
Two young men - Bala and Daniel - who work with 'Janaagraha', an NGO which focuses on public issues dropped by to talk about the drive.
The Bangalore-based band 'Thermal and A Quarter' was due to perform at IIT's OAT on Friday night as part of the Jaago Re campaign.
Thermal has done well for itself and it has recently produced a song specially for this 'shut up and go out and vote' project that will touch a few metros in the country.
Bala, Daniel and I got talking about this business of getting people to vote. Leave alone young people.
I am not sure we are covering some part of the mile by getting people to vote.
Not when people are not conscious of issues that have a bearing on our constituency, our region and our neighbourhood.
What is my relationship with an election and my elected representative?
What say do I have in the choice of candidates who are put up by political parties?
Are they people I have seen in public or in community life the past few years? Have I had occasions to see these people in action first hand or can I access their track records?
T. R. Baalu was the rep of my constituency in the last Lok Sabha. Because he was also a minister he was busier supervising flyovers and highways. And because he was busy, he chose to spend less time for his constituents. Of course, you could always send a letter to his city office.
So is it enough to get young people and old to go out and vote or is there more that people will need to do at election time?
I believe that the people behind public campaigns like the Jaago Re one should pay attention to local elections, to the most important level of democracy and in a metro, it is our local council.
Then perhaps, young people will see the value of that ballot.
Again, I am not so sure.
Many years ago, a campaign was tried out in Adyar to get the local community to select a 'good' candidate and stand by the person - they got a locally well known woman social worker to
contest the civic body polls.
To win, she required 10.5 percent of the votes.
Over 50% were educated people in the ward. The woman lost. Because most people who said they would vote didn't.
Lets have some hot tea.

March 14, 2009

Lok Sabha elections - be aware

Is a politician also a social entrepreneur?
This is a question I put to students and faculty of social work and a few heads of NGOs at a workshop that the Social Work Department of Stella Maris College conducted last weekend.
The theme was on the entrepreneurial outlook that people working with the community could have and the risks and responsibilities that came with it.
Sister Lourdumary, the Head had heard about some of the diverse projects that our newspapers had gone into and wanted me to share my experience with the senior students.
I didn't stick to politics that evening. Arts and media were other themes that I got into and at the end of the session, a few people seem to have been stirred.
The forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha have certainly stirred me up.
I am trying to see what role our local newspapers and related media can play in the weeks to come.
Alliances, parleys, list of candidates . . . all this at the present sounds and looks interesting on your TV sets.
But there is lots more than we need to be aware of if we wish to be responsible citizens.
How many of us know that the constituencies have been 'delimited' - in other words that the areas which fall under them have changed?
If you aren't aware of this, then how will you know which constituency you are a voter of and who the candidates are?
Would you also like to know some of the common violations that candidates are likely to commit and how you, as an alert citizen can lodge a complaint?
But who should you complain to? And is there a contact phone number?
Would you also like to know who the candidates are and what their profiles are? Would you like to know what they stand for and what they wish to focus on if they are voted as Members of Parliament?
Your feedback will help me and our editorial team report and feature the information that is timely and useful for the elections.
Write to us at or to
Do remember this though - providing information is simple. Making use of it is key.
Do I hear someone say - I care a damn!

March 07, 2009

Posters on our walls

Wanted: Men/women tailors. Contact shop on this road.

The advert is simple and direct, printed on copy paper, A4 size.

It is well positioned too - in the centre of a Sintex water tank the Chennai Corporation set up bang in the middle of a street which runs into a colony of dhobis.

Today, the dhobis are a dozen in number but there must be a fair number of people who must be looking for employment and change in their jobs in this area.

Looking at such simple, localised promotions has become a habit.

It has stood me well for, these posters and handbills influenced the design and strategy of our own community newspapers and media.

Much of local, outdoor advertising has been dictated by the technology available at the neighbourhood printing presses.

Why, these presses even dictate the nature and form of personal communication like wedding invitations and obituaries.

The obituary posters are fascinating - it’s a different story as to why a fair number of those who said goodbye are in their 20s and 30s.

The posters are in black, invariably have illustrations of two eyes with tears running down and a wick lamp at the bottom.

Often, a few lines about the person run under the photograph.

It was one such Obit poster that led me on to the family of a man who owned a tenth of the neighbourhood where I reside - his was a fascinating life story.

Much like P. James, the magician who has dominated all the city walls with his tar scrawls, small, info-laden posters that promise cure for PILES never seem to leave the doors of TNEB junction boxes.

Off and on posters of local ‘docs’ who claim to cure sexual problems find their space.

Then came the flood of posters which advertised a variety of accommodation - for single girls and married women, for North Indian men and small families. That was the era of the IT madness.

Of late though, playschools and caterers, TV stores and call taxi services and even beautycare salons make do with single colour posters.

It is recession time, I am told.