There are a few people in this city who have consistently raised issues of public interest and kept them on top of the agenda.
One of them was retired bureaucrat A. K. Venkatasubramanian who passed away a few days ago.
AKV, as close friends called him, devoted almost all his time and energy to a few key causes that are important to us. One of them was to get the Election Commission to let voters exercise Rule 49 (O) which allows a voter to record that he/she does not wish to vote for any of the candidates who are in the fray in that particular constituency.
There were times when this crusader felt terribly frustrated and very disappointed that people in our city remained a passive lot especially when it came to their role in public issues.
I was a close observer of a process that AKV and his group attempted two elections ago when local city councillors were to be elected to the Chennai Corporation.
The Adyar East seat was a reserved one, reserved for women. Past records showed that a councillor in the Adyar-Mylapore region won such elections by garnering a mere 10 to 15% of the votes in that ward. This was possible because over 50% of the electorate did not bother to cast their ballot.
AKV and his team helped to choose an educated, community activist who was a resident of the area as a candidate and then convinced heads of local residents’ associations to campaign in their backyards for this woman.
If 12% of the educated in this ward could be convinced to vote and vote for this woman, against women put up by the political parties, all of whom had little or no political or community service record, then a new beginning in grass root politics in the metro could be made.
The group went home with fond hopes but they were utterly disappointed. People stayed at home and watched TV on polling day.
Much later, as AKV went about setting up Citizens Centres across the state - a forum and space where local communities discussed and pursued public issues - he tried to establish such centres at the ward level in this city.
Again he met with a disappointing response. Imagine not being able to get a few people of a neighbourhood who could found these centres and liaise with the local MLA, councillors and officials and be the voices of the local community.
An activist in a public space needs the community to support campaigns. Sadly, in Chennai few people want to be part of that space.