As Mahatma Gandhi often pointed out, India lives in its villages and unless village life can be revitalised, the nation as a whole can hardly come alive.
Following Bapu’s padyatra mantra, the late CM of Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly known as ‘the people’s leader’, power walked through the dusty by-lanes and villages under the scorching sun, making him a man of the masses.
Following in his father’s footsteps, YSR Congress Party president Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy learnt about the problems of the people while earning their affection through his padyatra, which only proves that traditional strategies like door-to-door campaigning and old-style public meetings (janata darbar) are still effective.
These methods have yielded results in the past too. In the last 14 years, if TRS Minister T. Harish Rao became a part of the citizens’ families in Siddipet constituency, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath’s janata darshan, which gives the people a voice even as he directs officials to take necessary action, has made him a mass leader. The latest ones to join this league are Congress leaders Sachin Pilot and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Recently, Sachin Pilot was seen connecting to people at the grassroots level during a two-day field visit in the districts of Sirohi, Jalore and Pali while Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be interacting with Congress party workers between 10 am to 1 pm every Tuesday and Thursday without any formal appointment.
The call for politicians to ‘get real’ and ‘go public’ is more than just about winning elections or getting out of their political bubble. Connecting to everyday people helps leaders make better decisions.
“In 2014, when we lost the elections, Jagan Mohan Reddy started a Gadapa Gadapaku (door-to-door) campaign along with party activists and explained to the people the failures of the TDP in fulfilling the election promises made during the 2014 polls. And then he embarked on a padyatra called Praja Sankalpam — a six-month long walkathon crisscrossing the entire state and 125 constituencies, during which he held roadside meetings, public address meetings while understanding public concerns and listening to the people’s voices. He also instructed his members to visit and conduct meetings in selected villages in their constituencies to discuss the grievances of the people and understand their aspirations. That helped him create a strong bond with his people,” explains YSRCP MP P.V. Midhun Reddy.
Good governance can happen only when essential attributes like accountability, transparency, rule of law, participation of stakeholders in decision-making and development processes are facilitated. Ultimately, democracy must truly reflect the rule of the people.
“In principle, the practice of political leaders going on padyatras or visiting different rural and urban localities to meet individuals and community representatives directly is welcome. It reduces the distance between the two and makes political figures more approachable. When officials accompany the political leaders, those seeking help could get a faster response from the government. Ideally, of course, the government must work efficiently so that direct meetings are not even necessary,” says Chandan Gowda, Professor of Sociology at Azim Premji University.
“Politicians get to hear about the difficulties and challenges on the ground. These experiences are valuable as a source of social learning and to gain political maturity. They also of course, enable politicians to acquire voter goodwill. When leaders or elected governments do good, it is only natural for them to expect to be rewarded at the time of elections. On the other hand, politicians who organise grassroots contact events merely for publicity and electoral mileage cannot fool the people, who can turn cynical about political democracy,” adds Gowda, who is completing a book on the cultural politics of development in old Mysore state.
The scion of India’s most controversial political dynasty, Aditya Thackeray has learnt the ropes of politics from his grandfather Bal Thackeray and father, Uddhav Thackeray. He has been instrumental in bringing fundamental changes to the Shiv Sena party’s otherwise rigid ways of dealing with the millennial generation.
“Any leader derives power from the support of the people, and loses the same through the people. In a democracy, it is imperative for every leader to stay connected with the people who gave him or her the power to transform and execute changes.
Balasaheb’s service to his people was the true hallmark of a strong leader. His life and the respect he earned is a testimony to that commitment. The same applies in today’s age as well. If you work for the people, they will give you power but if you continue to live in an ivory tower after winning, you will be disempowered by the same people. This is the beauty of the vote and the wonder called India,” says Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Shiv Sena....