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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2005

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Death of governance

Vinod Mathew

PANGS was the outpouring of the pent up angst of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Mumbaites. The ones who came forward were those who decided that they would no longer remain indifferent to the ills that they see all around them.

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

THUS starts off T. S Eliot Waste Land in the poem's first section, `Burial Of The Dead'. Here, in Mumbai, on October 2, there was a body to be buried. The mourners called it the Death Of Governance. And they were hopeful of new life sprouting from this burial exercise.

That Sunday witnessed a protest against the haphazard manner Mumbai is governed. Curiously, there were no political parties lending support to this outright expression of disenchantment with bodies such as the BMC — the municipal corporation; the MMRDA and the State Government.

The `peace march' was in sync with the ethos of the Gandhi Jayanti day as there was no disruption of routine activities like blocking of traffic or other destructive behaviour. Aptly, it was called PANGS — Protest Against Non-Governance in Society.

The participants — some 4,000 of them — came in their own vehicles and not by the truckloads as `normally' seen. Largely from middle- and upper-middle-class, the participants of this rather restrained form of agitation were protesting against the `death of governance' in the country's financial capital.

Quite unlike a recent strike that paralysed banking operations. Or the regular fare of strikes and hartals that have become the order of the day as manifest in rasta rokos and rail rokos across the country in the past couple of years.

PANGS was the outpouring of the pent up angst of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Mumbaites. The ones who came forward were those who decided that they would no longer remain indifferent to the ills that they see all around them.

While some NGOs did spearhead the movement, there were also a number of ordinary citizens who pledged that they would henceforth raise their voice and demand basic civic amenities and just governance from the authorities. The idea that took root on Gandhi Jayanti Day was that each and every citizen of this great city is a partner and should be treated as one.

According to Dilip Kumar, an IIT graduate running an edible oil business, there was only 10-15 per cent that ordinary citizens could contribute in the upkeep of a metropolis such as Mumbai but the citizens were found wanting even to this extent.

"Look at the manner in which we suffer pathetic levels of civil amenities without so much as a whimper. We suffer bad roads, poor quality water, encroachments of public places, shops and even residential societies. The way we travel in the suburban trains everyday is a slap in the face of our self-respect. Yet we carry on suffering out of sheer apathy," said an anguished Kumar.

According to another citizen, Bindu Tandon, who found time to join the peace march, the future citizens of Mumbai need to be made aware of what isailing the great city. And be given a direction as how the ailment can be cured.

"It is about getting the ordinary citizens to feel passionate about the city's cause without having to use any political platform. The first would be for each one of us to begin interacting with the elected members at the municipal wards and tell them what is wrong. There is no point ranting about what is wrong the society if no effort to address issues is made at the individual level," says Ms Tandon.

The overriding sentiment of these first-timers to mass agitation was that if the government cannot be tied down to doing specific things after the July 26 disaster, then nothing else can. If the Surat plague had a positive spin-off by way of a clean-up of the city, then Mumbai too should getits act together, they feel.

The peace march was innovative with advertising firm O&M-designed PANGS emblazoned armbands given to people to wear in the coming days. The idea is that ordinary citizens should wear it while interacting with the civic authorities till such time their grievances are not redressed.

The peace march also was labelled the Mithi March. Though the protest did not have any bearing on the flow or the lack of it of the river, the Mithi waschosen as a symbol of whatever is wrong in Mumbai.

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