Keeping An Eye on Politicians: Through Phone Calls

New Delhi, May 27: In a one-of- its-kind initiative, a New York based NRI Suresh Edige has been running a campaign for the welfare of the poor in rural India, for six years now. Aptly titled ‘One phone call a day to keep problems away ’ this involves direct communication with the ministers and other concerned persons for tackling a particular developmental or welfare issue.

Till date, Edige has managed to call more than 150 MPs and MLAs; in the process he has had several interesting experiences and discoveries.

Why call up ministers in the first place? To this Edige replies,” Ideally, every minister should maintain complete transparency with regards to all the work undertaken by him/her during five years of office. There should be no reason to file an RTI or take up other legal means to extract this information. There should be quarterly or semi-annual interactions between the ministers and the citizens to talk about the progress of their work or the lack of it. Until such a formal process of evaluation exists, alternative approaches to keep them accountable must be worked upon. There is nothing political in this, it’s completely personal. After all, their actions or inactions make all the difference in our lives.”

It is pretty obvious that Edige means business. Quite naturally therefore, he expects lawmakers and ministers to go about their business -with honesty and integrity. “From education to employment, from birth to death, the policies they make, the decisions they take and whether they implement them or not – everything has a direct impact on our lives. The least we can do this case is keep them accountable for what they are supposed to do and calling them directly happens to be an easy and effective way,” says Edige.
So, did these phone calls really have an impact on the administration? “Certainly” Edige asserts, “ For example after the CAG audit revealed that the huge amounts of money allotted to the legislators, under of the MPLAD (Members of Parliament Local Area Development) Scheme, were either not spent on welfare activities within the area or were misused, we launched the MPLADS Campaign. Calls were made to the MPs to enquire about the amount in question.”
Since Indian politicians hail from diverse socio-political , cast, religious, ethnic and educational backgrounds, what was the experience of the phone calls like? Pat comes the reply,” From being very knowledgeable to being completely clueless, from being very polite to being completely rude, from being very objective to being completely dismissive – I’ve had the best and the worst experiences…”
Edige cites some glaring examples. “ The best one was when an MP ordered his PA to do an end to end research on the RTI, political funding etc. Secondly, a veteran MP endorsed one of our campaigns and gave us some valuable insights into the functioning of his party. On one occasion when the issue of sexual harassment was being debated upon, the concerned MP blurted out that women from the southern parts of the country face less harassment than their counterparts from the north. Again, during a debate on hate speeches, an MP turned defensive and used hate speeches, rather than acknowledging the wrongdoing on his part. Edige relives a humorous incident where a cabinet minister who had received such a call was so infuriated, that he simply banged down the phone.