It’s been nearly three weeks since 64 campaigners faced a riot led by Kanwar Lal Meena, Rajasthan MLA from Manohar Thana in Aklera, Jhalawar.
Muscle tears, bruises, slaps and cuts have slowly started to heal. The mental trauma we faced has been pushed to the back of our minds. The 100 day Rajasthan-wide accountability yatra is marching into newer terrain, past the half way mark and on to its 19th district.
The purpose of the yatra run by the Soochana Evam Rozgaar Adhikaar Abhiyan – a network of around 100 people’s organisations – has been straightforward: to create awareness and mobilise support from as many parts of the state for the Rajasthan Participation and Accountability bill. In the yatra, the appeal of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan co-founder, Shankar Singh’s ways of communicating this with the public at large in nukkad sabhas draws hundreds of people at any given point. In Akrela village itself where Shankar ji (as he is popularly known) took the most brutal lathi blows, around 250 people had gathered impromptu to listen ardently, nodding and murmuring in agreement and swiftly coming forward to register their signatures in support of the law.
In addition to Shankar ji’s passionate speeches, the lyrics of the songs we sing strike a chord instantly. They talk about the Seventh Pay Commission and soaring salaries of government officials on one hand and declining daily wages of labourers on the other; exclusion of the poor from food security schemes and innumerable rounds of government offices and banks that are forced on the elderly, widows and the differently-abled to receive their meagre pension of Rs 500 per month.
There is no mention of any political party or leader in the songs, speeches or on the 40-odd banners with slogans that are held high throughout the sabha. A long tradition of activism in the area has used sharply-worded songs and satirical plays that were particularly instrumental in making the complexities of the right to information (RTI) Act relevant to the rural poor.
So, what has shaken the powerful – some of whom resorted to organised violence on a peaceful rally on January 16? MLA Kanwar Lal Meena in his quote to the Times of India published on January 17 said: “I was told that the activists used foul language against me which provoked people. I rushed to the spot to save them from the fury of a mob”.
The yatra, part of a larger campaign, has concrete demands, not baseless accusations. We were not targeting Meena personally, but we did raise, and continue to raise, questions against the entire corrupt, lax and dictatorial government machinery that includes his lot. And we continue to demand transparency and an accountability law.
Simply put, major features of the proposed law are:
- A daily job chart be prepared for every person on the government payroll. The concept is similar to that of a job card issued to the NREGA worker.
- A fixed timeline be set for daily work of every post – clerk, computer operator, patwari, sarpanch, MLA, MP, government doctor, teacher etc
- Every complaint of late or no delivery of public service or work be scrutinised for accountability and levying of penalty
- An independent commissioner be appointed at the district level who will decide on penalties to be drawn from salaries of defaulting employees
The law, if enacted, will be historic because it directly aims at making government more accountable by curtailing its powers and privileges. Other laws born out of people’s struggles such as the RTI Act, NREGA and Right to Hearing Act are aimed at empowering people by strengthening people’s rights.
The January 16 riot will become a grim event in the journey of this movement. The police stood silent and watched for one hour that Saturday while the rampage went on. After the incident, police jeeps have escorted the yatra for a while since. Our FIR at Aklera police chowky was tampered with and weak IPC sections have been invoked. The police have now initiated two fresh inquiries. The Bharatiya Janata Party which had given a ticket to Kanwar Lal Meena – a history-sheeter – too has now issued him a notice.
Eleven people have been arrested so far but the MLA remains at large. The campaign continues to mount pressure for his arrest. It seems clear that his continuing impunity arises not just because he is an MLA but because he represents the brute force that is not willing to allow democratic expression, protest, citizen’s monitoring of government, or indeed, the truth, to find any space. As the yatra continues, and the attack might become one chapter in its eventful journey, the issues of accountability are destined to grow as more and more people come in contact with its messages. Perhaps that is what was feared in the first place.