Thoughts of a poll loser

Karnataka voters have ousted twiddledee only to bring back twiddledum.  So wrote Dr Bhamy Shenoy in 1995. He could as well write the same stuff in May next,  after the 2009 elections. Our voters do not care who wins and often do not even know whom they are voting for. So says Dr Shenoy, who contested the 1995 Karnataka assembly election as an Independent. And lost by a huge margin.

He reckoned that our voters are easily swayed,  even those whom we expect would take informed decisions. A  retired Karnataka Administrative Services (KAS) official, who had promised his vote to Shenoy, changed his mind on way to the polling booth. Because someone supporting  a rival candidate came up to him and handed over his voter registration slip.  The official had  in his government day held responsible positions  that entailed taking decisions. 

Losing elections, twice in a row,I suppose,  makes Dr Shenoy an electoral veteren. Referring to the last time he lost, 1994, the IIT educated  Mysorean said his  assembly constituency, with a fair chunk of well-to-do residents, had eight slum areas,  where votes were controlled by petty landlords, usually small time politicians. Our candidate had reckoned on neutralising the slum area vote,  by appealing to the educated middle-class to 1) stop staying away from the polling booth; and 2)  think before voting.

Dr Shenoy first contested in 1989,  when he polled 550 votes.  His strategy to draw middle-class votes fetched him 2260 votes in 1994. The strategy worked,  but the candidate lost. His years between elections – 1989-94 –  were spent on proactive social activism and networking  retired professionals and officials to help him mobilise public opinion.

With their support Dr Shenoy reached out individually to 70,000 people and visited 30,000 households, spending time at each place discussing issues of common concern.  “If only half of those we met had kept their word,  I would have easily won,” says Dr Shenoy.

On reflection he felt many who promised Shenoy their vote had, presumably, associated his name with BJP.  The middle-class everywhere has a segment of party-committed voters, who went by the party symbol, rather than a condidate’s merit. So much for the power of informed voting.  Dr Shenoy’s home-visits and his efforts to educate them on democratic maturity simply fell on deaf ears.

Another discovery he made was that, like parties and their parties ,  voters too have an ‘unspoken agenda’.  Sharing his thoughts in the media, Dr Shenoy wrote in 1995:

A shopkeeper was frank enough to admit that if we really root out corruption he would not be able to earn his living!…many of us may talk against the present corrupt system. But  we   have learnt the art of managing the system….Traders ans business class  may  agitate for unification of taxes and show their protest against the political system that brings in irrational rules and regulations.  But in the final analysis, they prefer a system where they can bribe and manage rather than the one where the rule of law prevails.   

Dr Shenoy can be reached at bhamysuman@hotmail.com

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After B Tech, what?

This is the question that stares at IT grads fresh out of college. IT companies that have suspended campus recruitment suggest that leading educational institutions introduce a one-year post-graduate programme for students on loose ends; that is, those passing out of colleges this year. The suggestion is reported to have come from the communications manager of a leading IT company.

This way colleges could hold graduates in class-rooms for one more year, by which time IT industry would hopefully recover from the current recession. The suggestion has not evoked response from any leading educational institution. What is there in it for them ? Besides, students are looking for jobs, not parking space till the industry is ready to take them. And where is the guarantee that they would get jobs after the stop-gap post-graduate programme ?

The suggestion would, perhaps, be acceptible if 1)IT companies come forward to sponser students for the stop-gap programme; and 2) if the sponsored candidates can be sure of employment after successful course completion.

Newspaper industry in Britain used to have a sponsorship scheme,in which school-leavers recruited by newspapers were put through a proficiency course in the National Council for Training of Journalists. Curriculum, designed with guidance from the media, focused on working experience and hands-on training. And the graduating candidates get a proficiency certificate and job in the nespapers that sponsored them.Their course is paid for by the newspapers that also provide a stipend to students.

Would IT majors consider such a model for eligible IT graduates, now on hold for possible employment in 2010? Corporate India is used to cherry-picking recruits from leading Tech and B-schools.

Cross-posted from  Giving It A Shot

Calling IIT alumni

Every IIT could adopt a slum or cluster of villages, with development levels that are lower than the national average. The adopted area could then become a development laboratory.  And to implement socio-economic programmes  in the  development lab s   IITs could draw on the talents and financial support of their alumni.  This would be their  guru dakshina, suggests Prof.Kalyan Singhal,  an IIT-Bombay alumnus.

Other suggestions:  1)  Cost of  IIT undergraduate eductaion should be treated as student loans;  and, on graduation,  a percentage of  their earnings should go towards repayment of  loans.

2)   IITs could however  waive loan repayment in the case of students  who choose to do post-graduate work leading to Ph.D.   Pursuit of  intergrated solutions to the problems of villages and slums  should provide ideas for fresh areas of research.

3)  To promote,  what Prof. Singhal calls,  a  culture of innovation,  every engineering and polytechnic student could be asked to undertake intensive interviews with atleast two low-income families.  Based on their findings the students could propose ways to raise socio-economic well- being of these families.

According to Prof.Sighal,  such engagementof undergraduate students  with society would create a vibrant learning environment and help them  become better engineers, reserachers, managers and entrepreneurs. The professor has more on this in The Hindu edit-page article – Towards a renaissance of the IITs. Writer can be contacted at ksinghal@ubalt.edu