Bangalore, March 22: She swears by participative democracy and is very concerned about Bangalore's garbage problem. Shanthala Damle, 40, is the Loksatta Party's Candidate for the Assembly elections from the Basavanagudi constituency.
She left a highly serviced country like US to be in her hometown Bangalore. She is a BE graduate and MBA from Virginia Tech. She is an IT professional and has worked in the US for 12 years. Shanthala returned to Bengaluru in 2010. And, the mission - Clean Politics in India.
She has participated in Anna Hazare's Anti-Corruption Movement. Shanthala has had a taste of politics at ground level. Shea was a campaign manager for a Clean Politics candidate, Nisha Singh, who was elected as a Councillor in Gurgaon in 2011.
Question:What is the provocation to contest election?
Shanthala: I have always been pained by the increasing corruption among our politicians and within the government. Even 65 years after independence, we call ourselves a developing country. Nearly 40 percent of our population is below the poverty line. Apart from poverty, political corruption breeds all kinds of other problems - law and order issues, terrorism, increasing economic and social divide, lack of economic growth. Today, every area that we lag in has been the direct or indirect result of political corruption.
The only way to solve our country's problems is to clean up our political system first. This cannot happen unless people with a clean background start participating in the political process. But blatant corruption has brought about alienation of the people from politics. Politics has become taboo.
We, the citizens, have alienated ourselves from politics out of fear and distaste. Our complaints are many but only a few of us raise our voices. Civil society outside the political system often doesn't bring the level of influence and impact necessary to clean up our systems. In this context, I asked myself - IF NOT I, THEN WHO? IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?
I had the opportunity to take ‘voluntary retirement' from a career in IT after working in the US for about 12 years. I returned to India in 2010 and gained experience while campaigning for two elections. I helped a clean candidate win her position as a corporator and helped a highly qualified MLC candidate get 16 percent of the vote share.
Q:How will you campaign because elections require money?
S: Most politicians have made a mockery of election laws - but my campaign is different. My campaign does NOT need crores of rupees because I won't be buying votes with liquor and sarees or by paying rowdies! All that my campaign needs is money for legitimate expenses such as pamphlets, banners, conducting public events and for paying a small campaign staff for a few months.
The Election Commission has stipulated a spending limit of 16 lakhs for an MLA election in our state. This is a very reasonable amount for the duration of 30-45 days of the run up to the elections. I am raising this money by donations. Several people I had not known earlier have been donating to my campaign since they want to support clean politics. I have raised about Rs.6.5 lakh so far and have provided details of expenses on my website to maintain transparency with regard to my campaign.
Q: Urban voters are not interested in elections. How are you going to overcome this attitude and raise voter awareness and participation?
S: Close to 50 percent of the registered voters in urban areas do not vote in elections. This is partly due to errors in the voter lists and partly due to the perception that there are no good candidates to vote for. My campaign conducted an extensive voter registration drive during October and November of last year to raise awareness about recent mass illegal deletions from the voter lists of Bangalore. Nearly 80,000 voters were deleted from Basavanagudi constituency alone. We are also running extensive campaigns so that voters know that they have a good choice this time. We have managed to mobilise hundred volunteers who were not interested even in voting before joining my campaign. They now spend significant amount of time every week to help me reach out to thousands of voters.
Q: What is the agenda for Bangalore? How are you planning to achieve the agenda?
S: I have published my election manifesto for Basavanagudi on my website. Some highlights are that I will introduce a private member bill - ‘Dumping Saaku' - regarding effective and sustainable management of municipal waste and focus on constituency development, particularly in the areas of safety, employment for locals, health services and sanitation.
I am a big believer in participative democracy. I will create a platform for citizens to get actively involved in governance. I will obtain citizen input and feedback for making decisions on constituency development projects and public referendum before voting on Bills. My other commitment is to continue the fight against corruption. As a first step, I plan to set up volunteer teams to assist citizens in obtaining bribe-free, fast-track government services.
The LokSatta vision is to eradicate political corruption not only in Bangalore, but in Karnataka. That will happen when candidates with clean background and a commitment to good governance begin to get elected as legislators and corporators. I am confident that my win in the election will serve as a catalyst and inspire hundreds of public-spirited citizens to contest elections in future. When corrupt politicians begin losing elections, the established parties will begin to clean up their acts.
Q: What is the role of civil society in your electoral battle?
S: The primary supporters of my campaign are from civil society. They have been actively involved in fighting corruption at least since Anna Hazare's movement, if not earlier. There are hundreds of people who care deeply about the toll that corruption is taking on our society. They are proactively involved in spreading our message of Clean Politics.
Civil society should get involved in electoral battles - not just mine but in all elections. After all, politics affects our life directly. In more mature democracies, elections are usually fought on the basis of issues. For example, those who care about the environment organise themselves around a candidate espousesing policies to preserve the environment. Those who care deeply about healthcare similarly support a candidate with a vision matches with theirs and so on. In India, the biggest issue middle-class educated voters care about today is corruption. It is no wonder that I am receiving overwhelming public support for our Clean Politics campaign.