I have recently begun to observe one important factor that really makes people feel that the government is closer to the people: an officer picking up a phone. In the last 14 years that I am carrying a cellphone, and have been connected with countless officers of various rank and file as I work in the arena of disaster management, I have seen how people can feel recognized and accepted. In one of the recent meetings a senior staff (both in age and experience) of an NGO commented in the presence of some very senior officers: "Whomsoever I phone, the only person I am sure will pick my phone, or shall call back is the UNDMT (United Nations Disaster Management Team) Coordinator sitting in the district or the state." It stuck me hard.
Why do people get disillusioned with governments? Why do they think that the government doesn't heed to them? I myself have experienced this. I keep calling some officers three to four times a day, at different times of the day. But he / she just doesn't pick the phone. They do not have the courtesy to call back, if they were busy at the time of my calling. When I checked with other officers as to why such things happen, they mentioned that the particular officer may not have my number in his / her cellphone! That is surprising. How am I supposed to get my number into his/her phone? Send an SMS? You don't get replies!
As the day wears out you feel upset. Now if this is what happens to someone who understands the system, imagine what about ordinary people. It is not that all officers are of the same class. I have seen at least three officers here who usually pick the phone or send a text message that they would call back, if they are busy. May be they forget to call me back later in the thick of activities, but I am glad that they acknowledged the call !
One important way for governments to show that they are accessible to people is to pick up the phone. It might cost time. But if you don't, it would cost the government! If a bureaucrat does not pick the phone, an elected representative of the government will lose votes in the election, and be shunted out! How on earth are people to believe that the government is closer to them? By governance. By making them feel that their needs are heard. By giving them the satisfaction that their calls will not be turned away. It is not all about solving problems. It is about making people heard, and recognized -- recognized as persons whose voice, time and self has a worth.
About the three people who make me feel that they are with the people - I shall write in my next post.