Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hard talk with Chandrashekhar Prabhu

Or at least our (self and Mishti who arranged for the interview) version of it - here on the Hafta. The talk was hard and Mr. Prabhu is not one to pull punches. After talking to him I was left questionning some of my fondly held beliefs, especially on the BWSL (do read how Mr. Prabhu takes it apart).

Here's my favourite quote from our interview. It's something that Mr. Prabhu has been saying publicly on the channels that have been carrying his take on the latest deluge in our city. His words said in this interview last week almost seem prophetic after how the rains of the last few days have yet, yet again crippled the city.

"Q10. Have the politicians of Mumbai failed the city over the years?

The attitude of the city's politicians belonging to all the parties is simple. It is that of a brothel keeper when she looks at an 18-year old girl just bought into prostitution. The keeper looks at this girl with awe and greed and wants her to make the most money by taking as many customers per night as possible. The keeper knows very well that eventually she's going to succumb to AIDS or some disease. But the keeper also knows that she would have made enough money by then.

That is exactly the way in which politicians look at the city. They know that this city is going to crumble. I've had informal discussions with most of them. I've spoken to them very strongly on these issues and they've shown lip sympathy all the time. But over years and years of talking and handling them, you can make out that they don't care at all. They're just not bothered if there's going to be a huge hurricane or catastrophe to the city. They'll use that to garner more resources and make more money. For them any disaster is an opportunity. "

Mr. Prabhu is not an armchair critic. In case you're wondering what he's doing for his city, do read his answer to our next question below -

"Q11. Is there a cure to the problem and if so, what have you done about it

I have realised that instead of breaking my head with the political system, I have to go directly to the people. So I am trying to reach the grassroots and educate the people as to what is good for them and what is not. You need to come through the people because when an issue is discussed at an academic and intellectual level to a politician or a bureaucrat, he doesn't want to understand it. But when it comes from the people through the politician to the bureaucrat, perhaps he understands it. In some cases it is making a difference, because the politicians have their ears to the ground and for them those numbers matter.

In the past two years, I've held 2,700 meetings in the slums and amongst the people. For the first time there are public meetings when we talk about issues of development. I often refer to the Burroughs of London, where there is a voting even on whether a road should be widened; where the people are empowered to take decisions pertaining to urban development of their area. Every individual who is a stake holder has a right to either say yes or no for any development project. These days, I am explaining to people and trying to convince them how important it is for them to participate in the process. "

Interestingly enough, just before the interview with us, Mr. Prabhu had just come back after launching the website for the Vote Mumbai campaign. It looks like a brilliant initiative and I hope it gathers strength.

Here is the link to the full interview.