Friday, January 26, 2007

Letter to the Chief Minister

Column in newspaper

by Anil Gulati

'Our family is not listed in below the poverty line list, they say we will have to pay, please help' wrote a needy person from Satna in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central part of India to the Chief Minister of the state. 'My village has a health centre but it remains closed and we have to suffer' wrote another women from a village in the state. These are letters written directly by individuals or some times by groups of individuals and addressed to the Chief Minister, the highest political head of the state. It is like exercising their democratic right to approach the higher authorities with demand and appeal for justice.

Though they are written directly to the Chief Minister of the Madhya Pradesh but are not routed through his offices and normal channels of bureaucracy rather are written to the 'Editors' of the newspapers. The reason is simple.

In the state of Madhya Pradesh two Hindi newspapers namely Dainik Jagran and Raj Express offer a unique opportunity to their readers or people of the state. They have an additional column on their edit page which is titled as Letter to The Chief Minister. They call it by different names: one calls it 'Letter to Mr. Chief Minister or lately they have named it as 'Yes Chief Minister' and other one says 'Paati Mukhayamantri ke naam'. One used photograph of the Chief Minister at the head of the column while another uses his caricature or sometimes these go without photograph.

Both offer an opportunity for people voice to be heard. You can write directly to the Chief Minister about your problem or an issue. Rather than coming to state capital and trying to meet him, this is an alternative way to approach him - by writing to these newspapers for covering an issue in their column.

If one looks at kind of the letters which appear in print, they are diverse in nature. I am not sure how many are received by them and how many are published? But if one analyzes them a few inferences can be drawn. The issues they raise are diverse, letters are normally written by individuals or sometimes by groups of individuals, and they come from various parts of the state, including interiors villages of the state. At present this is a feature which appears twice or thrice a week or whenever they receive a letter.

If one does a dip stick assessment of the content it reveals that issues of education, problems of state government employees, salaries, unavailability of water, electricity, roads, non accessibility of schemes initiated by the state, maternal deaths, the failure and weaknesses of the health system, and the issue of eve teasing appear more frequently and now transfers, corruption cases are also being received and published. Perhaps these are issues which impact people directly. Regarding education, issues such as lack of building, teacher absenteeism, and vacant positions do come up quite often in these letters. One does not know many of them are being responded to.

One of the roles of media is to provide an opportunity for voices of the communities to be heard, and giving vent to the opinions and views of people. Many possible options are available; letters to editor is one of them. One can use it to raise an issue which was in media or express your opinion on the story, or even to highlight issues which may have got missed in regular reporting.

But when you feel strongly about an issue or have an unresolved problem, you may feel the need to draw the attention of the Chief Minister, who is supposed to be the highest in the rank of the elected representatives. This is one such opportunity to do so. There is some indication that people find this way as an easier way to reach eyes of the Chief Minster. The Department of Public Relations which does media tracking for the state does track many of them and the same is evident from their website, wherein they scan and display the press cuttings tracked by them, indicating that at least some people get a bit of say in the system, with the help of media. May be this needs to increase and others need to catch on...

IANS News of Jan 22, 2007

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