|India might be the world's largest democracy, but citizen participation in politics and issues of governance is negligible at best. One of the many endeavours aimed at reversing this trend is The Takshashila Shala, a blend of innovative presentations and ex-tempore talks by experts from a wide variety of fields.
Modelled after similar events organised across the country, Chennai kept its date with the Shala (literally translates to ‘study classes') on Sunday. Taking inspiration from the ancient city of Takshashila (in modern day Pakistan), which was the site of perhaps the world's oldest public policy school, the event featured a string of speakers from diverse backgrounds – young tech enthusiasts and well-respected foreign policy analysts, nuclear physicists and peace activists, amateur researchers and doctorate scholars.
Serious discussions on India's intelligence agencies and coastal security were interspersed with inspiring tales about the art of caricaturing. Chakshu Roy of the Parliamentary Research Initiative, an NGO, shared his passionate belief in the Indian parliament and invited everyone to dig deeper and understand how it works. Delivering an impassioned plea for the formation of a Palk Strait Authority to resolve the conflicts between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen once and for all, V. Suryanarayan, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Asia Studies, said: “The Palk bay should be seen as a common resource, not a contested territory. Nearly 400 Indian fishermen who strayed into Sri Lankan waters have been killed since 1983. It is time we found a political solution.”
Kanchan Gupta, a journalist and political analyst, spoke about Anna Hazare's movement and how “laws alone are not going to make any dramatic changes.” As a society, we must start asking if there has been even the slightest of change in the way we look at probity in our own lives, he said. Insisting that it is time we started debating the possibility of a “second republic,” Mr. Gupta said that electoral reforms and a system of proportionate representation are the need of the hour.
Through the day, there were three parallel tracks on: foreign affairs and national security, economics and public policy, and politics and governance.
V. Keshav, cartoonist, The Hindu, spoke about the power of political cartoons to inspire as well as lampoon. Raj Cherubal of the City Connect Foundation spoke about his experiment with democracy during the recently concluded Chennai Corporation elections. The day wound up with Atanu Dey's talk on ‘Transforming India.'