Ashton Hayes is a village in the rural area of Chester in the northwest of England. The village became a model globally for fighting ‘climate change’, the world’s most pressing issue. The community-led initiative that started in 2005 aimed at making the village the first carbon neutral community in England. Village residents banded together to cut greenhouse gas emissions — they used clotheslines instead of dryers, took fewer flights, installed solar panels and glaze windows to better insulate their homes. By now hundreds of towns, cities and counties around the world have reportedly reached out to learn how villagers in Ashton Hayes did it.

The year 2019 marks 15 years since a small village set out to change the lives of its residents forever. Why did they do that? When Ashton Hayes villagers assembled to discuss the climate change plans, many expressed a desire to make a difference for the next generation. Village elders did not want to leave a problem to their grandchildren and ignore a real issue. If the story so far is interesting, more so was the Ashton Hayes residents’ resolve not to allow politicians to meddle with their initiative. The village has kept the effort separate from party politics; residents thought this would divide them along ideological lines. What does this narrative indicate? It indicates lack of trust in politicians. Why are the Ashton Hayes villagers worried about politicians? It’s because they believed politicians take shortterm views, which run counter to their long-term focus on climate initiatives.

And, it is this long-term focus that the community recognised as central to their pioneering initiative. However, in India, while many have reasons aplenty not to trust politicians given their role over the last few decades, Indians lack the conviction of Ashton Hayes inhabitants. Incidentally, the lost trust is not restricted to a single political party but covers parties of all hues, regardless of their public stance. In an era of diminishing ideology and in a democracy where people uncritically embrace politicians lacking credibility, one can expect nothing but mediocrity that knows nothing higher than itself. The outcome is obvious.

From academic and social institutions to sports bodies to temple authorities, few are run by individuals with capabilities and vision as no political party/politician is going to let that happen. Many engineering institutions and management and medical education institutions are controlled by politicians. While there are reportedly 15 politicians in 32 Olympic Sports Federations of our country, 47 per cent presidents in Indian sports federations are politicians. Likewise, religious entities like trusts of Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple, Shirdi Saibaba Sansthan and Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam are headed by politicians. Individually, as also politically, all of them may be eminent, confident, articulate and telegenic, but none are among the best for the positions they hold.

Politicians helming well-known establishments undeservingly remained a long-standing legacy in India. Voices against this have been feeble; a few write-ups in some dailies and blogs have failed to stir up political parties. We have failed to become Ashton Hayes inhabitants who forced politicians to listen and learn in their community meetings instead of allowing them to address the gatherings. One may well question how the example of Ashton Hayes is relevant to India. It is significant because its long-term sustainability, like many community-led initiatives, depended on how it could fit with wider political agendas and whether these agendas had the will to deliver the resources and opportunities necessary for genuine community engagement.

It succeeded with flying colours. It’s a classic case of how a people’s initiative could do well keeping politicians at bay and yet find government support. Now let’s consider the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) issue in particular. Former India captain Sourav Ganguly taking charge as BCCI president ending eventful 33- month reign of the Supreme Court (SC)-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) didn’t come easy. The SC’s intervention, which eventually resulted in cricket’s administrators losing control of one of the richest sports bodies in the world was necessary as BCCI continued to be involved in controversies followed by political interference, corruption, match-fixing/ betting etc.

While fans and analysts generally welcomed the Lodha Commission recommendations, it was BCCI that initially refused to implement reform measures aimed at transforming the entire power structure in the cricket body. Former BCCI bigwig Anurag Thakur once said, “If political leaders can lead the country and the states from the front then what’s wrong in leading sports bodies. We have proven our worth and worked for promotion of sports.” While it’s true a number of political leaders demonstrated inspiring vision and helped propel country’s growth and development, it’s also equally true that the country under its political leadership slipped to the 102nd position out of 117 in the Global Hunger Index 2019 behind neighbours Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. If the focus is on promoting and developing sports in a country and strengthening socio-cultural, religious establishments then they are best run by full-time administrators/domain experts instead of part-timers whose priority remains politics.

Political leaders are mandated to run political establishments, represent government at all levels as also deal with people’s basic needs and social ills. In a country like ours, these are the areas where lie ample opportunities for politicians to serve, contribute and deliver and with all earnestness. On another plane, there are umpteen examples of individuals with political affiliations or leanings grabbing prized positions in government and semi-government entities. There are also reported cases of political leaders’ kith and kin occupying prime positions in various institutions. It’s not that political leaders’ relations are not entitled to head institutions, but it should be beyond the intervention of those craving power, pelf and pleasure. What is significant is how successive governments have remained chronically disinclined to help institutions reclaim organizational traits/establish or enforce rigorous accountability.

Also, how successive governments have inflicted their topdown decisions upon various nonpolitical entities – rather than following best practices. Had there been a positive government approach and well-laid out accountability framework, there would have been less scope for irregularities in academic and socio-cultural institutions, sport bodies and religious trusts. Sadly, politics hogs the limelight, floods the media, fills our twitter feeds and animates our discussions. While some politicians are relevant and essentially public-spirited, some are made out to be relevant in patronagebased politics and many are irrelevant or self-serving.

Political leaders who head organisations and associations that are non-confrontational and apolitical mostly fall into the middle category. And they will continue to occupy the posts meant for others till we learn to appreciate the courage of Ashton Hayes inhabitants and reject unworthy ones outright. Here lies the secret of increasing the number of medals in the Olympics and removing temple practices such as maintaining a fleet of luxury vehicles for the use of VIPs. Here also lies the secret of enhancing organisational capacity, control, strength and glory.

(The writer is former deputy general manager, India International Centre and former general manager, International Centre, Goa)