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What the urban voter wants

Issues like affordable housing, infrastructure and public transport will become more important from this election. Vikas Pathak reports.

delhi Updated: Mar 04, 2009 23:46 IST

It’s always been about irrigation and water supply.

Now, finally, internal security, public transport and affordable housing may make it to the election manifestoes.

The number of urban constituencies has gone from 70 to over 100, after Parliamentary constituencies were redefined according to the latest census figures. In 1971, when the last delimitation was undertaken, 20.22 per cent of India was urban. This figure had risen to 27.78 per cent in 2001.

So, in the last election, roughly 28 per cent of voters controlled a mere 13 per cent of the Lok Sabha constituencies.

That is all set to change.

Contemporary historian Ram Chandra Guha says urban livelihood issues will become more important from this election.

“A city is a hotbed of intermingling castes. This may mean a slight shift to economic livelihood issues like housing and transport,” he said. However, he cautions, more urban seats does not mean more votes for cheap cars and tax-free gadgets.

Issues of the urban poor — who dominate numerically and are more likely to cast their vote — will be more important here, he added.

So while the rich may be looking for lower levies on imported cars, the poor will want better public transport and cheaper homes.

Identity issues relating to caste and religion will stay, though they may acquire a new character, say experts.

“The Dalit vote is more assertive and conscious in urban areas, as Dalit political consciousness grows with education,” said sociologist Anand Kumar.

Kumar also says that Muslim identity politics — with economic marginalisation and the perception of being branded terrorists the most crucial issues today — also plays out more in cities, which often have Muslim ghettoes. “This may sometimes also lead to a counter-Hindu communal mobilisation,” he added.

Sanjay Kumar of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, however, cautions that the effect of more urban constituencies will be just marginal at this stage, only to increase in the next 20-30 years, as India keeps urbanising.

(With inputs from Mehvash Arslan)