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Citizens hunt for own candidates

As the date for the Mumbai civic polls - February 2012 - draws closer, citizens' groups have started working once again towards finding their own independent candidates, like they did in 2007, when the city got its first citizen-backed candidate, Adolf D'Souza.

mumbai Updated: Jul 11, 2011 00:36 IST
Kunal Purohit

As the date for the Mumbai civic polls - February 2012 - draws closer, citizens' groups have started working once again towards finding their own independent candidates, like they did in 2007, when the city got its first citizen-backed candidate, Adolf D'Souza.

The citizens' movement that culminated into D'Souza's election as corporator has inspired many citizen groups, and in the 2012 civic polls, between 20 and 50 wards of the total 227 electoral wards are likely to see citizen-backed candidates stand for elections.

"We have identified 20 to 25 electoral wards where we have activated local teams to start brainstorming about having citizen candidates," said Praful Vora, convenor of Jagruk Nagrik Manch (JNM), the umbrella body of organisations that was instrumental in D'Souza's victory. "The momentum is picking up."

D'Souza confirms that Advanced Locality Managements and local federations are actively looking for candidates. "The response suggests that one can expect citizen-backed candidates in at least 50 electoral wards across the city."

Sherley Singh, secretary of the Juhu Scheme Residents Association, said: "The thought of having our own candidate is very much there. But we are yet to begin the selection process. We are awaiting the announcement of ward reservations, which will tell us whether our ward is open or reserved."

We have started strategising about having our own candidates, said Aftab Siddiqui from the H-West Ward Federation. "But we don't want to prop candidates in wards where corporators are already doing a decent job. We currently aim to have at least three corporator candidates in three civic wards in the H-west ward."

Many believe that the current national mood, inspired by anti-corruption campaigns, is encouraging Mumbaiites to hunt for their own candidates. JNM member Aditya Paul said: "There is a lot of public anger right now, although it's slightly early for us to think of carrying it over till next year. People want an alternative and this might just be the right time to offer them that."

Vora, who has played a role in Anna Hazare's Mumbai campaign, agreed. "During the India against Corruption campaign, we keep meeting a lot of ALMs and citizens' groups. We have used the mood and the opportunity to plant the idea of such candidates in people's minds," he said.

The 2009 Vidhan Sabha elections also saw Juhu citizen Hansel D'Souza contesting from the Andheri (West) constituency as a citizen-backed Independent candidate. D'Souza, from the Juhu Welfare Citizens Group, lost to Congress' Ashok Jadhav, said: "We want to take this experiment ahead. Currently, we are considering at least seven electoral wards to have our consensus candidates."

Citizen candidates may not be the answer, warn sceptics
Not all Mumbaiites think it is a good idea to have citizen-backed candidates. Many people have reservations at the idea of increasing citizen participation in political representation.

While some Mumbaiites worry that such participation will end up subverting democracy, others believe it's phenomenon restricted to the upper middle-class and will not penetrate all layers of the society.

Ranjeet Chavan, director general, All India Institute of Local Self-governance (AILSG), said such a movement is welcome but that it is a class phenomenon.

"The way these movements have shaped up shows that it only concerns the middle and the upper middle-class. This movement has failed to penetrate to the lower middle-class and the below poverty line classes, so its effectiveness will be limited."

Chavan is happy that non-political citizens are taking interest in politics, though. "It is heartening to see so many educated and knowledgeable people entering politics. But their approach must be more broad-based," he suggested.

However, Indrani Malkani, ALM activist and trustee of V Citizens Action Network (VCAN), an organisation working for political reform, said she is opposed to the idea of citizen-backed candidates. "Rather than trying to interfere in the political process, citizens should learn how to engage more with the political classes. Unfortunately, this seems to be missing in citizen movements today."

Malkani believes finding fault with politicians is not going to help.

"Such attempts at demonising all politicians will have disastrous effects on democracy. Instead of taking to politics only for the sheer hatred of politicians, citizens should learn how to keep a tab on civic activities in their ward and make elected representatives responsible," she said.

Besides, not all non-political candidates are serious about representing their localities. "Before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Mumbai saw a plethora of non-political candidates who promised the moon. But after they lost, they were never seen anywhere,"said Aftab Siddiqui, a member of the H-West Ward Federation.

"We can't back such candidates because temporary participation does no good to anyone," she added.

Siddiqui had contested in the 2007 civic polls on a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) ticket from the H-West ward and came fifth. She continues to be an activist, taking up civic issues in the ward.