Though the majority of Mumbaiites are tired of the Shiv Sena-BJP rule in the civic body, only 52% wish to cast their votes in the civic polls, which are likely to be held in the first week of February.
Ironically, 88% of those surveyed want the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to ensure more participation from citizens in matters of civic governance. Analysts and activists blame this paradox on a host of reasons, from disillusionment with politics to apathy and class bias. Many blame Team Anna and the anti-corruption movement for the vilification of politics, which has in turn led to such reluctance to vote.
“Thanks to Anna Hazare’s movement and the ‘sab neta chor hain’ mood, people are constantly questioning the credibility of politics and politicians. This is frustrating. People don’t realise that the way to change such a situation is through voting,” said Sarah George, assistant professor of humanities at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of architecture and environmental studies.
Bhaskar Prabhu, an RTI activist who will be contesting as an Independent in the civic polls, blames the BMC and political parties for people’s lack of interesting in voting. “People want to participate in governance matters, but the BMC’s working and political scheming to dissuade people from participating put citizens off,” he said.
Prabhu quotes the example of Advanced Locality Managements and Dattak Vasti Yojnas (cleanliness management groups), schemes devised to encourage people’s participation at the local level in civic matters. “All these started as a way to ensure greater public participation. But politicians have hijacked them and posted their cronies run it, even as a willing administration looked on,” he said.
Ranjeet Chavan, director-general of the All India Institute of Self Government, feels that voting in the civic elections can be a “class issue”. “Generally, the upper middle class does not need to depend on political leaders for their civic services to be met. Unless the election commission has a carrot-and-stick policy, they are unlikely to vote,” he said. “That’s not the case with the lower class and, to an extent, with the middle class.”
Prabhu agrees. “Certain sections of the society remember the BMC only when their cars don’t run on smooth roads during the monsoon. They are unlikely to vote to elect civic leaders,” he said.
Most analysts feel that this apathy will not change even if there are more non-political candidates, such as those backed by citizens. This belief is backed by the fact that even after the November 26 attacks, the south Mumbai constituency, the worst affected by the attacks, recorded a dismal voter turnout of 43.33% during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This, despite the fact that the constituency saw a high-profile Independent candidate in Meera Sanyal, a corporate banking executive and political novice.
Citing Sanyal’s case, Prabhu said: “Even Independent, citizen-backed candidates have to be selected carefully. History shows that people will not accept any Independent candidate foisted on them.”
Chavan shares the same sentiment. “Such citizen candidates cannot be an alternative to political leadership.”