In six weeks, Delhi will go to polls. You will have the opportunity to elect your local councillors and shape the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which is one of the world’s largest civic bodies and certainly the biggest in India.
MCD serves 16 million Delhi residents or 97% of the city’s population. From cradle to crematorium, to quote the state election commissioner, MCD is with you.
It impacts your life like no other government agency does. From issuing birth and death certificates to approving construction plans for your house, maintaining roads, pavements, parks, streetlights, community spaces, parking areas and picking garbage, MCD pretty much decides the quality of your life in this mega city.
Yet, the voter turnout for MCD polls has barely crossed the 50% mark in the last decade. Typically, richer the neighbourhood, lower has been the participation. In 2007, upmarket south Delhi areas such as Saket, Vasant Kunj, Vasant Vihar and Greater Kailash recorded 23-29% polling.
The stock excuse of these absentees has been the apparent futility of the polling exercise due to the dearth of good candidates. But with an increasing number of Resident Welfare Association (RWA) activists contesting MCD polls, the choice is no more limited to the so-called corrupt politicians. For example, only one-fourth of upmarket Defence Colony voters (Andrews Ganj ward) exercised their franchise in 2007 despite one of their own, then local RWA’s Geeta Bhargava, in the fray.
Why only south Delhi, the salaried and the so-called sophisticated is the typical reluctant voter across the city. For them, it is just another holiday. The not-so-affluent and the not-so-urbane, on the other hand, is often the committed voter. It may not necessarily reflect a higher democratic awareness. For many, the name on the voters’ list is the only bona fide proof of residency. Others queue up because voting is one of the few rights they can actually exercise.
So the relatively rural wards such as Narela, Alipur, Mundka and Bakhtawarpur recorded turnouts of 50-64% in 2007. Even the old Delhi denizens have been a more involved lot and the not-so-upmarket neighbourhoods such as Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk registered 45-48% polling.
Ironically, the wards that record the lowest turnouts are the neighbourhoods where citizens, thanks to their high income level and exposure, demand the best civic facilities. And yet, when it comes to deciding who they will trust for ensuring better services, most of them find queuing up with the hoi polloi for a few minutes too big an ask.
This time around, the State Election Commission, mandated with the task of organising this mammoth exercise, will send out personalised invitations to each of the 11.2 million registered voters to come out and vote. A nice gesture, but why do we need invitations to exercise a fundamental right?
Particularly this time, if you queue up, you will be voting to change history.
A monolithic municipal giant since 1958, the MCD will be broken into three smaller, more efficient and accessible corporations immediately after the forthcoming polls.
“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush,” warned Robert Hutchins, the former dean of Yale Law School, “It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment.”
History tells us that rights unexercised often become rights forfeited. Besides, it is not only every Delhi resident’s right but also responsibility to decide for Delhi. It is time you engaged more. Go vote; reclaim your city.