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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

Polls 2019: Parties disconnected, voters disengaged

The general election in April-May 2014 saw 55% voter turnout; it was a record of sorts where turnout percentages in national, state and especially local elections have generally hovered around 40%.

mumbai Updated: Jan 02, 2019 23:31 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Picture for representation only.
Picture for representation only.(HT PHOTO)

The year 2019 will see voters in Mumbai exercise their franchise in two elections, one to the Lok Sabha in summer and then for the state Assembly by October, if both are conducted on schedule. Mumbai’s voters have not exactly come out in droves to vote, ever. Studies have attributed this reluctance to a number of factors including dis-engagement with political and civic establishments, the belief that their vote does not change anything, the lack of differentiation among candidates and a lack of vision among competing political parties.

The general election in April-May 2014 saw 55% voter turnout; it was a record of sorts where turnout percentages in national, state and especially local elections have generally hovered around 40%. But the city is not apolitical by any stretch of imagination. This is where the Congress was founded in December 1885, where its challengers – most specifically the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have repeatedly found logistical support and heft, where a socialist like Mrinaltai Gore was elected from. This is where alternative political ideas began and were carried to varying degrees of success, it regularly sees large demonstrations and public marches, it has a young population keen to rewrite the rules of politics. Yet, voting percentages remain unenthusiastic.

As they head into the election season with big money riding on advertising and propaganda tools, major political parties would do good to examine their approach to Mumbai’s voters. What are the BJP, Shiv Sena, Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), to name the four established major ones, offering the city’s voter? Their manifestos have a sense of grandness, they promise the moon and stars, something for everyone. These promises are rarely realised. Fundamental and far-reaching decisions about the city are made – unmade and revised – in the corridors of power; the average citizen, the voter, has little or no access there. Or, if she/he is heard, the sunwayi (hearing) has little bearing on the decisions. Take the example of fisherfolk on Mumbai’s western coastline who raised their concern about the ₹12,000 crore coastal road project threatening their livelihood for years; after the ill-advised project was launched, they have been promised representation in a committee. There are several examples of unconcern of authorities who decide for the city, without public participation.

Citizens are then left with their wish-lists: A safer city in every respect, enhanced protection against terror attacks, affordable housing, accessible healthcare of a minimum standard, clear and user-friendly pavements across the city, planned closure of roads for infrastructure work, a comprehensive mobility plan which uses the city’s water network, a comprehensive environment protection plan which does not lay the city at the whims of the real estate lobby, actionable ideas to address climate change given that coastal cities are at high risk, better traffic management, improved connectivity between areas, redevelopment of the eastern waterfront in a way that it belongs to all rather than only those who can afford to pay for high-end residence or recreation, a cleaner – far cleaner – city with up-to-date garbage collection and disposal facilities, demarcated and regulated hawking zones in each area, night shelters, serious heritage conservation efforts, reclaiming the city’s intellectual quotient, responsive elected representatives, and so on. A few of these fall in the purview of Lok Sabha MPs, most in the jurisdiction of city’s 36 MLAs and 227 corporators. Try going to them with anything on this list – or on your list – and see their response, check if it changes anything on the ground. So long as political narratives in the city do not offer an inclusive macro vision in which every citizen has a stake and addresses specific concerns of various groups of citizens, the disengagement between politics and citizenry is likely to persist.

This year offers all parties their best opportunity to renew and recast themselves, connect with voters – indeed all citizens – and bring common demands to the political stage.

I won’t bet this will happen but I hope.

First Published: Jan 02, 2019 23:31 IST

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