Mumbai civic polls: It's time for a citizens' candidate to go beyond petty politics in the election

Would Shiv Sena and BJP ally for the February elections to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai? Or, would Congress and Nationalist Congress Party remain at war they had declared in the previous Assembly elections? And what are the chances of each party, alone or in partnership with another?

These questions are engaging the citizens, if it is at all, because the newspapers are full of these issues. The citizens, whether they go out to vote or not, in India are essentially political animals. Politics defines their mindsets, and even in the civic elections, the city does not seem to count. It is as if the city is incidental to the entire exercise.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Because there’s a city, there are political parties vying for power in its power matrix, and once politics is in, it is the ideology that plays out in the campaign. The ‘localness’ platform of the Shiv Sena, this time the ‘development’ and demonetisation of the BJP, and opposition to these two parties are the concerns of the other two.

It is hard to fathom the need for ideologies that have nothing to do with a city’s management. Are Marxism, Hindutva, secularism, cultural nationalism, regional and sub-regional identities relevant at all when the city fathers’ job is to provide for civic needs? Citizens have been staying away from claiming their stake except by voting.

For a decade and a half, I have been lamenting the absence of the citizens on the ballot; you only find political parties’ representative there instead. “This is my city which has to remain clean, functioning, and the city hall incorrupt” is perhaps the most acceptable ideology any city should have but is sadly missing.

Those elected on party tickets become rent-seekers for themselves and for their bosses in the party hierarchy. Only months into elected offices, their lifestyle change is visible. The swagger that comes with power is only a part of it. Instead of giving something to the city, they look to what they can grasp for themselves.

It is not that stout-hearted men and women have not tried to break this mould of city civic politics but haven’t been successful enough, mainly because the voters, despite the gripe about the city’s mismanagement, remain tied to the local politicians. The non-political person, to them, is mostly a deviant.

Adolf D’Souza was the first citizens’, not a political party’s, candidate and he won from Juhu in 2007. In the next polls, three groups, namely Mumbai 227, Lok Satta, and Mumbai Nagrik Satta got on to the ballot but they did not work together even in the campaign to make an impact. Makarand Narvekar was elected from Colaba but is hardly seen as an Independent.

The amorphousness of the group is perhaps the weakness and mere intentions cannot replace the hard work required to convince voters for an apolitical civic body and ensure they voted for the idea. Lack of funds is another. And they haven’t provided any political patronage to their ward voters because they had nothing to give. Patronage is what voters seek — to bend rules, for instance. Not to improve the city.

This year could well be an opportunity for citizen-candidates because the contests could be less unequal than it was ever before, if we are to believe that demonetisation has robbed the parties and their politicians the financial muscle they brought to their campaigns. Delhi had twice shown than citizens can show the door to politicians.

It is not an example to ignore. An ordinary person should try and convince the voters that they have the ideas, inclination and also the time to devote to a city for its improvement. It cannot happen when the efforts start just when elections are announced. A long-drawn campaign for an idea has to precede a campaign for votes.

Fortunately, the media have always been in favour of a good city and on a regular basis, have exposed the shortcomings of a politically-run civic body where even the most well-meaning Commissioner has to bow down to the politicians. If despite that, the city chooses only more of the same, it is the city’s misfortune.

Published Date: Jan 17, 2017 13:19 PM | Updated Date: Jan 17, 2017 13:26 PM

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