Unfair to Blame the Urban Residents

Rao V.B.J. Chelikani

About 46.5 per cent of the Hyderabadis have gone to the polling stations to vote in the GHMC elections on 1st December.

The figure is understandable and even slightly higher than that of 2016. Nothing warrants us to expect more and be disappointed. Even among those 34 lakhs who voted, 80% are living in populous and low-income areas or 'bastis' and they have voted because the political parties have collectively spent some Rs 320 crores on them, along with promises to do other things. 

Others voted because of their affiliation to the party or caste or religion. Some celebrities have voted for the sake of visibility.

The remaining 40 lakhs residents in the city who are educated, professionals like the techies and others who are in the private sector or in other institutions, and who consider themselves to be belonging to lower, middle and upper-middle classes have not voted. Is it because they are ignorant or lazy or indifferent? Who is to be blamed for this state of affairs? On the other hand, the life of a vast majority of the urban citizens is filled with many democratic decision-making practices and alternative voting in the family, in schools, colleges, universities, offices, labour and trade unions and professional associations, and even among their caste or religious communities. The companies have their Board-Room democracy. The colony associations and the apartment-building associations have their elected bodies. Despite this habit, why are they not motivated to go and vote in the political elections, even though they have been active on the subject in social media?

 The non-participation of a vast majority of urban middle class in the voting process is a political statement to those who want to understand it.

Their non-participation in voting is a political statement to those who want to understand it. The latest GHMC elections is a good example. Most of the thousand candidates who came forward to shape the destiny of this metropolitan city do not belong to the silent majority of the citizens who are aspiring and striving hard to lead a higher standard of living and life. Most of the candidates are unknown to the locality till the Party has identified and parachuted them. Some have filed affidavits admitting pending criminal cases. During the campaign, they do not and cannot talk to the active residents in the colonies and in the apartment buildings, where nearly ten lakh families are living in the city. The candidates are surrounded and the party rallies are filled with people, the bulk of them are hired for the day. The likes of such candidates, in the past, have once elected, felt authorised to collect commissions, sometimes exorbitant from the contractors for minor works, and from those who do un-authorised constructions. The sudden enrichment of the elected corporator after a couple of years of exercise of authority in the area is visible.

The Ward Committees and the Areas Sabhas that are supposed to provide the avenues for active citizen participation are not constituted, and where it is symbolically done, they are filled with loyal followers of the corporator. At the outset, the participation of the political parties and politicisation of the campaign on issues not related to the local development and to the quality of life of the residents displeases the urban elite to such an extent that they do not want their participation in voting to be taken as endorsement of the focus that is being given by the politicians. Further, many of them are becoming more and more aware of better democratic behaviour and practices in the developed countries, because of the family connections. In this election campaign, party leaders without understanding and respecting the urban mindset tried to excel each other in offering free things and money, sometimes unsolicited, as it is their habit in the rural areas. In the urban areas, the citizens are willing to spend money for a better quality of services, rather than seeking free things. The urban societies are by nature and evolution are composed of many diverse communities living side by side, for generations and often diverse families reside together by necessity, even though, now and then, they quarrel over trivial incidents. When political leaders promoted caste-wise activities, and uttered hate-speeches against some communities, which cannot be wished away out of existence, the urbanite felt uneasy at heart.

The Ward Committees and the Areas Sabhas that are supposed to provide the avenues for active citizen participation are not constituted, and where it is symbolically done, they are filled with loyal followers of the corporator.

It is in this context that we must think of introducing many innovations to improve the situation. But, making voting compulsory is not a healthy trend, as it is mostly done in dictatorial regimes and in single-party regimes. A certain percentage of NOTA votes should have a negative impact on all the contesting candidates. Money spending in the elections can be left free without limits, as we are unable to prevent all political parties from indulging in political corruption. Seats -reservation has no sense any more in the fast-evolving urban society. One single national electoral rolls linked to Aadhar card would be less susceptible for repeated mistakes and manipulations. The CEO and the SEC should have a large panel of skilled and trained staff (voluntary and paid) available on call for election duties, whenever required. This will eliminate many political misunderstandings and suspicions on the collusion of officials in favour of the ruling party. At present, these constitutionally-mandated bodies are not associating the civil society organisations and are keen to ensure the approval of all parties in whatever they undertake.

While making e-voting the norm, several alternative serene voting methods over a period of time can be adopted in a way to avoid elections to be a one-day hectic mela. The State Election Commission, soon after the appointment by the Governor, should be guided by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Chief Election Commissioner of India, so that he can remain immune from the pressures of the ruling party in the State. As in the Panchayat elections, political parties should be barred from fielding candidates. The Ward Committees formed with the democratically-functioning civil society organisations need not be co-terminus with the life of the Municipal Council. Above all, more than cooperative federalism at the state level, it is the democratic decentralisation of power by way of devolution of funds, functions and functionaries in the spirit of the 74th Amendment that would strengthen self-government at the municipal level by the people. There is a further need to recognise the management of resident welfare associations as the 4th-tier of area government by the local micro-urban communities. The urban citizens who provide the bulk of the resources for the national budget deserve these facilities for their active participation.

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