Big names try to change the elections game

India has not been familiar with political action committees of the kind that are common across the United States, but an initiative by corporate heavyweights and prominent members of civil society in Bangalore could well change that. On Sunday, the 3rd of February, the city took its first step towards active urban citizen engagement in the the electoral process with the launch of the Bangalore Political Action Committee or BPAC.

Established with the broader aim of promoting a better quality of life for all citizens of the metropolis, BPAC will  seek to identify and support strong candidates – irrespective of their political affiliation – for public offices at all levels of governance in Bangalore city – city council, legislature, and parliament. 

Launch of BPAC: Mohandas Pai, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, N R NArayana Murthy, K Jairaj and Ashwin Mahesh. Pic courtesy: BPAC

At the inaugural meet on Sunday, former additional chief secretary to the Government of Karnataka, K Jairaj, who is also a founder member of the Committee, unveiled its four-pronged agenda:

  • Institutional changes with regard to the way the city has to be governed;
  • Accountability;
  • Resources – resolving the mismatch between requirements and provision;
  • Inclusiveness and participation.

Most significantly perhaps, the Committee aims to streamline and systematise the process of funding of election campaigns – a prickly, grey area that has precluded the rise of ‘clean’ objectively-driven leaders in the Indian political system so far.

While raising, accounting and reporting of funds collected by political parties is actually governed by various Acts, in reality, there has been very little transparency around it; as explained in an earlier article on Citizen Matters, the current reporting of the source of election funds, and the manner in which they are collected or disbursed, hide more than they reveal. It is, therefore, significant that the Bangalore PAC will be looking at reforms in campaign finance as a critical aspect of strengthening the foundation of urban policies.

Launch of BPAC, Feb 3rd. Pic: Mahima Vijendra

Responding to a question at the launch event of the Committee, Mohandas Pai, Vice President BPAC, said that funds have been committed for five years to raise a corpus. However, these funds will be given to the candidate who meets the criteria set by BPAC, and not the party.

Another aspect stressed in the BPAC’s agenda is strengthening urban representation. At the launch, Pai stressed the need ‘to reclaim our republic.’ Citing the rise of sectarian leaders, and the lack of a competitive lobby for the educated urban people or a neutral lobby, he called for this vacuum to be filled.

"Urban India has no proper representation," he said, "we are disenfranchised in a way." Delimitation continues to be based on the 1991 census, affording a disproportionate number of seats to rural India and there should be a strong demand for delimitation to be based on the 2011 census. BPAC has been formed on the basis of this rationale, and with the aim of working together for Bangalore.  

Technocrat and entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who is also Managing Trustee and President of BPAC opines that the problem is one of ‘apathy, not helplessness or hopelessness.’ Speaking at the launch, she pointed out that "We are not engaging enough with those in government, who are capable of achieving good results. We have abdicated our responsibility to exercise our franchise. (Therefore,) the objective of BPAC is to connect citizens with the political processes."

BPAC will act as a rating agency on governance and set standards for governing bodies and all those who hold office. It will be an apolitical entity but will strive to ensure that the broader issue of governance gets addressed.

The power of collective action is what the Committee feels is critical if governance deficits are to be bridged and to that end, it will push for formal inclusion of citizens in public decision-making and in solving problems at the neighbourhood levels.  Dr. Ashwin Mahesh, an expert on urban developmental issues and member-BPAC, stressed on the importance of more people getting involved in public problem solving at the launch. He said it is "ridiculous for us to believe that the problems of our society will be solved by someone else."

One of the most powerful arguments for BPAC came from Narayana Murthy, co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Infosys. Unveiling the Committee’s charter, Murthy said, "this is the right time to wake up and make the dream of inclusive growth a reality…in order to do so, we need a powerful, simple, aspirational vision for all political parties. We need to make our private sector the most competitive and our public governance system the most effective, accountable and efficient." BPAC’s manifesto is a result of such a vision and is translatable into action. 

Santosh Hegde, former Karnataka Lokayukta, on BPAC:

It’s a good idea. As BPAC says, a candidate can contest elections with a small budget. In fact, Team Anna (of which Hegde was part of) had suggested earlier that government should fund election campaigns. Campaign amounts should be minimal, and this can be done.

Though BPAC is headed by those from corporate background, they are not contesting elections or fielding their own candidates. They are only selecting people from an existing list of candidates  across parties. BPAC is still in the preliminary stages and it will take some time before we can see how effective it is. If, in future, we find that the candidates fielded by BPAC are lobbying for corporate interests, we can stop voting for them.

This is a tough job, and there should be a long term work to show results. Also, BPAC should not field people from every constituency, just because they have to field someone. If they don’t find good candidates from a constituency they need not field anyone.

Also see: Interview with RK Misra:

"We will provide whatever help (clean) candidates may need including campaign finance, data analytics, message and communication as well as outreach and voter mobilisation."

B N Vijayakumar, Jayanagar MLA on BPAC:

This is a good initiative. Political parties field those who have money. The person selected this way may have no sense at all, or may even be anti-social. Candidates spend on giving money or things to voters, printing expensive colourful pamphlets, throwing parties etc. When they come to power they want to get this money back.

There are many good people in major parties who do not get selected because they have no money. I won the last elections by spending very less money; it was among the lowest campaign expenditure in the state. For a good candidate there is no need of much money. If he is already popular because of his social work, people will vote for him anyway.

I don’t think corporate interests will come into this. BPAC should not only field c
andidates, but also get everyone to vote, and interface with citizens continuously to get them to participate in governance issues.

Rajeev Gowda, Chairperson, Centre for Public Policy, IIM-Bangalore, on BPAC:

BPAC should start funding candidates at least a year before the elections, instead of spending small amounts just before it. The legal limit for campaign expenditure is farcical. (Currently the spending limit is Rs 16 lakh for assembly constituency candidates and Rs 40 lakh for parliamentary constituency candidates.) BPAC is promising to fund only 60% of the expenses, which will still lead to black money and under-the-table transactions. Campaigns actually need crores of rupees. If you look at Bangalore South constituency, the number of voters is 20 lakh. Just sending a postcard to all voters will cost Rs 20 lakh. Then you need campaign pamphlets, posters etc.

15 Comments

  1. if this clicks it will really do wonders to the society.the candidates history should be scrutinized and published by B.P.A.C.MEMBERS well before the election.the scrutiny members should be held responsible in the case of any misleading information of the candidate.

  2. This is a good initiative. In fact long overdue, considering the gap between the high literacy rate and the low levels satisfaction (report cards of the PAC) of the public with the city goverment.

    Dissatisfaction on governance in an educated society leads to formation of such institutions which will demand accountability from the government, and also will support good initiatives, which appears to be the agenda of BPAC.

    The three critical and relevant factors will be:

    1. Transparency in its functioning: The accounts and activities should be online, real-time, so that its credibility is not questioned.

    2. A democratic way of decision making, involving cross section of the society, not only the ‘successful’.

    3. Engage the government persistently, specifically and vociferously.

    My two cents.

  3. During 1996 when then CM Mr JH Patel was there a committee was formed for obtaining suggestions from public on how to improve Bangalore Infrastructure, many organisations as well as public had given suggestions afterwards one more report was made under the leadership of Mr. Kasturi Rangan, these two reports are not made public and how far these two reports were implemented. The present initiative will be well appreciated by educated class and this will give definitely a green signal to improving Bangalore City. Contact programme can be arranged at each constituency to make aware of the rights and responsibilities of citizens and also they should be educated on whom should vote. Good Luck.

  4. A university grauduate,. a retired govt servant or person who has clean unblemished record should be identified/And certainly not a passover to the next of kin

  5. Dear Sir,
    If the PAC works as a regulating and checking body, and not for meeting their own ends, it should work. They should select candidates who are bestowed with integrity, honesty, and are willing to work for the welfare of the people and country.
    The candidates selected should have the fear of being recalled if non perfolrming.
    the candidates should not have the fear to meet the needs of some few interested parties, and the funding for such candidates should be met by the PAC with transperancy.
    Such selected candidates could have either own body or align with like minded bodies.
    k.gopal.

  6. PAC will not work in india.Those who are advocating PAC does not know even ABC of indian politics.They are the people who works for themselves only to accumulate whealth thru out there career.Indian voters are very intelligent they prefer and allign with political parties and not by any corporate or any tom dick and herry.Political parties are build up on the basis of idiology and it takes decades to build.It is not like running or managing company by fooling fellow citizen.
    Will BPAC anounce their agenda? i am sure they wii not.In India in the eyes of mass population the business men are always known as THUGS and CROOKS.

  7. Sending post cards etc. are old systems, no more to be replicated. when we have the e-mailing/SMS facility which works out cheaper, such new avenues are to be thought of. Further, as the Corporate big-wigs are in the play, they can reach their literate mass through internal messaging and notice board utilisation in their work places.

  8. The need of hour is that BPAC should Identify Educated,Social service minded and Honest persons to contest all the assembly seats.
    The formula for getting votes is to focus on local issues and problems and to highlight people that educated MLA*S only can work for them,
    The expenses should be minimum and to acheive this DOOR to DOOR canvas is the only method we can use.
    Each household we visit should be given a small MLA CARD which should contain the services the contestent will fullfill after winning the election,Also contact phone numbers 24/7 working lines should be provided.
    By doing this voters will trust us and vote for BPAC candidates.Best wishes to all our BPAC contestents for the forth coming assembly election.

  9. This is to bring to your kind notice that, I K.Mallikarjun Raju, Founder President of our NGO Karnataka Karmika Kalyana Prathishtana an official partner of Youth for Human Rights International South Asia & also Consultative Core Committee of Civil Society/NGO’s consisting 21 NGO’s constituted by Karnataka State Human Rights Commission under the leadership of “NADOJA” Dr.Justice S.R.Nayak, Former Chairperson, KSHRC have generated around Rs.10 crores in a span of just two years by utilizing the Existing Constitutional Laws. Hence its up-to public to strengthen the existing laws by utilizing properly.

    Mallikarjun Raju
    Founder President
    Karnataka Karmika Kalyana Prathishtana
    http://yhrisouthasia.ning.com/profile/mallikarjuna
    http://www.facebook.com/raju.mallikarjuna

  10. BPAC aims are good. Every big wig is talking about fielding good candidates but nobody is talking about ushering in electoral reforms to strengthen the existing system within the ambit of the existing constitutional provisions. If these 13 reform recommendations made by the successive Chief Election Commissioners are examined and agreed upon, then we can be sure of inducting nearly 25 per cent of ‘least criminals’ into LS/State Legislatives. Supplement this with BPAC initiative candidates and try to bring in changes.

    Secondly, strengthen the existing constitutionally valid institutions like CVC, CBI, CAG, Income Tax with judicial or quasi-judicial powers to punish the guilty and also bring in other pending reforms like Police, Land, Judicial and Administrative; plug the loop holes, exercise due diligence and checks and balances in the existing laws to arrest misuse of government money and power.

  11. Good initiative, if we need to mend/amend the ailing system, we need to enter the system and operate. Let us all like minded people support BPAC in whatever way we can.

  12. Commendable idea, and a good start. But how does the funding work? Could BPAC become a lobby and promote candidates who share their business/corporate interests? Santosh Hegde seems to have touched upon this, but ‘we can stop voting for them’ doesn’t quite cut it.

  13. I am of the opinion that there is no need for a candidate to send post cards to each and every voter.If the candidate has done some social service in that constituency then he would have been identified by the voter in that area .People should be identified by the service rendered to the society like setting up of electricity generation plant,educational program mes for the masses,generating livelihood,food ,making layout and houses with all amenities, or have served in Govt or served the country as a defense personal etc
    The minimum criteria for a candidate to stand for election as a masses representative should not be governed by money power but service power

  14. This is a good move and surely help the deserved people to become public servants. Real estate agents, anti social elements and other undeserved will surely get filtered. We fuly support this initiative and surely vote for the candidate projected by this team

  15. Mr.Rajeev Gowda has highlighted an important point about current election funding limits being impractical. I hope that addressing this issue is on BPAC’s agenda .

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