It was a short-lived campaign for the BBMP elections with little sound except for the occasional auto rickshaw blaring loud music and unintelligible squawks alternately. There were fortuitously none of the usual cut-outs, banners or buntings which end up ultimately as so much garbage. The only signs which indicated that a campaign was on, were the colourful pamphlets strewn on the roadside, muddied by the footprints of passers-by.
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After all the hype and excitement drummed up by the media, the State Election Commission says that only about 44 per cent of Bengalureans voted. But given that the electoral rolls are such a mess, some civil society organisations have pointed out that there cannot be seven million voters in a city of eight million and that the electoral rolls are bloated. According to them, if the rolls were more accurate, Bangalore would have recorded more than 60 per cent voting.
Even if we accept that more than 60 per cent was the voter turn-out, it does not alter the fact that the 40 per cent who did not vote are mostly from the affluent and educated areas where the voter turn-out is always lower than the average Ask the candidates. Most of them have an idea in which booths there are more affluent voters and in which booths more poor voters. They know the voting percentage booth-wise and it is their complaint that it is in the affluent areas that the voting percentage is low.
Why does every election leave the affluent and educated voters unmoved?
Could it be that some of them see no need to vote because they have ensured that things will work in their favour irrespective of who comes to power, because it is their money ultimately that is greasing the elections anyway and they have made ‘suitable adjustments’ with each of the parties?
Or is it because some of them can ‘buy’ any service they want at a suitable price from officials and whoever is elected, whether it is removal of garbage, clearing of drains, supply of water, sanctioning of illegal house plans and/or regularization of land use violations?
It is time that those staying away from voting for these reasons understand that entitlements can be claimed in a democracy only through legitimate processes of contestation, dialogue, consensus-building and decision-making, and not through money-power and back-door influencing of decision-making.
But there could other reasons for staying away too.
It could be that some of the affluent, educated, computer-savvy, social-networking crowd inhabiting Bangalore increasingly, who are eager to become part of the democratic process, find that the mode of campaigning adopted by the candidates is so out of tune with their lives?
Old world ways of campaigning
True, many television channels organised panel discussions with leaders of leading political parties where broader and city-wide issues were discussed. But where were the localised discussions at the ward-level to debate specific issues and obtain a measure of the individual candidates, who would be responsible for solving all local problems for the next five years? It is the clueless-ness of the local campaigns that needs to be addressed.
One really does not see any logic in a candidate wearing a garland and the symbol of her party and walking along roads doing ‘namaskara’, with a retinue of volunteers, paid Rs 300 a day, shouting "Vote for so and so". Sometimes, the candidate is accompanied by the retinue and a weightier leader from the party who lends support to the candidate by sporting a weightier garland and folded palms, from the vantage point of an open lorry blaring music.
If all candidates are indulging in this same strategy, then what is each one’s unique selling point (USP) and why should one vote for any of them? Most of the pamphlets too exhort you to "Vote for XYZ" but do not carry the candidate’s manifesto, record of service already rendered or any other information. Are you supposed to vote for the face which is prettiest? The late writer R K Narayan parodied the situation by saying that one voter decided to vote for the symbol ‘mango’ because he liked mangoes!
Many Residents’ Welfare Associations tried to bridge their knowledge gap about candidates by inviting them to attend ‘Meet the Candidates’ programmes. Here was an opportunity for candidates to exhibit their awareness of local problems, explain their vision of development for the ward, elaborate on their manifestoes and action plans for the ward. Did we find candidates rushing to these meetings where they could, in the space of an hour or so meet about 100 residents gathered in one place and interact
with them meaningfully?
No, hardly one or two candidates appeared at these meetings and they too were always in a tearing hurry to rush away for their ‘door-to-door’ campaigning! Should not the area-specific local television channels too be organizing or relaying such ward-wise interactions between candidates and citizens?
Break with the past
Language is another factor. One has to accept that given Bangalore’s cosmopolitan character, the migrants find it difficult to understand the candidates who are mostly Kannada-speaking. But this could be overcome if candidates created pamphlets with their manifestoes in English as well. At the debate organised in Shanthinagar, a request was made by a citizen that candidates should speak in both languages.
How many candidates even have websites to connect with their voters? In fact, instead of wasting money on paid volunteers and other freebies, would it not make more sense for these candidates to use the same money to themselves call for hour-long, booth-level meetings under a shamiana or in a
hall and put forth their USPs, manifestoes and action plans for their wards? Given that there are about 30 booths in a ward, they could easily conduct about five such meetings per day and cover the whole ward in the six or seven days given to them for campaigning.
They could draw up a calendar showing when and where they would be addressing citizens of each polling booth area and provide this information in their pamphlets. This way they could address a majority of the voters of an area at one go and spare themselves from the ordeal of meeting each voter individually through door-to-door campaigning which conveys nothing to the intelligent voter. Probably most of the candidates use the door-to-door method to distribute freebies slyly and hence the preference.
Surely, if candidates were savvy, they could convince today’s educated and affluent voters to take part in the democratic process? ⊕