Over the last few years, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) have become a force to reckon in the city. Bangaloreans have been uniting through their RWAs to speak out not just about local issues like civic amenities and khata issues, but also for macro level policy reforms.
But this also seems to have made RWAs fresh targets for politicians. RWAs are supposed to be independent and not have political affiliations. But RWA representatives across the city are raising concerns about the increasing control of local elected representatives – corporators, ward secretaries and MLAs – over RWAs. They say that some representatives have been floating their own RWAs while others have been interfering with the existing ones.
Jagadish G, President of Federation of RWAs of JP Nagar 7th and 8th phase, talks about such RWAs – “They crop up in areas where there are differences within the existing RWA. These associations are mostly unregistered, will have only 1 or 2 members who are either supporters of the politician or are residents who want to enter politics.” This claim is seconded by Keshav Kumar N, President of Jayanagar Residents Welfare Civic and Cultural Association.
So why do RWA representatives see politicisation as a threat? Jagadish says that politician-backed associations make the public dependent on them by promising to solve individual grievances, and public in turn become less organised. “Earlier people used to attend our RWA meetings, organise and raise concerns. Now participation is lower and people ignore long term issues like tax hikes, Sakrama etc which we have been raising. These issues are relevant irrespective of which party is in power.”
He cites the case of Santrupti Nagar, a revenue layout in JP Nagar, which is part of his federation. The official RWA of the layout has been defunct for the last three years, and now there is one informal association in every street of the layout. H Venu, a shop owner and resident in the area, says, “There are common issues like vehicle parking problems and lack of trees. But only individuals with political connections get works done, that too for their specific concerns only.”
N S Mukunda, Convenor of the South Bangalore-based RWA Federation Abhyudaya and Head of the city-level activism group Citizens’ Action Forum (CAF), says that across the city there is a trend of local corporators/MLAs felicitating RWA members and of RWAs returning the favour. “Our RWA was approached for this too, but we rejected such offers. RWAs should act as pressure groups independent from politics – else they will get no respect and there will be no scope to differ,” he says.
He cites the case of Abhaya, a federation of 12 RWAs in Girinagar. “This group now supports three corporators in the area. They believe that they cannot get things done without the corporators’ support. For the politician it is about building a vote bank for future,” says Mukunda.
Mukunda says that having such support does not bring much benefit to the RWA. “They do not get any additional funds. They may get some works done initially, but this will change when a new government comes into power.”
Another concern is regarding caste-based RWAs. Dr K A Seshagiri Rao, a former Congress MLA, says that caste-based RWAs have existed in the city for long. “This depends on the demography of the area. For example, Sarakki Welfare Association is dominated by the Reddy community – the association operates mainly within the community and has their community members as office bearers. They also support their community members during local elections.”
Rao says that RWAs are becoming more dependent on elected representatives as it is difficult for them to get their demands met otherwise. “It is difficult to get government agencies to solve civic issues directly, so they try to please politicians.” He says that sometimes political parties recruit those who are popular in local non-political associations as their election candidates, so that they do not have to build support from scratch.
There is consensus that such interference is recent – RWA representatives opine that it became more prevalent after the last BBMP elections. “Many activists today are those from the RWA space. They are aware, net savvy and are organising campaigns – which is a threat to politicians,” says Kathyayini Chamaraj, Managing Trustee of the activist group CIVIC.
However, politicians deny interference in RWAs. Jayanagar MLA B N Vijayakumar says that he is not aware of any cases of elected representatives interfering with RWAs. “There are 14 RWAs in my constituency and I have discussions with them. RWAs have never been political, only they are more active now and have more differences among themselves.”
JP Nagar corporator Chandrashekhar Raju says that there are groups in his ward which approach him in case of problems. “My supporters in some areas do political work; when they inform me about issues I deal with those. There is no intention of forming associations,” he says.
Among RWAs too, there are differing view points. N Mukund of Jayanagar 5th block RWA, says that it would be difficult to brand some RWAs as floated by politicians. “There can be many RWAs within one locality itself – only because they function separately from the existing RWA does not make them less legitimate,” he says.
He says that RWAs in the city essentially work like grievance cells – most people raise their specific problems in the RWA’s grievance meetings with government agencies.
"Only a few elderly people in RWAs work full time on public issues. So the concern that smaller RWAs do not have participation from public does not sound valid. Also many times RWAs have to work with politicians to get works done as they cannot go into conflict mode every time. Most city RWAs are unregistered, but are doing good work,” he says. N S Mukunda says that there may be about one thousand RWAs in the city, of which about 70% may be unregistered, and that many of them have only 4-5 members.
There are also differences within RWAs about backing their own association members who contest in elections. During the last BBMP elections, many candidates were from RWAs. For example, Meenakshi Bharath of the Malleswaram RWA contested as a candidate for Loksatta party.
As organisations, many RWAs have taken the stand of not backing any candidate. According to rules, registered RWAs cannot have elected representatives as their office bearers, but they can be members of the RWA. ⊕