Now that the months-long, twisted tale of BBMP elections has unfurled and the votes have at last been ‘beeped’ on the voting machines, it is time to take stock of the entire saga.
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It was a meaningless nine-day festival with grandiose manifestos promising the same old tired ‘castles in the air’, blatant distribution of cash and freebies, inane processions with paid supporters enjoying the sudden showering of ‘manna from heaven’ and fist-fights and blood-letting between opposing party supporters vying for the same pot of gold.
Except attempts by a few civil society organisations and media houses to conduct purposeful city or ward-level interactions between citizens and parties to question the performance of those who wielded power for the past five years and to put forth citizens’ demands for the future, there was hardly any meaningful debate about the real issues involved.
No one was held to account by citizens for their performance over the last five years. If only all that had been promised had been fulfilled, we would not have had the 100-feet wide, stinking melange of mixed garbage at every street corner, the self-igniting garbage dumps, the frothing and burning lakes, the sewage-filled storm-water drains, the railway tracks lined with scattered plastic bags and remains of open defecation, the shanties with their medley of piled-up barrels and pots of water and festoons of laundry decorating the entrance to their squalid hutments.
How many know or remember that the manifesto of the BJP that won the last elections had promised to build 50,000 houses for the poor and provide complete UGD in the newly-added areas of BBMP within three years; issue kathas and hakku-patras to slum-dwellers on a war-footing; have separate streams of collection for wet and dry waste; remove all encroachments on storm-water drains and make them sewage-free; completely rejuvenate and develop all 104 lakes within five years; upgrade all BBMP schools to the level of Kendriya Vidyalayas; build four hi-tech hospitals in all four directions; develop a playground and park in every ward.
Not to be outdone, the Congress manifesto for 2015 dangles, not 50,000, but five lakh dwellings within five years as the placebo to entice the urban poor. The promise of elevated corridors, underpasses, flyovers, and parking complexes to woo the car-loving affluent crowd had found a place in the Congress manifestoes of 2010 and 2013 as well. The car, by the way, seems to have acquired citizenship rights over the city and its resources, even more than the living humans inhabiting the city. Promises of ushering in the circular and suburban rail are permanent fixtures, it seems, in successive manifestoes of several parties with no sign of these ever materialising.
The hollowness of their promises is evident as the necessary measures for actualising what is in the wish list is never spelt out or acted upon. For instance, how will they build 50,000 or 5 lakh dwellings if they don’t simultaneously state that they will create land banks for the urban poor by purchasing, acquiring or providing TDRs to land for this purpose. How is one to believe that they will make the city slum-free when they have not passed the Slum-dwellers’ Right to Property Act or prepared the Slum-free City Action Plan, mandated under the Rajiv Avas Yojana several years ago?
Earlier manifestoes of 2010 seemed to believe that citizens can be won over by merely dangling a list of wishful castles in the air and failed to introspect about what is really plaguing BBMP and what citizens expect it to do to remove the root causes of corruption and misgovernance in BBMP. It is heartening that some of the current manifestoes attempt to address and offer solutions to the leakages in collection of revenues and means of curbing the humongous scams in the form of bogus works and bills in civil and garbage contracts. They even promise to set right internal budget and expenditure control mechanisms and conduct yearly internal audits to remove the black name that BBMP has earned in this regard. But whether they will show the will to implement these remains in the realm of conjecture.
Some of them have even stated their resolve to implement the 74th Constitutional Amendment by bringing in greater transparency, accountability and people’s participation through true decentralisation to ward committees and to empowering citizens. But whether they will allow citizens to plan, monitor and social audit works through area sabhas has not been expressed by any party.
However, the above progressive changes can be seen as a response to increasing disenchantment with the existing mainstream parties by certain groups of enlightened citizens and their search, even if currently muted, for alternative parties.
But what is saddening is that one does not find any party having expressed its commitment to put up clean, service-minded candidates free of criminal cases; to not use muscle and money power and not field women candidates who are proxies for their husbands or brothers. So it will be ‘more of the same’ in the next five years unless another election is held soon hoping to remove BBMP’s ills by merely splitting it.