Non-partisan persons for BBMP polls

But what we end up with is partisan, non-participative government. The election to BBMP was being delayed and debated as if it were the election of the century.

In France there is a saying that whoever wins Paris will win France. In the past, presidents have come from Paris. But we have hardly any such issue here. A party can win Bangalore and lose Karnataka or alternatively lose Bangalore and win Karnataka. But for the people of Bangalore the management of the city is critical. They need to be concerned but they are laidback.

Bangalore today is of different scale than what it used to be and stakes for getting elected are high. Even if voters feel they have no control over the choice of candidates, they should still exercise their votes. They should also encourage public spirited, professional non-partisan candidates if they contest.

Low-profile affair
There was a time when local government election used to be a low-profile affair and the candidates used to be neighbourhood politicians. Decades back, one candidate used to mange cost by recycling the same garland street after street. Bangalore is a classic case of rapid urbanisation, and the pace and scale of development has attracted the business of politics than the politics of civic affairs.

The stakes are high, attracting people with only fringe interests in civic affairs but with interest in the city pie. In this background, some public spirited professionals have decided to join the fray as independent candidates. It is a good step for many reasons.
The entry of these candidates can upset the calculations of many. Their impact works at the margins. Local elections are after all won on slender margins. A good candidate will be able to wean away sizeable votes which will cut across sub groups. It leaves everybody with uncertainty about the likely impact. Hopefully, this will enter their financial calculus.

The idea is to make it unattractive for people going for the pie. They have taken to their heart the teachings of C K Prahalad about the ‘bottom of the pyramid.’ According to Prahalad there is money to be made even at the bottom of the pyramid and local government is the bottom most.

If the candidates do win against much odds, it will help to have such persons in the council. They will be of course outnumbered in the council. But they carry higher legitimacy since they would have won on their individual merit and their legitimacy should help to counter the number games of party politics. They can try to engage the council in more seasoned debates. It will also add to the representative character of the council.
Non-party candidates can also help in drawing the nonchalant voters to the voting booth. This will again be a great service. A councillor provides the last mile link between the public delivery system and the people. It is at this level that many programmes falter.
Presently the resident welfare associations are targeting only the middle income groups. There is no reason why they should not target spirited people from slums also and embolden them to contest elections. This will also improve the representational character of the associations.

Globally, local elections are fought only on the strength of local candidates and their concerns primarily remain local and representative. Elections to local government are more keenly fought as it directly impacts people’s life and welfare. The citizens also more closely associate themselves with local governments. We need to bring this trend in India also.

It is difficult to conclude that the local elections in rural areas in India are more representative. But they do go by the weight of the local candidates and panchayats have many independent thinking women leaders now. Panchayats are more participative and more accountable than is the case with urban bodies. So much so about the influence of educated voters of the metros. It is important the voters express themselves and make their presence felt. It is the final boarding call for voting.
(The writer is an associate professor at IIM, Bangalore)

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