Longer term mayor: City gains

Longer term mayor: City gains

BBMP Mayor service extend

I often do this fun quiz with my audience. Who is the Prime Minister? Who is the Chief Minister? Build it up to my killer question: Who is the Mayor? That question is met with silence or incorrect answers.

This is not because people do not care about who our Mayor is, but because we have a new one every 12 months! Someone rightly pointed out, that, by the time the victory celebrations are done, the farewell parties begin! Our last Mayor remarked that there is not even enough time to officially visit all the 198 wards at least once during his tenure!

When the Prime Minister and Chief Minister have a full five-year term, why does the Bengaluru Mayor get just a one year term? Because the Karnataka Municipal Corporation (KMC) Act said so.

The first version of BBMP Bill 2020 changed this by giving a full five-year term. The latest version of the bill passed by the Legislative Assembly reduced the tenure to 30 months. The chances of remembering the name of our Mayor dramatically improved!

How will the longer tenure help Bengaluru?

First and foremost, a longer tenure allows the Mayor to settle down, learn the ropes and assert herself as the first citizen of the city. A city of 12 million people is extremely complicated to govern and the Mayor will be in a better position to understand how BBMP is organised and connect the dots between the problems and the organisational setup.

Unlike the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, the Mayor of a capital city has many unofficial bosses, including the CM and several Ministers heading para-statals; it takes time to learn the delicate balancing act.

Over time, Mayors became more symbolic heads than political executives, wearing funny looking robes and welcoming dignitaries at the airport and being referred to as ‘Worshipful Mayor’ but not much else in terms of setting the agenda for the city. This was unlike the directly elected and highly empowered Mayors of Paris, London, New York.

The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, was the Mayor of London just a few years ago. Longer term allows the Mayor to be more visible, representing our city at national and global forums, earning stature and respect. This forces the Mayor to be more aware of issues with a global context, such as the climate crisis.

The next Mayor will also enjoy benefits of the new zonal councils. The zonal councils will free up the time of the City Council to discuss longer term issues and allow for policy making at a city level. For example, reforms in property tax, reclaiming encroached assets of the Corporation, or strengthening public schools in the city, providing infrastructure to slums, topics that rarely get discussed in the monthly meetings.

The Mayor will now have a chance to think big, propose changes and build consensus on various bye-laws and rules that affect the quality of life of citizens every day.

When Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun’s term ended, we asked her what she thought was her biggest accomplishment? We expected to hear, ‘Ward Committees,’ ‘Plastic Ban,’ but she surprised us by saying ‘burial grounds.’’

Lack of burial grounds is a big problem and as she was well aware of the problem being a two-term corporator, she worked hard to identify locations, getting approvals, making constructions happen and getting them functional.

She was relieved that she could get this done to some extent, within the one year of her tenure.

Moral of the story?

Mayors want to make things happen. They can and will make things happen even if they do not have all the powers. When a Mayor gets two and half years, as opposed to one, she will have adequate time to convert ideas into action and see them through.

The officialdom will also have more respect and comply when they know the Mayor is here to stay. It takes time to get things done. With requisite empowerment, longer tenure creates greater ownership and can set in new ways of thinking and working for citizen welfare.

(The author is Head, Civic Participation, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy)