From citizen manifestos to drives, B’luru civic groups are setting the poll agenda

Despite being home to strong citizens’ movement, the city has never seen more than a 60% turnout elections held in the recent past.
From citizen manifestos to drives, B’luru civic groups are setting the poll agenda
From citizen manifestos to drives, B’luru civic groups are setting the poll agenda
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The Assembly elections in Karnataka are around the corner with the Siddaramaiah government nearing the end of its term.

Bengaluru, apart from being a IT hub, is also home to several spontaneous citizen movements against the apathy of the political class and the civic administration. However, these movements have failed to increase the voting percentage in this bustling metropolis. Bengaluru alone houses 28 (12%) of the total 224 Assembly seats.

Noted political analyst Sandeep Shastri says, “Citizen's movements do not actually convert into votes. Bengaluru has the lowest voter turnout when compared to other districts in the state. Since 1983, no elections have seen a voter turnout of more than 60% in the city.”

Bengaluru has primarily seen a bipartite contest between the BJP and the Congress. During the 2013 polls, the Congress had edged the competition to win 13 of these seats within the state capital. The BJP managed to win 12 seats, a drop from 18 seats it had secured in 2008 elections.

“In a sense, citizens continue to assert this anti-politics sentiment. Perhaps they feel that their agendas would not be taken care of by the parties that will come to power. In spite of NOTA in the last two elections, we have not seen much positive change in voter turnout,” observes Shastri.

Another political analyst, Narendar Pani reasons, “The so-called citizens movement often represents a small section of the urban population, majorly the middle-class people.”

Explaining the Aam Aadmi Party phenomenon in Delhi, he says, “The party managed to win only after getting the support of the urban poor and not just by mobilising the middle class.”

‘We want to change that’

Srinivas Alavilli, founding member of Citizens for Bengaluru, a citizens collective, says, “A lot of people don’t vote thinking their vote will be wasted. It is common for people to think if their votes will matter. Elections come, elections go, but the problems stay. In the last two terms, we have seen two major parties in power, but the condition of the city has progressively declined."

“But this time, we at CfB are trying to change the conversion by not reducing elections to a spectator sport. The general conversation around elections is, ‘Oh Modi is more popular than Siddaramaiah’ or the other way around. But what does Bengaluru get from that? We are trying to engage with political parties to ensure that the bar is high and make all the parties agree to some basic things,” he adds.

CfB, in December, released a People’s Manifesto, a list of crowdsourced demands.  The mass turnout in the precursor to this event (Beku Beda Santhe) forced three of the mainstream political parties to send their representatives for the launch.

“The AAP and Prajakiya too have been with us. We have to wait and see what their final manifestos will look like, but right now, we welcome their approach and initiatives,” Srinivas adds.

During the release of draft electoral rolls too, United Bengaluru along with Bangalore Apartments Federation, Citizen Action Forum and others led by sephologist PG Bhat had  submitted a petition with the Karnataka State Election Commission questioning the discrepancies in the voters list.

They also pointed out that as mandated, the draft electoral rolls were not available online in pdf text format but in user unfriendly pdf text format and approached the Central Election Commission.

"There are real issues to be addressed. The CEC himself is trying to run away from the questions. These people should stop acting like typical bureaucrats and start understanding that the citizens have a higher level of expectation from the constitutional authority of Election Commission as opposed to any other officials. Voters are frustrated with their names deleted from voter rolls," Sridhar Pabbisetty, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, said.  

Apart from these pan-city groups, individual Resident Welfare Associations have also stepped up their activism from opposing particular issues to creating citizen charters, in addition to launching drives to include new voters and verify existing names in the electoral rolls.

Raj Kumar Pillai, member of IChangeIndiranagar, a collective of eight RWAs, says that it has been flagging the unabated and illegal commercialisation in the area. Wary about the fallout of the same on the community infrastructure and the quality of life in Indiranagar, the members are in the process of forming a charter that will be presented to the aspiring MLAs and make sure that they stick to it after the elections.

“We know that we are up against the wall, our choice lies between the devil and the deep sea. But, as proactive citizens, we are doing this for our future generations. We can’t just sit and say nothing can be done. We have been protesting, we have taken matters to court. Our efforts so far have acted as a deterrent to the destruction,” Raj Kumar says, referring this charter as an extension of their efforts to restore their neighbourhood.

Similarly, Savitha, a RWA member and also a CfB volunteer, said that at RR Nagar, citizen activists are counting on their corporators to act as their emissaries to their respective political parties to ensure that each area’s version of the Manifesto is followed.

“A mini Beku Beda Santhe was held in the constituency, similar to what was held for the whole city during Tothadina Oota, a terrace farming workshop, where we got a lot of inputs to chalk out our manifesto,” Savitha says.

In RR Nagar, we want the elected representative to ensure that the area gets a proper drainage system, and also recover the encroached land and lakes. There is also a need for a system to collect the rainwater as there is often a water shortage,” Savitha adds.

The Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), a non-profit trying to bridge the gap between the political class and the common man, is also trying to create area-specific manifestos. So far their ‘My Constituency, My Manifesto’ exercise is in full swing in eight constituencies.

A member of the group says, “The challenge remains to reach people from a cross-section of society and get their inputs. Our aim is to create such manifestos for 20 out of the 28 constituencies as of now.”

Such exercises and interactions with prospective candidates are carried out by other active RWAs across the city like in Koramangala 3rd Block, Whitefield and KHHSP – a collective of Kudlu, Hosapalya, HSR Layout, Somasundarapalya, Parangipalya among others.

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