Any random sampling of Bengaluru's citizens would concur that traffic, water and garbage are three of its biggest woes. The consistency and longevity of these problems has resulted in a surfeit of urban activists who have had to take matters into their own hands. And citizen groups have made a visible difference to lakes, green cover, walkability, public transport and general liveability of Bengaluru. But isn't the liveability of our city the responsibility of its 28 MLAs?
224 seats go to elections in Karnataka, 5.6 crore voters will decide their fate. Contrast that with the 28 seats of Bengaluru, which will be decided by a whopping 91 lakh voters. This means that while every 2.5 lakh voters of the rest of Karnataka will have an MLA for their constituency, Bengalureans will have an MLA for as many as 3.25 lakh voters. Bengalureans are under-represented, their voices not loud enough in the Karnataka State Assembly.
No wonder citizen activism abounds, it attempts to amplify and echo what are otherwise whispers of the people of Bengaluru.
The urban maze called Bengaluru seems to have intractable problems. Given the many urban plagues and the under-representation, how would a Bengaluru voter decide whom to vote for? On the basis of the party's ideology? Candidate's caste or religion? Pedigree and family status of the candidate? Money and muscle power? Will these solve our woes? Have these solved our woes? How to decide?
Here are some general pointers on how voters can streamline their decision.
First, vote selfishly. Bengaluru's imperatives can only be addressed if Bengaluru's voters vote on the basis of what affects them in Bengaluru.
Second, vote for candidates, not parties. Political parties do not and cannot govern, they do not even exist as part of the Indian constitution's mechanism for elections or governance. They are private groups that exist to win elections, not deliver services to citizens. Instead, our parliamentary democracy is based on electing candidates, so that should be the paramount consideration in voting.
Third, vote based on the manifesto. Manifestos have become write-only documents with voters not paying attention to them. Manifestos are the only method to assess what a candidate and the party backing her, envision for the constituency and the work they are willing to commit to delivering. In writing. When voters de-emphasise the manifesto, candidates rightly assume that they can win votes based on money, caste and other superfluous issues. Contestants hence take voters for granted, and this has and will continue to be a key reason for the downslide in governance and impunity of MLAs. Voting on the basis of manifesto promises, will send a clear signal to candidates that they will be selected on their vision and plan, and held to account on that very basis, not on petty politics.
These tips for navigating the election maze aim to come out with a win for voters, regardless of who forms the government. Here is the 5-step process to decide on how to vote.
Identify the handful of key issues that matter to you in your life in Bengaluru. It may be the stench and disease-borne vectors multiplying in the dump on your street, it may be the rising water tanker bill and power cuts, it may be commute time due to traffic and poor transport options or it may be your safety as a working woman and the air quality affecting your child's lungs.
Vote selfishly for the candidate who has solutions to the issues you face. How do you know that? Read the candidate's manifesto for her specific stand on your issues, and solutions proposed. Candidate manifestos are usually available as flyers or pamphlets. If this has not been made available to you, despite enquiries and research, you have no reason to vote for the candidate; he or she has not earned your vote. Of course, regardless of an impressive manifesto, eliminate all candidates with a criminal record.
If the candidate belongs to a party, read the party manifesto as well, for your specific issues and solutions proposed. This election, all parties have published their Bengaluru manifestos, also available as a link on citizensforbengaluru.in. The party manifesto is an essential supplement to the candidate's promises, not a substitute. For a candidate standing on a party ticket, both manifestos must echo the problem approach and solution. If they contradict, your issues are unlikely to be addressed; no point voting for that candidate.
Look at the candidate's track record. She may have a track record in the Assembly from an earlier stint, or as a Corporator, or a private citizen in her field of work. Again, in Indian democracy, it is the candidate's responsibility to make that record visible to you, seek and earn your vote. You can check her background and public statements as well.
The citizensforbengaluru.in website has the listing of all candidates in all constituencies, linked to their profiles and track records. If you are unconvinced, do not vote for a sub-par candidate who does not meet your expectations.
Avoid confusing your vote with extraneous issues. The healthcare crisis in Uttar Pradesh is alarming, Kashmir's woes are heart-rending, and these issues will make it to the top of the list for those in that state and constituencies directly affected by them. Vicariously voting for someone else's problems neither solves theirs, as Bengalureans can neither hold a remote Assembly-man accountable for non-delivery, not does it solve Namma Bengaluru's problems.
This process is meant to streamline a voter's thought process and lead to the candidate who is most competent to address the voter's issues in that constituency. What emerges from this may be a contestant from a large or small party or an independent, but one who meets the voter's expectations of a contestant. Or none may emerge, and so be it.
This does not guarantee that Bengaluru's messiness will magically resolve, but certainly ensures that contestants get the message on how Bengaluru will vote - selfishly, based on issues that matter to the specific voter and his area, the commitment of the candidate to address those issues as per the manifesto and the track record of delivering to promises, whatever be the domain of their work.
This way, the vote is not based on party, situation in other states, caste or religion of the candidate. The vote is a single-point message to and demand of the candidate - seek votes based on proposals to solve voters' specific problems and deliver after the election. This allows voters, along with the enthusiastic citizen activists of Bengaluru to pursue this single-point agenda and take MLAs to account during the next 5 years. And this, in itself, brings us closer to improving the liveability of Bengaluru compared to where we are today.
(The author is a civic activist with #CitizensForBengaluru and a political commentator.)
Views expressed in the article are personal.