44% in 2010 and 45% in 2015- Bengaluru has let itself down again. With such escalated activity on social media in a prelude to the elections, one would have hoped that it would translate into action and see a better voter turn out in the BBMP elections on August 22. But despite knowing very well the significance of BBMP 2015 and the repercussion of not casting their votes, Bengalureans failed, yet again.
For a city that has been grappling with civic woes, the BBMP election was the one chance to stand up and make their opinion matter. The last couple of years, with the surge in social media, Bengaluru has possibly seen the biggest movement against civic maladministration. Pictures of froth in Varthur lake spoke of the plight of lakes in Bengaluru and how years of mere troubleshooting sewage issues with no long term solutions turned the city's lakes into massive gutters. A citizens group, Whitefield Rising brought this to the attention of media and thus the authorities.
A campaign by Baadal Nanjundaswamy of creating art around Bengaluru's potholes was the most novel yet effective way of putting the spot light on the city's most notorious civic problem. First it was a crocodile, then an anaconda and closer to the elections, Nanjundaswamy turned a pothole filled with sewage water into a lotus pond. Pictures of these embellished potholes went viral on social media sites and the red-faced authorities rushed to quickly fill those potholes.
But the IT city, on the day of elections continued to be passive and didn't care enough to even spend a few minutes to cast their vote. While some blamed it on the unorganised voter lists from which their names were missing, some others gave lamer excuses like rain. If you expect a government official to come fix the light poles, even in torrential rains, and when they don't, you sit in your Ivory towers and complain of how unprofessional they are, it's equally lax and irresponsible of citizens to not have voted because of the rain.
The political parties campaigned, this time too, in the same traditional, routine and sometimes meaningless ways. Blaring speakers, fake smiles and paid campaigners. Not addressing real issues, not making real promises, failing which there would be any real time repercussions. The Congress showcased what a ramshackle the BBMP was truned to by the BJP in the last 5 years. The Chief Minister even saying, 'I give money to the city, vote for my party if you want development', with an arrogance like he is being benevolent with his ancestral property. The BJP emblazoned the state government's failure in handling the city and its burgeoning problems.
But this might actually work because the people that they were catering to didn't care about candidates, did not bother about developments agendas. Newspaper reports suggest that the going rate for a single vote in economically backward areas of the city was Rs 1,500/-. Bengaluru has a large chunk of middle class and it is the same strata that faces the maximum brunt of civic apathy. And it's also the very same segment that complains the loudest on social media. Come voting day, this block of voters seemed to have curiously disappeared.
Several campaigns were launched to boost voter turn out but evidently to no avail. Organisations like BPAC, Whitefield Riding and even radio stations like Red FM had drives to encourage citizens to vote, or suffer the poor infrastructure thereafter in silence. But nothing seems to move the citizens to raise from 44-45% to at least a 80% turnout.
Interestingly, in 2013 assembly polls, Bengaluru voter turn out was 53% and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it was 56%. While the local municipal elections are the most significant for any city to address their infrastructural issues, Bengaluru still does not seem to understand the gravity of it. And now, with such a dismal turnout, to borrow a phrase from RedFM,s campaign, since you didn't put your finger on the button, it's time to put your finger on your lips.