Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Pune Local Elections 2012 – Representative Case Study For Urban India

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on February 21, 2012

I wrote this article for ‘INI Broad Mind’. I am reproducing it here on my blog. For more information on INI Broad Mind and the Takshashila Foundation, please click here.

I was a voter and an interested citizen observer on the sidelines of the recently concluded Pune Municipal Corporation Elections.  I think they may provide some representative case-studies on issues/learnings for local election issues in many other pockets of urban India.

The Pune local elections are now over and in a sense, it is back to the ‘same-old same-old’. Looks like NCP-Congress combine is all set to retain power. The election voting percentage was a lackluster 51% (close to the voting percentage of the 2007 election). But a few things were different. And it is quite possible that over the medium and long term, these might have big impacts on Pune electoral politics and governance going forward. Maybe I am just hopeful…but then ‘hope’ is an eternal thing!

In this article, I will take a look at the build up to the Pune elections, the results, the aftermath and possible lessons learnt by various participants and stakeholders.

The Build-Up

Pune has witnessed an impressive growth over the past decade. From just being a small city known as the cultural capital of Maharashtra and a center of education, the city has witnessed a transformation into a large metropolis. The city is plagued with many of the same issues that are typical in most big cities – traffic, roads, public transportation, garbage, water, education, health, etc.

This election was considered important on quite a few counts. Strategic issues around Pune such as approval of the Development Plan (already pending for many years), public transportation (Metro), etc. were at the forefront. Another important issue was the rise of the independent citizen parties. Since the Janlokpal agitations of the last year, there was expectancy that the city will show much more enthusiasm in voting and in supporting clean candidates. On the political front, the NCP-Congress alliance had announced that were contesting separately. BJP-Sena still had their coalition; the ‘Kalmadi’ factor was a definite negative for the Congress; MNS was a dark horse. NCP was making a clear push to gain unilateral power (just like the neighboring PCMC) and Ajit Pawar had made it his top priority.

The citizen independent parties consisting of PNS (Pune Nagari Sanghatana) and PJA (Pune Janaheet Aghadi) had fielded over 15 candidates. While the task was uphill for them, there was hope that they may be able to make small inroads into the Corporation with a few wins. Many citizens were positive about this new alternative front that provided them with clean, well educated and non-aligned options.

The Result

The results, though not a total surprise did have some interesting twists:

– NCP emerged as the single largest party.
– Congress didn’t do as well as expected. Kalmadi factor affected them negatively.
– BJP-SS performance wasn’t spectacular either.
– MNS surprised many by their strong showing, becoming the 2nd biggest party.
– 3 NCP Mayors and ex-Mayors lost.
– No candidate from the citizen independent parties won.
– A few candidates with criminal histories did win in their strongholds.

After Action Review

NCP did partially achieve what it set out for, but will still have to partner with Congress. The few key losses of NCP like that of outgoing Mayor are a sign of anti-incumbency. Congress suffered and outside their strength seats, polled low voting percentages. MNS surprised many with their strong showing – clearly the voter who was looking for choices against the incumbents didn’t migrate to the main opposition; but instead decided to try the 3rd untested option. Raj Thackrey’s personal draw definitely helped the MNS in their campaign. The independent citizen parties fared poorly than most expected. They didn’t win a single seat. They did manage a good showing (in terms of votes polled) in a few contests, but those were clearly not enough. This was a big disappointment for the citizens who were hoping for some change. The fact that even this time, there were candidates with criminal records (fielded by the major parties) who managed to win, further highlights the ‘status quo’ from previous elections.

Frankly, for me the biggest disappointment was the voting percentage: 51% – fairly close to what it was for the last election. I for one had expected that with the overall frustration/anger against corruption, the state of the city, and the incumbents’ performance – citizens would come out in larger numbers and exercise their voting rights. This didn’t happen. This for sure hurt the independent candidates more than the established parties. I can think of many reasons for the poor showing at the voting booth, though not sure which ones are more prominent than the others.

Maybe people are still not ‘upset’ enough to push aggressively for a change. There is a difference between ‘irritability’ and ‘outright anger’ (that drives revolutions). The quality of life for most people in urban India has increased (traffic problems not withstanding) with the 7-8% growth rate. As a result, they maybe get ‘irritated’ with traffic, garbage – but not ‘angered’ enough! Same might be true with corruption. Everyone agrees it is bad – but is it bad enough to incite ‘anger’ and drive change? Apparently not?

The middle-class voter apathy was apparent. If you had observed a typical candidate campaign ‘Sabha’ at a housing society – you would have noticed that the average age of participants was 50+ and often 60+. Where was the middle class youth? How many even knew the candidates who were contesting? I wonder. On the other hand, if you visit a slum or a ‘Vastee’ – the youth there has always been actively involved in supporting their local candidate. These local candidates ‘took care’ of their Vastee. For example, consider this – a middle class person is irritated by illegal encroachments near his house – but often these encroachments support good lively-hood for the youth in the slums – and they back the corporators who may have facilitated these illegal ‘Tapris’ (Shacks). I think (don’t have enough data as yet to back this up..) that when we have an aggregate voting percentage of 50%, the voting percentage in slums is much higher than 50%, and that in the middle class housing societies is much lower. Guess who will have the higher priority? In a sense the electoral process is working fine – just as it is supposed to!

The Future

NCP-Congress is all set to retain power. Don’t expect major policy and working changes; and as a result this is a disappointment. Issues such as the pathetic state of public transportation and garbage management will continue to be around, with no immediate solutions in sight. During election, it was easy to pitch the ‘Metro’ as a panacea, but the reality is way out in the future (and that is, after there is an agreement on the design and execution plan).

The NCP has announced its intentions of taking their victory in Pune further by staking claim for the Pune LokSabha seat for the next elections.  The rise of MNS is an interesting development, and we will have to see what role they play over the next few years. They are clearly going to be an important player in the next Maharashtra and National elections.

The independent parties need to introspect and come up with their long term strategies for future elections. Organizing citizen parties just a few months before the elections is not adequate. These parties need to be around for a while. They need to build better organization and politicking skills. They have a much tougher task in reaching out to the voters – since they don’t have the brand and money power of the established parties. Hope these parties consisting of smart and well-intentioned folks learn quickly and implement the necessary changes to take on the tough challenge.

A few quick thoughts on the voting process, while the desire to vote should be intrinsic, technology and process changes should definitely be considered to help. Some kind of remote voting options and/or voting at any booth should be considered.

For anyone and everyone who is interested in improving India’s democracy by increasing voting turnouts – much more discussions and analyses are still needed.



11 Responses

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  1. Abhijit said, on February 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Hi Amit,

    Interesting article and very much along the lines of what I think. I don’t quite agree with the fact that Middleclass youth did not participate. Everyone of my friends voted (there may be an exception or two) but broadly everyone voted (and guess what majority of them voted for MNS). There is in general a great deal of apathy in the middle aged people 40something to 50something. Also, the point of ‘independent parties forming 2-3 months before the elections’ is very well said. Unlike Loksabha/Vidhansabha elections where the constituencies are very big, independent parties stand a chance in Local elections. It’s not impossible for ‘independent parties to reach every single voter in their constituency’. Plus how many efforts did ‘independent parties’ took to reach to the common man in vastee? It may be so that the common man in vastee indeed is looking for change, but does not even know about the ‘choice that is available’. Of course it is too early to say about future of independent parties.

    Also, if independent parties are going to be fractions – that are relevant only within a ward or so – it makes little difference to voter. For the ‘independent parties, someone has to provide charismatic leadership. Someone line Mr. Bhatia may be able to provide that.

    Also, we must not forget that it’s the very criminal types who come to the help of a common man during their crisis – but obvious they vote for those. eg. someone gets money for her father’s operation, daughter’s pregnancy. The fact that none understands that this is what should be provided by govt. is the most disturbing one.

    Also, some things that we can do ourselves – there is provisional voter list published. There is actual voter list published (though those interfaces are terrible). We could actually take some efforts to know our polling booth a couple of days in advance so that there are not too many surprises. These things are published sufficiently in advance for us to take action. I did not do it this time. But definitely next time. If we go to vote at 2pm without this basic homework and don’t end up finding our name in the voter list, the part of the blame is ours. How many of us actually do follow up – get up a Voter’s ID card and get our name registered once we are not able to find our name in voter’s list? Yes – there is a great scope for improvement there, no doubt, but part of the fault is ours too.

    Plus, some of us who’ve access to technology, may be we should do something to improve some points (note to self).

  2. Jaideep Deodhar said, on February 22, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Political indifference (as evidenced by the low interest in elections and low voter turnout) is connected to economic independence. If a citizen / family can pay for all that they want (within reasonable limits), then their expectations from the elected representatives is low. There is not much that a corporator can promise, atleast as far as survival needs are concerned. But for many, the promise that their houses will not be razed, their sources of livelihood will not be declared illegal, their sources of free water and electricity will not be un-free, is a major reason to be politically active.

    So what is easier from a candidate’s point of view? Deliver “protection” to the poor, or have a long term city-wide (if not state/country wide) vision? deliver slum protection, or build the economic engine which empowers the slum dwellers to buy their own houses? Because tomorrow, if the poor turn into middle class, then they will no longer be a captive vote banks. They will be as indifferent as the middle class is. So why not let them be poor? Makes perfect sense.

    When and how will it change? As you said, the voter participation profile needs to change. And how will that happen? Not an easy answer. Why do middle class voters not vote? Is it just laziness? Or is it a mistrust in the candidates, and a near total disconnect from the administration and what it can do for them? it is belived that the state / administration delivers practically nothing of value. On the contrary, the personal tax (mostly paid by the middle class, the rich and poor never pay taxes), is squandered away.

    Will any candidate ask for citizen’s feedback on how to spend the tax money? Will any candidate make the process of municipal expenses, tenders, contracts etc more transparent, so that it is not seen as a means of becoming crorepati? It is unlikely for the next 5 years. After all, they need to recover all the expenses, then put away enough for the next elections, then reward those who helped in the run-up to the elections, then make hay while the sun shines for the next 5 years.

  3. Amit Paranjape said, on February 22, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Jaideep – Thanks for your detailed comments.

  4. Amit Paranjape said, on February 22, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Abhijit – Thanks for your detailed comments.

  5. Abha V said, on February 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Nice inputs 🙂 Lesser turnout was a big disappointment indeed. I had seen so many of my friends,youth participating in anti-corruption rallies and yet they failed to make the actual contribution towards making a change in the system. I think the reluctance about social awareness is a major problem in our society. While the youngsters are worried about the new versions of iPhones, fashion, new food-joints, money; real issues remain undiscussed. ‘Parivartan’ was one such organization that tried developing awareness about bigger issues like the ones you have mentioned, especially in students. But it seems to have made a fleeting influence.

  6. Amit Paranjape said, on February 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Hi Abha, Thanks for your comments.

  7. Pradnya Shidore said, on February 23, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Read your piece. Absolutely agree with your voting % point. Also we need to address the mistakes in the voters list that added to the chaos.
    Also agree with your point on growth rate and middle class apathy. The factor that always troubles political science students like us. We hope that small, community participation initiatives might address this. But still in process of finding the answers, the methods

  8. meetu said, on February 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    “Maybe people are still not ‘upset’ enough to push aggressively for a change.”

    Very true. I also think that an upsetting event wasn’t close enough. I wonder what the voting % would be like if the elections were closer to say a German bakery incident or say a CYG.

  9. Srini Addepalli (@addepalli) said, on February 24, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Amit, well written.

    I had a similar experience in the BMC election… I live in a colony that has about 3000 (potentially) eligible voters; only about 1100 had registered themselves on the electoral rolls — of these only about 450 voted. None of the 8 candidates “campaigned” in our colony (to my knowledge)… there were four candidates representing known parties and four independents; four had criminal records. When I voted, my choice was an intersection of a known party candidate and a candidate who was literate and did not have a criminal record. That left me with two candidates belonging to parties that I did not support at a national level. In any case, the winner was an independent candidate who had the highest education level of all (graduate) and the highest criminal cases against him (4). I have no idea what this will mean to my locality.

    The reality is that (as pointed out above) many of us never interact with elected representatives for our personal work / requirements. Our daily life doesn’t depend on what our corporators / MLAs / MPs do for *us*… except to the extent that policy changes, infrastructure investments, etc. impact us. Maybe the solution is for all of us to get politically active (as different from the occasional candle-marches)… engage with our elected representatives for our issues — write letters / emails to them every time we find something crib-worthy (or praise-worthy)… instead of just posting tweets / FB messages and wallowing in self / collective pity. Just a thought.

  10. Sawardekar said, on February 28, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Hi Amit

    Good one & thks for sharing.

    I really wonder how accurate the electoral numbers and thereby the turnout numbers are. In cities such as Pune, Mumbai which have large floating population, I think the voting pop is highly overestimated. Since the process of registering/de-registering is so painful and requires umpteen visits,at the most people will go through the pain of registering themselves but how many will actually go through the hassle of deregistering when then shift houses? I say this from know my own experience (I am counted twice in the rolls) as well as that of others. And until the names were put up on the web, I didnt even know I was counted twice!

    Having said that, the results are indeed disappointing especially since voter awareness seemed to be high this time – or was that only in the media and the virtual world? Results were even worse in Mumbai where only 1 citizen candidate won! No doubt what you say is part of the reason and one hopes that citizens forums recognise their mistakes and improve on it.

  11. Ashwin Panemangalore said, on July 27, 2012 at 11:16 am

    This is a question that has plagued most of us in this country not just in Pune The story in Mumbai is as sad Jaideep Deodhar hits the nail square on the head His analysis is brilliant We all need to worry about this trend and wonder what can be done Will it ever change Doesnt look like it in a long time In which case what does the future hold for this twist to democratic process

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