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Why does Mumbai refuse to vote?

October 14, 2009 15:19 IST

Mahesh Vijapurkar says the people who do not vote are often the people who complain the most about governance.

Whoever said a vote was the best empowerment of the citizens was not a Mumbaikar. He must have come from another planet for clearly half of this great city which has a huge slice in the country's economic activity, do not believe in voting.

This by now is a definite trend and it is as if they are unconcerned with the way we are governed or not governed. Their concerns revolve around their own selves, as if the rest of the world is so distant that it does not matter to them at all.

The Lok Sabha elections, and October 13 polling for the Maharashtra state assembly, has shown that insularity of the citizen who otherwise would come before television news cameras and speak shibboleths about being concerned, caring citizens who want a change. Their speech after the Mumbai terror attacks and their deed of hiding indoors shows how the Mumbai voter is a split personality.

Quite a few made a beeline out of the city on Friday itself, combining the weekend with a day's leave on Monday to dovetail into the poll-day holiday that the state government so kindly ensured. A four-day break was more important than a make-or-break opportunity they had in so far as the fates of the candidates and the parties, in their vote.

Those who did not go out of town preferred to stay indoors. A newspaper today published a picture taken at 5.02 pm, just two minutes after the opening of a mall, showing people running towards it as if their life depended on visiting it. Such enthusiasm towards a polling booth would well serve this country and its people.

In fact, technically speaking, there should normally be no call for the government to ensure voting though it does strengthen the democratic process. There was no need for them to have asked the malls, shops, theatres to shut down till 5 pm on polling day to enable more people to vote. It actually pre-empted any excuses for not voting though the common wisdom is that a higher turnout normally translates into an anti-incumbency vote.

It is not as if voting is such a strenuous exercise. Yes, one may have to wait in the queue if the people throng the booths, as they ought to because they have to elect their own government. Even an hour in the sun -- it was a warm day, but the sun did not blaze all the time -- it is worth paying the price because a citizen has a duty to perform.

It is not as if Mumbai, the adjoining Mumbai Metropolitan Region housing eight city corporations and as many as 12 municipal councils are without issues. In fact, as far as urban governance goes, they appear quite badly -- or not at all -- governed because vested interests operate are trampling on the civic entitlements. This region prides itself on being the country's most populated city region and every citizen knows the state of affairs.

Then why did they not come out to vote?

It would be facile to point fingers at the Election Commission for having scheduled it on a Tuesday after a long weekend amid a festive season. Yes, the EC could have considered other dates, maybe one which is a Wednesday with no long weekends preceding it. This time, October 10 was a second Saturday, then a Sunday so people preferred to club a Monday with it. This kind of planning with a proper calendar of weekends before them seems to be an issue to which the EC may need to consider.

This strong negative urban attitude is contrasted by the way voters responded to the menace of the Maoists in Gadchiroli district. They were told to boycott the polls by the terror-infusing outfits who even laid siege to 22 polling booths, where a repoll has been ordered for October 15. The voting percentage dipped by about six per cent points compared to the norm which shows that perhaps the poor, whatever the reasons, have a conviction that their vote matters despite the disillusionment with governance since India became independent.

People should learn to vote and it is not asking too much after six decades of seeing what insularity has done to governance, has thrown up the kind of leadership we have which is self-and family-centric and least concerned about the people who elect them.

I would like them to look at the television clips and newspaper photographs showing the almighty leaders who prefer to have a posse of gun-toting personnel surround them all the time even when they are in expensive, high-speed cars, less because of security concerns but more as a status symbol, waiting in queue to cast their votes.

They don't have their flunkies scampering ahead of them to open the doors, push aside the citizen and take precedence over them. That moment they know that a voter would not take kindly to being brushed aside. They know the value of the vote. It appears, the citizen does not want to know that his vote does have a value.

Strangest of all is that people who do not vote are often the people who complain the most about governance.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator and senior journalist.

Mahesh Vijapurkar