It is election time once again. It is the time when the common man becomes the center of attraction and is at the giving end for once. And give he should, but he needs to give after careful thought, analysis, questioning and deliberation. For the vote he gives now can determine the fate of our heritage city, not just for the next five years but also for much longer. We need to remember that five years may not be enough for one to do everything that a city needs, but it surely is enough time for unscrupulous people to destroy what little good the city boasts of.
How does one decide on whom to give our vote for? How can we evaluate the people who are standing for the corporation elections and select the best candidate? A lot of people I interact with are quick to bemoan the fact that they are left with very poor choices. They are concerned that the quality of our political system has degenerated to such an extent that they cannot get anyone who is truly capable of delivering on good governance. Personally, I think this is just an excuse that we are all giving ourselves. This indifferent attitude can only end up worsening our democracy. We need to understand that the only cure for ‘bad democracy’ is ‘more democracy’. True democracy can emerge and work only when the average citizen engages fully and intentionally with the system. Elections are an excellent beginning point for us to do so. This is the best opportunity that we can get to begin making a change. And how can we do this?
The first step is for all eligible persons over 18 years to get registered as voters. Once we have done this, then it is time for us not just to vote but also to vote smartly. And this entails knowing our candidates and getting to know how much they know about policy, politics and governance. We need to know which party the candidate belongs to, what is their ideology, how do they view governance, what their manifesto commitments are and how will they ensure that they deliver on their poll promises. We also need to know the educational qualifications of the candidates, their political experience, whether they were involved in any scam or scandal or if they have any criminal background and also their source of income. When the candidates come seeking votes, we need to ask them a few questions too. We need to know from them if they know their Ward well, if they know the demographics, the civic amenities available and not available, the problems of the City in general and the Ward in particular. We need to know if they know and understand the JNURM scheme, their views on urban poverty, urban health issues and the problems of the poor and marginalized. How do they plan to solve issues of housing, drinking water and sanitation, transportation, roads and road safety, problems of the slum dwellers and migrants? We need to elicit their views on developing the economic and tourist potential of Mysore. We also need to know from them how they plan to retain the heritage status of Mysore and how committed they are to environmental issues. And we also need to know how they plan to handle issues of land encroachments and land sharks. We need to ask them if they are aware of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution that empowers ordinary citizens like us with the power to participate in governance. We need to know their views on ‘Ward Committees’ and ‘Ward Sabhas’ and if they will value, respect and honour them if formed.
Based on the answers that they give, we need to decide on whom to cast our valuable vote. Let us remember that this kind of engagement will get all the major political parties to reconsider the basis on which they distribute their B-forms. Politics also follows the principles of ‘supply’ and ‘demand’. Once we demand good, qualified and committed candidates, the parties too will have to respond with supplying us such people.
We need to also understand that democracy can work only when we citizens continue our engagement with the elected bodies even after the elections are over. We need to keep the pressure on them by forming citizens’ groups that can act as watchdogs over the administration. Only when we sustain the pressure and hold them accountable can we expect things to change and good governance to become a way of life for both our politicians and the citizens.
Let us all join hands and promise ourselves that the time to change is now, and the change has to begin with each one of us.