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For the people, by the people

In their attempt to ensure that more citizens get inked today, activists have been facilitating meetings between candidates and the people who will be voting for them, and spreading awareness about how to cast protest votes

In a desperate bid to improve the city's abysmal voters turnout, activists across the city are resorting to a number of methods to sensitise the citizens about their democratic responsibilities. While some are bringing together residents and their respective candidates in the same room to promote interaction and exchange, others are creating awareness about the protest vote, which is the only way to prevent proxy voting at the booths.

Residents of Thakur Village in Kandivli united their forces and pressed for a meeting for the BMC candidates of the their ward (no 24) on Sunday, in course of which discussions were held between the citizens and candidates.

"We have been facing a lot of problems in our area, and so decided to form a residents association two months ago. The meet was organised so that citizens can learn about the different candidates and make informed decisions about who to vote for," informed Pankaj Asthana of the Civic Awareness Programme.


The power of the finger: Actress Raveena Tandon joined students of
Rizvi College in Bandra to encourage youngsters to go out and cast their
vote. The students started an initiative called the 'Please Vote Campaign',
educating people about the importance of voting. Pic/Satyajit Desai


The meeting witnessed spirited exchanges about the abysmal condition of roads, the absence of fire stations in the area, and the problem of encroachment by hawkers.

The candidates in the running -- Yogesh Bhoir, Atmaram Kambli and Jaiprakash Godambe from different prominent political parties, were present for the meeting.

Another such meeting was held in Colaba. Resident of the area and sociologist Nandini Sardesai said, "We held
a meeting to bring candidates and locals from our area on the same platform. It is a necessary exercise, as they are completely new faces for us, and we had to know if they could resolve the issues in our area."

She added that it is of extreme importance to learn of the academic credentials of the candidates, evaluate how well-spoken they are, and gauge their ability to raise pertinent issues at the BMC. "Women will be backed by the ex-corporators, as some of them have told us. When a ward gets reserved, it becomes quite difficult to find candidates who fit the bill. The candidates often have to be imported from other areas, and as a result of which they don't understand the local problems," said Sardesai.

Meetings between residents and the eight contestants have also been held in ward no 95, which corresponds to Bandra-Khar. Aftab Siddiqui, resident of the area, said, "The candidates apprised us of all the issues that they had their eyes on, and at the end of the meeting, we told them what they had to focus on. They must focus on traffic, the TB clinics, the Pathwardhan Park issue, illegal encroachments and hawkers, as well as illegal activities rampant in bars and pubs."

Vote in protest
Activists in the city have also been sensitising citizens about the need to refrain from abandoning the electoral process by resorting to the usual claim that "all politicians are crooks", and instead casting protest votes, so that the city's voter turnout does not suffer.

James John of the Active Alert Citizen Forum (AGNI) said, "By casting their protest votes, they are at least honouring their right to vote. Also, they are safeguarding against any kind of bogus or proxy voting, which is so frequent in polling booths. Politicians are known to resort to such illegal means. So, people should vote, even if they don't want to choose any representative."

"In order to cast a protest vote, one must go to the polling centre like any other voter. Instead of pressing the button on the EVM, tell the officer that you don't want to vote for any of the candidates, and instead, cast a protest vote. If you tell them at the outset that you don't want to cast a vote, they might not let you enter the booth," he said.

Section 49 (0) of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 details the procedure of casting protest votes. After the elector's roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters, he is to inform the presiding officer that he does not wish to record his vote. Upon his declaration, a remark to this effect is to be made against the said entry in form number 17A by the same officer, and sealed with the signature or thumb impression of the elector.

Activist Jitendra Gupta said, "Anyone who wants to cast a protest vote has to sign a declaration, and he thereby loses his right to a secret ballot. But in spite of this drawback, people should not shy away from casting protest votes. If the number of protest votes exceed the number of votes cast in favour of the winning party in a particular ward, the entire election process in that ward stands cancelled, and polling is done again. This gives voters a second chance to choose a better candidate."
 
No celebratory banners, crackers
The civic body has decided to come down heavily on parties which sully the city's walls with hoardings and banners congratulating the winning candidates, after the results are declared on Friday. Additional Municipal Commissioner Mohan Adtani said, "The commissioner has already issued a circular instructing officials to remove any hoardings put up to wish candidates for the elections, put up without obtaining permission." Meanwhile, the police department has banned the use of celebratory firecrackers for the entire duration of the month.

Media gagged
The EC created quite a stir yesterday by issuing a circular preventing news channels from broadcasting interviews and speeches of political leaders, ads, exit or opinion poll results, or discussions and debates on the elections.

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