Santosh Awatramani, spokesperson for Mumbai 227, a group formed by eminent citizens like V Ranganathan, Julio Ribeiro, Anandani Thakoor, Jamshed Mistry, Bhagwanji Rayan and Ashok Datar.
How did the group come together?
Two years ago, it was a loose-ended group of NGOs that faced a lot of problems while trying to come together to bring about change. It was revived again by social and civic activists after the Anna Hazare campaign kicked off. There came a point when everything fell into place organically.
How were candidates selected?
A think tank of about 15 people came together and deliberated on the criteria. They agreed to three primary criteria that had to be met by the candidates -- honesty, seva bhawna and no criminal record. We had to conduct a very thorough background check of the applicants through independent sources, so we zeroed in on an HR firm that understood our ideology and requirements.
After the candidates (till last month we had about 192 applications) and their backgrounds were screened we decided to get an independent panel of eminent citizens to make the final selection. The idea here was to make sure that it wasn't one person who makes the selection and that our possible biases don't creep in. The panel selected candidates only after a thorough consensus.
The group had decided that having a few independent candidates here and there wouldn't have an impact. We had to hunt candidates and convince them to contest. The image of the corporator has taken a beating over the years. We had to go back to the drawing board and convince them that being a corporator wasn't about dealing with criminals and mafia. After several exhausting meetings and stumbling blocks, the final list was prepared. We also organised training sessions on 30 modules that included ethics, public relations, language, recycling, etc and teachers, NGO members, activists, etc came forward to train the candidates.
Who is funding these candidates?
These candidates are regular people and don't have any political backing. They are good people but need support in cash and kind to bring about that change. We have started a system called 'adopt a candidate' where citizens can help the candidates by providing money, buying stationery, and even lending them their cars.
There are some candidates who will attract more contributions than other candidates and in that case we have kept a limit of Rs 1 lakh. If a candidate gathers more than Rs 1 lakh then the remaining amount will be passed on to other candidates. If a candidate can have the courage to come forward and stand for elections without hiding anything about themselves, then it is an obligation for us to support them.
How will candidates who win be monitored?
Local NGOs will be a support group for the corporators and monitor them. If a candidate turns out to be corrupt then the 227 group will publicly reject the candidate and never support him/her again.