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Just a vote is not enough

At the outset, an apology for writing an anecdote that involves me personally, but I include it only to make a larger point. Bear with me while I narrate a short story. Sometime in 2012, an illegal cigarette shop opened up in the lane where I stay. It is a small, narrow lane, with three buildings, and a car mechanic’s outlet. In only a couple of months, the cigarette shop turned into a nightly adda for anti-social elements who would park their vehicles haphazardly thus narrowing the passage further, and smoke hundreds of cigarettes well into the night.


Leave a mark: An elderly citizen displays the ink mark on her finger after voting in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. File pic 

Women began to feel unsafe (there were more than a couple of incidents of lewd comments), and the area became a smoker’s paradise but a resident’s nightmare. Unable to bear the smoke, families began to close their windows. A few asthma patients were hospitalised, and senior citizens did not venture out. In short, it was a scene right out of a
B-grade Hindi movie.

The only difference was that there was no hero to save us.

The residents of the lane (including me) petitioned the ward officer. No response. We petitioned the municipal corporator (Jyoti Alavani, an independent, but affiliated to the BJP). No response. We petitioned the MLA (Congress’ Krishna Hegde, who stays hardly 500 metres away). No response (he said he is an MLA and could not do anything in this matter as it was a BMC issue). We petitioned the local police station. No response. We called up the DCP. No response. Every single one of them said they were helpless. Short of taking a morcha to their respective offices, the citizens of this narrow lane did everything they could. Nothing happened. Oh yes, the number of anti-social elements increased, and the smirk on the stall owner’s face widened.

We finally wrote to the then joint commissioner of police (law and order), Sadanand Date, who ordered the local police station to raid the stall and apprehend the owner and the anti-social elements. This happened in 2013, a year later. It took us 365 days to get an illegal shop cleared. My hunch is that everyone reading this has a similar story to share; only the characters may change.

The larger point of narrating this seemingly inconsequential story is this: with elections less than 45 days away, we are plagued with just one question, “Who is responsible for Mumbai, for the safety of its residents, and for the betterment of the city?”

In a city where the municipal corporator, the MLA, the police, the municipal officer, just about everybody is helpless (or chooses to remain helpless) against a small illegal shop, what of the rest of the city?

Historically, Mumbai has always been prodded ahead by its private, industrious citizens, rarely by its bureaucrats, and the least by its politicians.

In 2014, therefore, our vote becomes even more significant for the Lok Sabha elections. The six Members of Parliament for the city need to made accountable, and then, in October when the state goes to the polls, so should the Members of the Legislative Assembly.

In a democracy, as this newspaper has argued several times, the responsibility of the citizen does not end at just casting one’s vote. Unless residents of this great city participate in the process, we will keep voting irresponsible politicians back into power, at the local, state, as well as national levels.

If the first duty of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, the elections are a great time to remind the administration of it. It is also a good time to demand answers; concrete responses that can be held up to scrutiny and followed up. Unless we do that, voting in the elections would be a meaningless exercise.

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