Mumbai's shame

On Thursday, February 16, Mumbai's people let themselves down with a dismal 44.12 per cent voter turnout for the civic body elections. It is all very good to say that Mumbai's "spirit" trumps each time there is a calamity -- natural or otherwise -- and that this megapolis with close to 2 crore people is back on its feet pushing the wheels of commerce ahead.

But elections are not about oiling the wheels of commerce; elections are only the first step in a participative democracy where citizens join hands to push the agenda of nation building. Elections force answers out of politicians; they make those in power accountable; they make our elected representatives humble. Just so that we can keep a check on their rapacity.

Yet, Mumbai lost that chance on Thursday despite being presented with the opportunity for change. It is all very well to tweet about how this city is going to the dogs, create a Facebook page on how the roads are pathetic, or organise candle-light marches to protest against terror attacks. The proof of the pudding is always in the voting. On that count, Mumbai is starving itself.

This is not a new trend. In the 2009 state assembly polls, only 43 per cent of the electorate turned up to vote. The same year, for the elections to Lok Sabha, the figure was 46 per cent, as was also the case with the previous BMC elections of 2007. These numbers are abysmal compared to other more "politically aware" states.

There was a chance that even if the voter turnout was much higher, the state of affairs would have remained the same. However, in that case, decision makers would be more alert to people's needs, instead of becoming another rent-seeking group. By not turning up in large numbers, though, Mumbai has achieved what it fears the most -- an executive that is apathetic to the citizenry precisely because the citizens themselves are.these parties and their flip-flop ideologies.

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