Tag Archives | Politics

Politics begins at home

We spend a lot of time talking about national politics in India, with the general elections in 2014 being a subject of conversations for well over a year now. Conversations on state level politics take up the remainder of our time. In contrast, many of the problems that we face on a day to day basis are municipal in nature: be it the lack of good roads and public transport, unreliable power supply, unsafe drinking water or garbage that lines our streets.

Who becomes your next corporator or local council member is perhaps as important as who becomes the next prime minister of India, but a curious inversion of interests means that we care a lot more about the latter than the former. When municipal elections took place in Karnataka earlier this year, much of the analysis and debate was about what the results meant for the soon-to-come state assembly elections. Who became corporators, won control of municipal councils and what they planned to do for their towns and cities remained a distant afterthought in most of our minds.

Cities are also complex systems that require sophistication and professional input. To improve Bangalore’s roads, for example, needs our elected representatives to ensure multiple things. The roads need a high quality of construction and functioning drains that clear the roads of stagnant water. The roads also need a well-planned traffic network accompanied by a good backbone of public transport. We also need better systems of coordination for what roads get dug up and when, along with a schedule of work that is sensitive to the monsoon.  All this cannot happen without trained and motivated elected representatives, who manage existing public employees like engineers, planners and administrators.

The popular understanding that our cities are poor is also quite mistaken. Indian cities are rich in assets and in vibrancy, and this is evident in how Bangalore and others have grown rapidly in the last decade. It is due to mismanagement and neglect that we are unable to extract value from municipal assets. This mismanagement makes it difficult to finance urban infrastructure and public services, and again requires well-trained leadership to reverse the trend.

Bangalore has woken up to the reality that things cannot continue the way they have been, so far. Agitations from the past few years have proved that. While performance of elected representatives has been underwhelming, there is a dawning realization that the supply of good politics does not grow on trees. In a democracy, people are governed no better than they deserve. We need better political engagement by citizens to change this – with more people voting, more good people entering politics and by financial contributions in the support of good candidates. If we want ‘black money’ to leave politics, it is time that some honest, well-earned money enters to replace it.

India being a young country also provides an incredible opportunity where a large number of youth will be coming of voting age in the next few years. How well they engage with city politics and governance can determine the future of Bangalore and other cities.

Beyond corruption and vested interests, urban governance needs the management of multiple stakeholders with interests that are often at odds with each other. The ability to persuade a diverse set of people for the betterment of a neighbourhood, a ward or a city is in short supply. Managing a city also needs astute application of economic reasoning, where an unpriced good like free parking or free water can turn out to be enormously expensive, all things considered.

Big cities like New York or London have famous mayors who have the ability to transform their cities. There is no reason why Bangalore’s leaders cannot reach a similar position in the next 10 years.

Disclosure: I am a part of the Takshashila Institution’s team that is developing the curriculum for Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC)’s Civic Leadership Incubation Programme (B.CLIP), a non-partisan initiative that seeks to train professionals and aspiring civic leaders to enter city governance and politics.

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NDTV’s We The People – On the Uttarakhand floods

Last Sunday, I appeared on NDTV’s We The People hosted by Barkha Dutt, to talk about the recent floods in Uttarakhand and on the “eco-insensitive” nature of politics in India. Here’s a clip of the comments I made during the show. You can watch the full recording at the NDTV website.

I also had the opportunity to underscore the same points during an interview by Maseeh Rahman of The Guardian.

But most analysts believe restricting the number of pilgrims would be political suicide. “The desire to worship at Kedarnath is almost like an irresistible force,” said Pavan Srinath, of the Chennai-based thinktank Takshashila Foundation. “Despite the tragedy, people are already talking about when they will undertake the sacred journey. No government can bar the devout from the Himalayas.”

Not all experts are in agreement. Srinath maintains that the devastation would have been even more widespread if the reservoir of the region’s biggest dam at Tehri had not contained a significant volume of the deluge. “Dams can also prevent disasters,” he said. “The critical issue is not dams, but proper dam management. In India, we just don’t have a culture of public safety.”
[The Guardian, June 28, 2013]

The comment the regulation of pilgrims, however, isn’t just about political feasibility – but about policy realism. In all likelihood, a strict regulation of official pilgrims to the holy sites will lead to a large number of illegal traffic of tourists and pilgrims, with much less safety.

Also, this blogger thinks that it’s more likely that the Tehri dam was empty and capable of receiving flood waters more by circumstance than by intent – nevertheless, it demonstrates the positive role well-managed dams can play in disaster risk reduction.

Related posts: Not every disaster is man-made | We are still vulnerable to climate variability

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Bangalore refuses to turn up and vote

[This post used data from the website of the Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka, which was subsequently revised the next day. As per the revised numbers, Bangalore urban showed a turnout of 57.4%, a full 7.5 percentage points greater than the 2008 assembly elections. This improvement cannot be disregarded as trivial, thus the argument made by the original post is no longer valid.]

In the face of high expectations, the residents of Bangalore yet again failed to turn up and vote in large numbers in yesterday’s assembly elections. With 52.8% of the Bangalore Urban district’s voters casting their vote yesterday, it was only a marginal improvement over 2008 – when 46.9% of the district’s voters had turned up. This is but a marginal increase of 5.9 percentage points, which can perhaps be explained away to a great extent by the simple fact that the elections took place on a Sunday.

Voter Turnout 2013 Karnataka Assembly Elections

The capital city’s voter turnout was well below the state average of 70.2 percent. Curiously, the maximum turnout was seen in the adjoining Bangalore Rural district – at 77.95 percent. The only other districts with their polling numbers in 50s and early 60s percentages were Bidar, Gulbarga, Yadgir, Bijapur and Raichur – something that could be because of the high summer temperatures there.

The map was created using Gramener’s excellent map tool. Polling data was obtained from the Karnataka Election Commission website courtesy of Citizen Matters.

Update. As my fellow blogger Karthik pointed out, the previous assembly elections in Bangalore took place on a Saturday. Therefore, the weekend explanation for a greater turnout could be invalid. Also – while Bangalore as a whole shows a low turnout, it is certainly possible that individual constituencies showed much higher turnouts. It will be interesting to watch the numbers for constituencies with candidates endorsed by BPAC and those with strong Loksatta campaigns and see how well they fared.

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Visualising Karnataka’s municipal elections 2013

Urban Karnataka took to the polling booth earlier this month to vote for their corporators and municipal councillors. The elections were to be a four-way contest, with the Indian National Congress (INC), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Janata Dal (Secular) and Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) being the large political parties in the fray. Congress had a significant victory in the elections, securing 1960 of the 4976 seats contested: over 39% of the total. BJP and JDS were far behind, securing but 905 seats each, about 18% a piece of the total seats. The breakaway former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa’s new party the KJP could manage only 274 seats, less than 6% of the total. Independents won a significant portion of the seats as well.

The Karnataka municipal elections are happening at a rather critical time, with state assembly elections due in a few months and with the national parliamentary elections due in 2014. The results here will have a significant impact on both the impending elections. Twitter and other social media are already abuzz with speculations and assertions on what this would mean for the coming elections, on whether the municipal voters represent the entire state’s dispositions, on the signaling value of Congress’s early win, on anti-incumbency as a driver within the state, and much more. This article limits itself to a brief analysis of the municipal elections and their results, with an attempt to understand who will be governing much of urban Karnataka over the next five years.

Out of a total of 61 million residents of Karnataka, 208 cities and towns with a total of 13.9 million residents had local elections this month. At 22.8% of the state’s population, this covered all of urban Karnataka with the exception of Bangalore and a few minor towns. While most news stories are talking about the total number of corporator/councilor seats won by political parties, what matters is who has been able to win a majority of seats in individual local bodies such that they can form the local government there. Like in assembly and parliamentary elections, city mayors are elected indirectly by allowing elected municipal councilors to select their mayor.

The above graphic shows how many cities and towns of different sizes have been won by individual political parties. Overall, the Congress won 79 of the total 208 seats, with JDS and BJP with 25 and 24 each. The KJP managed only 5 seats, but it is interesting to note that there were 12 urban local bodies where all independents put together won a majority of the seats. Also, a good 30% of the local bodies had no clear victors. These 62 cities and towns will be where a lot of negotiations will take place over the next few weeks so that coalitions can be cobbled together to reach a simple majority.

Click on the map to know more about election results in individual towns.

A quick look at the above map tells us about the geographical spread of each party’s victories in Karnataka’s municipal elections. The congress (blue) appears to be well spread out throughout the state. The majority of JDS victories (green) are clustered in Southern Karnataka, conforming with their traditional strength in the Old Mysore region. The BJP (red) appears to have won towns in the eastern half of Karnataka – ranging from Belgaum and Bagalkote all the way down to Dakshina Kannada and Kodagu.

In all, the Congress has won a significant victory in Karnataka – be it in the number of corporator seats won, cities with majorities and their size. Below is a set of major cities and towns won by each of the political parties in the fray.

Notes. In this article, victors have been declared if they have won more than 45% of the seats in any given town or city. This is with the assumption that by taking on board one or two independents, the party can attain a simple majority. As of writing of this article, 24 seats out of the total 4976 are yet to be declared on the NIC website: most of which are seats from Terdal TMC, Bagalkot district. 

Data used in this post is available here.

You can also take a look at my fellow blogger Karthik Shashidhar‘s work for other visualisations of the election results: Congress Sweep |  Overall resultsDistrict-wise results | Party-wise performance on a district map | 

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