Raj Cherubal & Civic Elections
I first met Raj Cherubal at the Takshashila Shala. He was there to speak on importance of Decentralisation, strengthening our local bodies, and most importantly making our representatives accountable. Catch up his full talk ‘Caging the beast‘. At the lunch time, I had a small discussion with him regarding the Andhra Pradesh’s local governance scenario, Mr Jayaprakash Narayan’s principled struggle aimed at strengthening the local bodies ettc etc and that, relatively tiny, conversation had a profound impact on my thinking.
Why did i recall Mr Raj again? You will know it as we go further.
Very recently, Raj stood for the office of Corporation Councillor, from the Kottivakkam ward as an independent candidate. Lets take a look at the Raj’s profile. Raj was collaborated with various institutions promoting the cause for decentralisation, good urban governance. Had initiated several projects and engaged in variety of duels with problems that lie naked in front of him. Here is his detailed profile. Below are not the tacit promises that usual politicians make and are taken for granted once they get elected. They showcase every possible course as to why Raj deserves their vote..
The development of Kottivakkam ward is picture perfect. What else do you require from a candidate to be a Councillor? I was very disheartened on the results day to hear that Raj could secure only 331 votes out of 8453 votes polled.
Lets very impartially check if the elected candidate Mr Rajaram is more eligible than Raj for the post of Councillor. I spent a day and still couldn’t catch up his profile. Not only his but, any candidate’s, who hail from political parties. Most of the independent candidates have their websites designed and promises made in a transparent way. They can be made accountable very easily in case they take their promises for granted. But still we don’t vote for the eligible candidates and cry for better roads, good storm water drains, less traffic, better infrastructure blah blah..
Our Civic Elections!!
The first and foremost issue of my concern is Voting. Take the case of Kottivakkam constituency itself. The total number of votes polled are 8453, which amounts to 56% of the total voters strength i-e 15000. Now why did almost 50% of the voters didn’t use their fundamental responsible political participatory tool? ‘We don’t have good candidates’ can not be an exception in the kottivakkam case when you have exceptional candidates like Raj Cherubal. And Mr Rajaram is also not accountable to the non voters who had the excuses of going to a shopping mall or watching a movie in the theater on the day of polls. You have no alternative but to vote in order to question your representatives.
When can you exercise ‘Right Not to Vote’? When you have people representing you are wise, selfless, all-knowing, liberal minded. But, I need not tell you about the people who are representing us today.
What’s there in the government that’s allowing corrupt and criminal people to hold positions? Understanding this also lies in the visible transitions that one can perceive in the lowest rung of the government i-e ‘Civic elections’. The civic elections have now been largely politicised. You have candidates affiliated to political parties all over. The fruits of power have been certainly transferred to the lower cadre of power spectrum. A councillor post has sure become a small political perk-and a ticket to bigger ones in the future.
The local body elections were conceptualised and practised for a long time as a fairly apolitical affair to elect representatives who would take up issues of the neighbourhood and find solutions through the council. Not anymore in the cities definitely. This is what AIADMK mayoral candidate Saidai Duraisamy had to say, “Civic polls have become political battles and We have to fight politically to win.” People have also moved into a vicious cycle that induces a myth -It’s better to have a councillor who belongs to the party in power in the state so that he gets funds for the constituency- into their minds.
M Raja of Mandaveli is happy that the candidate he voted for in the Chennai Corporation council elections has won. But, when asked on Friday what the new councillor’s name was, he didn’t know. “See,” explained the marketing executive, “I voted for the candidate with two leaves symbol, but don’t remember his name. I just thought it better to have a councillor who belongs to the party in power in the state so that he gets funds for the constituency.”
Once upon a time, rare were people like Raja, when councillors’ political affiliation seldom mattered-and many didn’t have any. That era ended in 1973 after which civic polls did not happen for 23 years. The practice of candidates contesting on party symbols started in 1996. Three elections and 15 years later, the politicisation of civil elections is complete, as the 2011 Chennai Corporation council poll results – and voters like Raja- show.
That probably tells us why not many independent candidates could win in the 200 wards in Chennai . Not that there was a dearth of good candidates. There was RTI activist V Gopalakrishnan, who brought to light the housing board scam last year, contesting in KK Nagar and Jafferkhanpet. In T Nagar, E Sridharan, a software engineer, appeared to represent the collective ire of the residents fed up by their neighbourhood being hijacked by hawkers and parked cars. Having worked with the government on several road and transport innovations in the city, Raj Cherubal of Chennai City Connect looked like a promise in Kottivakkam. All of them fell to mighty politics.[TOI]
It’s a dangerous myth because people have to understand that unless your candidates are selfless and wise, they are going to spend those funds on buying the votes, filling their personal coffers. And most importantly having funds is just not sufficient to have development, for your councillors do not know how to invest in development because they never practiced one. The other factor that calls our immediate attention would be caste and ‘muscle power’ politics, for they are widely practiced in the local body elections. All these calls for not just mere voting but informed voting.
Achieving informed voting in the context of, every voter is enough educated to understand the policy issues all by himself and act accordingly is only possible in long run. Mean while, what Atanu Dey suggests is the ‘United Voters of India‘..
Perhaps we should give the job of figuring out whom to elect — and what those elected should do — to those scholars. Let the specialists decide those matters of politics just as we let the doctors and surgeons decide on matters of health and medicine. But since we are empowered to vote, what we consider to be the role of the government matters, and so we must ponder at least for a bit what we have assumed the proper role of government in society to be. What we think the government should do has an impact on what the government actually does, and therefore has a profound effect on what we have to live with. It is actually a matter of life and death, and must not be taken lightly.