What does the low turnout tell us?

The English newspapers—and the ‘intelligentsia’—whatever that is, are
bemoaning the fact that the turnout in the elections to the Bruhat
Bengaluru Mahanagar PALLIKE—BBMP—till 4 PM was around 38%. This is the
IT capital of India they scream. And look at the irresponsible
citizen, who will not take the trouble of voting for the BBMP council.
How can they expect improvements of they take such little interest? In
a democracy, they forfeit the right to complain if things are not up
to the citizen’s expectations, if she does not bother to vote. The
cries are quite shrill from bodies like the B-PAC, headed by Kiran
Majumdar Shaw, the chair of Biocon and the leading light of B-PAC as
its President.

The Bangalore Political Action Committee came into existence a few
years ago, after the Citizens judgement of the US Supreme Court while
ruled that corporate have the right to be heard in electoral politics
through Political Action Committees. This modern practice of American
democracy has come to Bengaluru through the B_PAC. It consists of the
city’s elite. Apart from Shaw, it has Mohandas Pai, once of Infosys
and now a leading commentator on national affairs. Others like V
Ravichander and K.Jairaj contribute to it significantly. It has run
training programme for those who would like to stand for BBMP
elections. It has become an important voice in city affairs. The
corporate who have defined the IT capital in the last 20 years have a
voice in B-PAC.

Other civil society agencies have, however, not been so vocal. CIVIC
has been working on Bangalore related issues for years, quietly, but
in this election fever, has not spoken.

I wonder at all this noise in the press. If I am surprised, it is that
such a large number as 38% have bothered to vote. Why are they out of
step with the silent majority?

I have voted, and belong to the 38% who may be defined as
‘responsible’ citizens. But I did so to earn the right, as seen by the
self appointed English press and the B=PAC, to speak with
responsibility, and not be dismissed as one of those who didn’t vote
and hence has abdicated the right to speak.

Why should one waste one’s energy in voting for a comical body like
the BBMP, whose main function is to pretend to be a ‘local self
government’ while in reality providing a platform to a whole lot of
unauthorised, powerful people to do what they like with the city?

The BBMP has no control over major aspects of city governance. It has
nothing to do with power supply—for that we have an unelected BESCOM.
It has nothing to do with water and sanitation. For that we have an
unelected BWSSB. It has nothing to do with public transport. For that
we have the unelected BMTC [which, by the way, is doing a good job]
and soon the BMRTCL, which has been delayed by several years, but from
which I, as a senior citizen, have great hopes.

So what does the BBMP do? It has some say in street lights. It has
some say in filling potholes on our roads. This is very important,
because we have many agencies whose sole purpose is to create and
sponsor potholes. One day the pone department will dig up streets. The
next week some private company laying fibre optics will do so. The
third day someone building a house will do what is aptly called ‘road
cutting’. Other departments chip in once in a while to help in the
noble task of creating potholes. Not one of these agencies fills up
the pothole it has dug and repairs the road it has damaged. So the
BBMP has its task cut out. And since no one ever tells the BBMP about
their intention to create a pothole in a specific [usually and
preferably] in a busy intersection, the BBMP has a huge task of
filling up these burgeoning potholes. I actually think, in the
circumstances that prevail, the BBMP is actually doing a good job in
the pothole filling function.

The BBMP is mandated to collect Property Tax. There have been
improvements in recent years in the collection process, due to
innovations like the self assessment scheme. But there are powerful
forces that refuse to pay, and often they have powerful people who
support them.

So that a few hundred crores of rupees are collected is actually a
commendable performance.

The BBMP council is meant to prepare, debate and vote on a budget for
the city. It does this regularly. After that, the ‘approved’ budget is
sent to the State Government for approval. Until that is given, no
money can be spent. The State Government does what it likes; it chops
and prunes and adds at whim. And it is that approved budget with the
BBMP then implements.

So what some powerful people, hovering in the background, unelected,
decide to do with th city’s revenue is what the elected BBMP gets to
implement. But because it is in front, seen to be implementing
‘works’, it gets the blame that should rightfully go to the hidden
ones in the State Government.

The same State Government has passed a bill [awaiting the assent of
the Governor] to trifurcate the BBMP? Why trifurcate, you may ask. I
do not know the answer, but I do know that this Government loves
Trifurcation. It has passed a bill to trifurcate the Bangalore
University. Why? All I can note—from the revealed preference of this
Government, is they think Trifurcation is Good.

The Chief Minister announced before the polls that he would reshuffle
his cabinet after the elections and appoint a full time cabinet
Minister for Bangalore Why then do we need a BBMP, its toothless
Mayor, and voiceless councillors? Once elected, they have answer to
the people. They find they can do nothing because of the structure of
the BBMP. All they can do is chase contracts, which the officials call

Why should any intelligent citizen waste her time in voting for such a
toothless body?

The message from the electorate is deafening clear. We need a real
local government, not this farce. The English press—and the
intelligentsia —seem unable to understand this. Or perhaps, they don’t
want to. After all, they have had it good so far. Why should the
silent voice of the electorate matter?

Vinod Vyasulu is a Bangalore based economist and is a Board member in CBPS. He is also a Research Mentor for CBPS.

Vinod Vyasulu

 Board Member and Research Mentor, CBPS

[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *