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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Voters rue lack of good candidates


Mumbai: The holiday on election day, with all the attendant hoopla, didn’t really impact the mentality of the average middle-class Mumbaikar who is known to prefer holidaying and shopping to voting. The voter turn-out on Tuesday was 50% according to the Central Election Commission—just a notch above the 49% registered in the 2004 assembly polls.
NGOs, who have been priming Mumbaikars to be more responsible, say that it was the woeful lack of good candidates that made people reluctant to make the journey to the polling booths. “We put in a lot of effort, building up the pitch long before October 13,” says Anandini Thakoor, chairperson, H-West Ward Citizens’ Trust. “We went from door to door, arranged for transport for handicapped voters, but it all came to nought because of the candidates--not only in our ward but everywhere. In many wards there were sitting MLAs who haven’t done a thing for the city, yet were given tickets. People were confounded at the lack of choice; they were also disgusted.”
James John of AGNI, an organisation which has been building up voter awareness for the last several years, says it is the attitude of the average Mumbaikar that is to blame. “The stance is, ‘We don’t really have any issues, and the administration will continue as it is whether we vote or not, so why vote?’ “ he says. “Our job is to change this attitude, and we’re continuing to work at it.”
However, many enlightened voters aver that building up awareness does not amount to much if they are eventually confronted with unsuitable candidates. A senior citizen who wanted to vote for the Congress in Mahim constituency realised that the candidate was a Shiv Sena rebel who walked out of the party only last month; another voter from Bandra East who decided to give a chance to alternative politics and cast her vote for the Loksatta Party was put off on discovering that the candidate had been a part of the Samajwadi Party previously. Many disillusioned voters decided to cast a negative vote, but faced difficulties on account of ignorant polling officers (see box).
“It’s also untrue that we don’t have issues,” says a disgruntled middle-class voter. “Of course we do, but which party addresses them? Every party has its own agenda on how to make money from Mumbai--if the Congress has its own set of builders which it patronises to the detriment of this bleeding city, so does the Sena-BJP. None of them think of civic issues, crumbling infrastructure, vanishing open spaces, and how hellish life in Mumbai has become--they only make it worse. So for us it’s still a choice between the devil and the deep sea.”
No-votes take poll staff by surprise
The day wasn’t easy for those who wished to cast a novote, with most polling officers ignorant about the Section 49 (o) option. Some were forced to vote after inking their finger, while others had to bear the brunt of the officers’ ire. Most had to wait for hours before they got their way.
Paresh Divecha stubbornly waited over two hours at Uttkarsh Mandir School at Malad till the staff finally called in their commissioner. “Shouldn’t they have been told about this option in their election training?” he says. “I told the commissioner, ‘You’re a servant of the public and it’s your duty to allow citizens to exercise their choice fully’.” Divecha left after filling in the 49 (o) form and registering his lack of confidence in all the candidates.

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