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30 April 2009

Mumbai says Meri Marzi on Election Day

There was this Govinda Song that went, "M.E.R.I. Marzi!"

For instance, "har chauraahe par main apni murti lagawau, news paper kaat ke apna suit main banawau". A very tongue-in-cheek, humorous, whimsical song defying definition.

Pretty much like Mumbai itself.

How does Meri Marzi translate into English I’m not sure but if I try - it means, ‘I will do as I please’ (or, Do your own thang)

While Mumbai represents a microcosm of India, in many ways it has also its own unique peculiarities, quite obviously not defined by geography but people.

Meri Marzi is a phrase that emerges from a live and let live approach and grows into something that is less statement more attitude (in a nice way mostly), culture and ethos – MYOB Mumbai.

A city that everyone loves or tolerates precisely for its qualities of freedom (to do your thing), opportunities and everything else that defines its tolerant, cosmopolitan, attitude, respect etc reflected in food, lifestyle and everyday living.

It also means that unless you have your finger on the pulse (or even via expensive surveys and studies) nothing can be predicted. I like to think I have my finger on the pulse and everyone I met or talked or heard since Nov- Rickshaw driver se lekar Ratan Tata tak- well, rickshaw wala in person and Ratan Tata as reported by TV yesterday :) - the feedback was ‘Poora ka poora mohalla’- "Iss baar hum vote nahin denge." Or, a peaceful, non-violent boycott. Let whoever wants gets elected to Delhi. Our life never changes so they (politicians) can go jump. Run the country as they wish. We are resigned to our fate.

Cut to my own life. Twitter, neighbours, friends, family. (Why I voted and How I decided who to vote for is a topic for another post)

1. Thanks to Agni, Jagore, citizen groups, celebrity endorsements etc entire complex and neighbouring ones were on voter registration drives. Most of it a huge success. Young, first time voters and old so far apathetic middle aged citizens all enrolled. Then what?

2. Aamir Khan on TV saying, 'Acche ko chuno, Sacche ko chuno.' Really? Yeh hai kahan? Aapko dikhay dete hain. Hame toh nahi dikhayi dete hai. Where are the good and truthful candidates.

3. For the constituency I represent, names- all unknown. Two eminent names- never visited or never lived in the area. Connect with the electorate? You must be joking. In the very last week/few days in an open jeep, with duppatta covered over head/hat they took one quick round.

Take other places in Mumbai. A candidate in his eighties! Senior-senior citizen. Does he even know or use email? Why will youngistan elect him? The choice if one votes for opposite party is another one who shifts and changes party and ideology, participates in reality shows and actively takes sides in one of the most controversial topics of migrants, which is clearly seen as divisive.

Will such candidates connect to educated, middle class expectations and concerns or youngistan aspirations?

Then you have south Mumbai candidates. Sophisticated but living in ivory towers. One who is a scion and inherited his constituency and other who do not meet a minimum requirement (what a voters heart desires) of knowing the local language or having a record of knowing the city as a whole/community service. Even job profiles have such minimum requirements and you would not recruit a person for your organization unless there is a skill and qualification fit but want that you should be elected just on other exemplary points in your bio.

The general feeling was ‘Yeh log, Mumbai ki nahin sochte hain toh desh ki kya sochenge?’ The exact feeling - We do not want politicians, we want leaders.

It was not easy to decide- either on party lines or candidates.

On Party lines- everyone knows how much the citizens feel betrayed by Congress. Really is there a congress at all. There is Sonia Gandhi, Rahul & Priyanka, Manmohan Singh. (& FM). The second choice- BJP. That alienated itself from youngistan over Ram Sene and Orissa.

All the Rest - Take a look. Ageing film stars & ex-cricketers, convicted criminals, verified goondas, budda- buddies (senior citizens, candidates born in 1920, 1930, etc).

1. Candidates who do not treat opposition candidates and parties with respect, and indulge in personal bickering instead of debate on issues;
2. Candidates who use money & muscle. (Dadagiri in the name of Gandhigiri);
3. Candidates who lie- about educational qualifications and assets;
4. Parties who function like corporate bodies on an inorganic growth path and apparently simply sell seats to highest bidders.

In brief, candidates who demonstrate no principles, take no stand on issues of values and national importance. Young Mumbai liked Shashi Tharoor but he is in TVM. We like to tell what is on our mind but look what happens if you speak up. Varun was simply thrown into jail. A young crowd that was eager to participate and make a difference were silenced and confused.

Hence Mumbai chilled. The people Mumbai elects don’t care about Mumbai. (Read this sad story of a South Mumbai resident). And UP and Bihar decides majority in Parliament. Fix the system first.

Add to that, the demographic profile and electoral process itself.

To quote TV. ‘26/11 protests were Face book crowd’. (hence, dimissive tone).

So what? They are real people too you know..

Facebook does not categorize you on domicile boundaries. Mumbai is half migrants (even white collar) which means young boys & girls who have families in other cities and live in Mumbai only for work.

How does a voting system that demands physical presence where you are registered work in real life for a mobile crowd? That too on a long weekend when they have a chance to go home. Add to that even election at home state/location may/may not match the dates. Employers or govt does not enable or allow any manner of support to vote. So they cannot vote anywhere.
- Why is the voter ID not the PAN card? A universal number and valid all over the country?
- Why it is that vote cannot be done via email?
- Why is 49-0 not available on EVMs?

Currently 49-0 is only for manual voting and even after that it does not register as a protest vote but only ensures attendance. Such that your absence is not misused. It does not help in active participation.

Even after that is used, is the electoral process equipped to deal with 49-0 results? Let’s say the whole country will use 49-0 and say 90% of candidates are rubbish. Does the process ensure that they are disqualified, new and better ones are available, re-voting, who pays for it, how does time spans work so many issues around a protest vote system to ensure that it works and does not get mired in judicial processes like candidates with criminal records standing for election using High Court, Supreme Court, etc etc. as merely delay tatics.

For systems to work it must be swift and simple to understand and implement.

What about so many registered voters who turned up but could not vote cos they did not find their name in the list! (See this slide show- it has a powerful quote, "we want leaders, not hooligans')

Slain cop, Hemant Karkare’s wife could not vote. A WTF moment.

So all award winning journalists take a chill pill. Then take a deep breath, go back to the editorial table and draw a map of how and what are the issues you will address in the next episodes instead of yakking about, ‘Did Mumbai deliver' on your prime time slot. Mumbai is officially just one of the constituencies in Lok Sabha elections. It displayed the national average and just cos we are blasted to our deaths you expected some miraculous turnout. Why? We are being killed since 1993. What was new about this years bomb blasts that any thing new should emerge.

On the plus side, even after such a mood, 49% turnout was registered. The number of young citizens and first time voters have swelled thanks to various e-democracy projects, web-sites devoted to candidate information have been developed and are being studied. The glitterati and chatterati (celebrities) have endorsed and got involved in the process- speaking and meeting groups; the elections went peacefully and there was no official boycott or untoward incident.

This is a great opportunity for political parties, candidates, people who design software systems, and citizens to reflect on what next. Get off their backs, travel, meet each other (citizens and elected representatives), discuss and debate issues, and take steps to make it a robust process of citizen and civil participation.

I also think ( hope?) that it may well mark the return of values like integrity, principles and issue based ideology in the Indian system of politics. History and time will tell.


Phoenixritu said...

As a person who found her whole family missing from the voters list and went and drank sangria instead, your post makes total sense

Deeps said...

@phoenixritu Lol. Every person has their own way of coping. And yours was sangria :) Thank you for reading and the comment. Hope to see you again.

Mayank said...

nice post.
But I still do not agree with you at some points. I agree we have "politicians" and not "leaders". I agree Mumbai has experienced repeated assualts, but does that mean we do nothing to change it, we do nothing to make it clear to our politicians that we do not ratify their actions? cause if we accept anything that is thrown at us,quietly, we are accepting the fact that we live in a dictatorship driven country and not a democratic one. We have been given a right using which we can dis-approve the actions of our politicians, vote. Resigning to fate is not "like us". We should not lose hope, that is pessimist thinking.

About 49-O, actually every 49-O goes into the record books. When voting is finished and the report is compiled at every polling station, the official DO mention the number of 49-O (refusal votes), if any. Then it goes to one higher level of hierarchy (say from your polling station to South Mumbai to Maharashtra and then for the whole country). Every 49-O votes is counted. Like for example, I reads an article on the day following 4th phase elections that 851 voters used 49-0 in Delhi alone!! The number of people using this are definitely increasing. Now that is sure to ring a bell in our politicians, may be not today but it will certainly after some time. And who knows EC may finally give upto rising public dissent about our politicians by taking a cue from number of 49-0 votes and decide to include a REAL negative vote option on EVM's which, unlike the present option, may actually influence the outcome of the polls.
So even if there is no one to vote for, you should vote. FULL STOP


Deeps said...

I completely agree with you. It is sad that the youth of Mumbai did not invoke the 49-0. But Mumbai did not vote (mor than 47%) does not mean it will never vote.

Also Mumbai, like the rest of India cannot be lumped as one size fits all. The rich/business anyways control the govt via funds & donations. The poor are the 'vote-banks' where votes can be purchased. The middle class is dis-illusioned. Partly apathy, partly helpless for having been out of the system and benumbed by mindless tv serials, saas bahu soaps and reality shows.

The TV media channels hollering Mumbai did not deliver was hardly useful.

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