Abhishek Anand and Abheshek Kumar
Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) election 2017 is the first of its kind where 50 percent of seats are reserved for women and Scheduled Caste (Women) candidates. As there are total 272 wards, therefore, to better understand the overall dynamics of each zone the IESAI team, after extensive deliberation, zeroed on the broader classifications viz., General, Women (Reserved) and SC (Reserved)/SC (Women reserved) wards from each zone. In accordance with this categorization, we picked Ward number 25N, Rohini B of the North zone, which is a women (reserved) constituency. The other two wards that we covered were 54N, Mangolpuri A (SC Women reserved) and 28N Rithala (General).
The ward 25N Rohini B consists of three sectors – 5, 6 and 11 of Rohini. Broadly, the male-female ratio of this ward’s population is the same. Moreover, in terms of social profiling the population is fairly heterogeneous with a good mix of different religions (Hindu, Jain, Sikhs and Christians), castes (General, OBC and SC) and communities (Punjabi, Garhwali and South Indians). The objective of the visit has been to explore the interplay of multiple factors that shape the people’s sense of democracy at the local level. In this context, we adopted the interview mode of inquiry (consisting of both closed and open-ended questions) so as to know the voters’ understanding of democracy in general and their perception of urban local bodies in particular. In addition, we also had informal conversations with common people, political workers and people attending the ward level rallies besides interviewing the contestants wherever possible. We also tried to cover the Padyatras and the ‘door-to-door’ campaigns of different candidates. In short, the findings thus produced are of two kinds: one is empirical and another one is insights-based.
Candidates, Campaigning and the Main Issues
In this ward, there are 4 main contestants – one each from the BJP, INC, AAP and an independent. The congress party has fielded the sitting councilor Shashi Singh whereas the BJP has given ticket to a new face Kanika Jain. AAP that is contesting the MCD election for the first time has fielded Annu Bindal. Interestingly, the independent candidate Anita Rana is the relative of the former BJP MLA, Kulwant Rana but having denied the ticket by the BJP, she is contesting as an independent. One of the politically aware residents of the area told us that initially, Anita Rana projected herself as a potential candidate of BJP but because of the differences between her husband Anil Rana and Kulwant Rana, she was denied the ticket. He further told us that the merit was no criterion in the allocation of ticket. More or less, the story in other parties is the same. However, the common complaint of majority of the respondents was that all the contestants are unknown to them and have no credentials whatsoever. Even the sitting councilor has been inaccessible throughout her 5 years tenure.
As regards campaigning, all the contestants are following the similar strategies like door-to-door campaign, padyatras, small meetings in different pockets, etc. What is more, the e-rickshaws carrying the party flags and hoardings of candidates have been deployed in a big way. Also, the recording of candidates’ manifesto through songs and slogans are constantly conveyed to the voters throughout the day by ferrying e-rickshaws. What impact will it make on the voter remains to be seen but it is evident that the e-rickshaw pullers who are employed by the candidates are enjoying every bit of it and making good money out of this.
Further, we came across some catchy slogans used by every party and the independent candidate. In particular, the independent Anita Rana’s slogan “Sabhi dalon mein daldal hai, Sabse achchha Nirdal hai” is quite interesting. However, the same slogan is used by independents in other wards as well. Another interesting thing that we noticed during AAP’s door to door campaign was that the announcer accompanying the AAP candidate was trying to emulate Kejriwal’s tone while raising the slogan– “23 April ko Jhadoo ka button daba aur House tax free”. Also, the overdose of patriotic songs (Karma;s song Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge by Congress, Veer Zara’s song Aisa des hai mera by AAP, Sikandar-e-Azam’s Jahaan daal-daal par sone ki chidia karti hai basera by the independent candidate) is the key feature of e-rickshaw campaign. BJP, on the other hand, is playing the song Bhajpa dil mein, Bhajpa Dilli mein (BJP is in our hearts, BJP in Delhi) composed by the Bhojpuri singer and actor turned MP and currently the Delhi BJP President Manoj Tiwari.
As far as the main issues in this ward are concerned, all the candidates have raised more or less the same issues. However, in addition to that the BJP as well as AAP are also highlighting the works done by their respective MP and MLA along with the works done by the Modi government and Kejriwal government to woo the voters. Congress, on the other hand, is highlighting the developmental works done by her candidate and the sitting councilor. Interestingly, every party has promised few things that don’t come under the purview of MCD.
If we look at the main issues from the voters’ perspective, it is amply clear that their first and foremost grievance is related to the mismanaged sanitation work (irregular service of garbage collection van, carelessness and absenteeism on the part of the sanitation workers). In some pockets of Sector 6, the women raised the issue of security (recent cases of chain snatching), however, the law and order problem doesn’t come under the purview of the MCD. Some elderly people showed their displeasure about nuisance created by the gamblers in the public parks. Also, some people talked about the corruption and said that funds should be honestly utilized for developmental works. In this context, an interesting observation was made by Mr. Pradeep Upadhyaya of Sector 6 who said that “In our ward, sanitation is the main issue. In fact, our ward is quite developed. But the nearby areas like Vijay Vihar is underdeveloped where there is a lot of scope for MCD works. The point is that the fund allocation to every area should be strictly based on a proper appraisal of developmental needs of specific areas. It will not only check the corruption done by the councilors but will also effectively address the developmental imbalances.”
People’s perception of MCD election and their understanding of Democracy
One of the major objectives of our field visit was to assess people’s idea of democracy in general and their perception of MCD election in particular. The second part is also important in understanding the local body election vis-à-vis Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha elections. This holds significance because of the interplay of several issues in the current MCD election that are strictly the subject matters of the state and central governments. Moreover, the personality-driven campaign (read Modi and Kejriwal factor) by different political parties makes it all the necessary to analyse their impact in influencing the people’s voting pattern.
In the discipline of political science there are some standard definitions of democracy in line with the broader classifications of democratic regimes. However, when you go to the field asking the common people about their idea of democracy, you come across a number of definitions of which some can be termed totally unique as they defy the strict standardization of academic definition. Nevertheless, for the majority of the people whom we interviewed and informally spoke with democracy is their right to vote and is a means to choose their representatives. Some of them uttered Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote about democracy. However, when we probed further they said it exists only on paper; the reality is quite different than what is being projected. Still, there were some people who could not properly articulate what it actually means. Nonetheless, majority of the respondents (expressive or otherwise) complained that the representatives are non-accessible. So, it hardly matters who we are voting for. In short, for many, democracy is a farce. Specifically, many people talked about absence of any provision to hold the inefficient and corrupt councilor accountable. Also, some of them suggested appraisal after every 6 months and introduction of the ‘Right to recall’ as the effective means to make the councilors workable and accountable.
Dubious Credibility of the Candidates
One interesting thing that we noticed here was that the poster of every candidate including the independent one carried their husband’s photographs and name alongside theirs. Moreover, during our interview, majority of the respondents said that all the candidates including the sitting councilor are unknown to them. Therefore, it could be anyone’s guess that they miserably lack credibility and that’s why they are heavily relying on their respective husband’s goodwill or influence (if any) in the area.
What was more surprising was the fact that many people were unaware of the sitting councilor. In fact, they opined that in all these five years everything was managed by her husband, Gopal Singh. During our coverage of rallies or door-to-door campaigns also, we noticed that their husbands have taken the centre stage. In short, they were overshadowed by their husband’s presence and could be termed mere dummies (see the interview of Mr. Pradeep Upadhayaya).
In this context, another interesting thing was that despite our trying hard to interview the candidates, we were denied on one pretext or the other. Perhaps, their inability to articulate (as mentioned by many respondents) themselves could be the main reason. Here, it would be interesting to share an incident that happened at AAP candidate’s office in Sector 5. After our 2-3 visits to AAP office and sincere persuasion, we were finally given time for interviewing the candidate Annu Bindal. When we reached her office, we were asked several questions by her husband pertaining to our organization and our academic qualifications as well. Some statements made by him were very derogatory. But what was really more shocking was his insistence that you people give us the questions in advance and we’ll prepare her for interview the next day. Amusingly, throughout our conversation, the candidate who was present there had worn stoned silence. Still, we tried to persuade them but to no avail. The irony is that their entire campaign is laced with democratic norms.
If we could draw an inference out of this whole conversation, it becomes clear that the opinion made by the people about the candidates that they lack both identity and leadership quality is somewhat true. Also, the arrogance on the part of her husband and other male family member reminded us of Lord Acton’s famous quote that “Power tends to corrupt but absolute power corrupts absolutely” (AAP is in Power in Delhi). If one probes further, David Brin’s line that “It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power” too seems relevant (to be read in the context of AAP’s humiliating defeat in the recently held Rajouri Garden by-poll election). Though these arguments could be discarded straightaway by the political pundits as purely far-stretched and biased observations but based on the people’s response and general perception, these cannot be out rightly rejected. Moreover, this is not a generalized but rather an area specific observation.
How and why the popular leader wave is significant in MCD Election?
During our visit, we observed that two parties the BJP and AAP have significantly used the image of their popular leaders PM Modi and CM Kejriwal respectively. Besides their manifestos and pamphlets, their entire campaign revolves around these two leaders in a significant manner. When we probed the respondents regarding the role of personality cult in this election, many people agreed that this is an important factor for mobilization. Their reasoning was that it is primarily because the candidates have no identity and even their husbands are not credible enough to pull the masses. Therefore, these parties are relying on the iconic image of their respective leaders. Interestingly, few voters said that considering several past debacles, especially the UP one, Congress has deliberately chosen not to use Rahul or Sonia’s image as it might backfire. However, the sitting Congress councilor could have to face anti-incumbency but she is confident of the developmental works done by her
Another interesting argument is related to the logic of the same party having power in both the MCD and State/Centre. Both the BJP and AAP are insisting that this will result in proper coordination (referring to daily blame-game between Kejriwal-Modi governments), which eventually will result in efficiency. However, not everyone is ready to buy this argument. In this context, a graduate in Business Studies (BBS) named Himani of Sector 6 made an interesting observation. She said “it’s irrelevant to compare Modi and Kejriwal as one is the PM and another is the CM. In short, their mandate is quite different.”
Why the onus is on AAP despite BJP being in power for the last 2 terms?
An interesting factor in this election is the shift of accountability from the party (the BJP) that has ruled the MCD for consecutive two terms to the one (AAP) that is contesting the MCD elections for the first time (however, it has fought few MCD by-elections last year). Even though the BJP has denied tickets to 80% of its councilors primarily because of their inefficiency and allegations of corruption against them, still this is not a big issue here. It doesn’t mean that the people here are not aware of this issue. In fact, people have different arguments in this regard. For instance, some people are very critical of the BJP whereas some others sympathized with the BJP by arguing that one should not forget that if Kejriwal can blame the BJP for his inability to properly perform his duty as the CM, the BJP too can claim that during its tenure in the MCD, the central and the state governments were ruled by the Congress and thereafter AAP (in December 2013, AAP formed a minority govt., and since February 2015 AAP is heading a majority government in Delhi). In short, both the parties have a fair share of sympathizers. Furthermore, since the sitting councilor is from Congress, therefore this whole debate is not very effective here.
We can conclude by saying that if we go by the mandate of the MCD, this ward is fairly developed. The only big issue here is sanitation related problems. However, it would be wrong to assume that this issue is going to play a vital role in this election. Several other issues as we have discussed above and of which most are not directly related to the MCD work are expected to influence the voters’ voting preference. All in all, it is interesting to note that the people’s understanding of democracy is shaped by multiple factors that make the study of people’s participation in democracy a challenging task but at the same time a rewarding one as well.
(With inputs from Md. Arif, Lakhan Singh, Preeti Shah and Deepti Mittal – all four are the students of B.A. (Pol. Sc.) at Dayal Singh College, University of Delhi)
Abhishek Anand, Phd Scholar, SIS, JNU
Abheshek Kumar, Independent Researcher, Delhi