Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol XXXI No. 22, March 1-15, 2022
The elections to the Greater Chennai Corporation have just been held. Chennai has not covered itself in glory. Just about 43.58 per cent came out to vote. It shows a shocking apathy towards participating in what is a civic responsibility. And if we shy away from such duties, we then automatically deny ourselves the right to criticise what goes on in the name of city administration. That said, it is necessary to find out the possible reasons for such a low turnout.
The Corporation itself is partially responsible for the present situation. Used as the city is to get along without an elected council for years, most residents of Chennai have no idea as to what a Councillor does or what they can expect out of their elected local representative. Clearly, the muster roll scandal of the 1970s and the long absence of a council in the last ten years have had their impact on at least two generations. Secondly, news reports of the way the Councillors conduct themselves when the council does function hardly make for edifying reading. People seem to have reached a level of indifference on who is elected and what they do. Thirdly, the electoral rolls having been revised in what was a seemingly a never-ending exercise for which the Corporation repeatedly sought extensions from the High Court, many found their names missing in the list when they did turn up to vote. A fourth reason is the steady whittling down of the scope of work of the Corporation itself – so many other agencies have been carved out of it for specific functions that the civic body is seen as a mere repository of records and an agency to collect taxes. The COVID pandemic, though visibly on the decline, may have also been a cause for the low voter turnout. While numbers are steeply falling, there is still a fear of falling victim to the virus and people may have been reluctant to step out.
While all the reasons mentioned above are valid, what cannot be forgiven is the so-called educated class, which is the single largest chunk among those who do not vote, abrogating itself of its responsibility. It is all very well to argue that a single vote is useless against so much of civic maladministration and corruption, but it is nevertheless our duty to vote. A couple of years ago, hotels and resorts in a neighbouring state were prevented from accepting bookings during a weekend when elections were held, to dissuade voters from leaving town. The Government ought to perhaps consider such a move here as well. But more importantly, it needs to mull over how it can bring back voter confidence in the electoral process.
Perhaps that is not a priority among the political hopefuls. Maybe they are of the view that as long as they can command their faithful followers to go and vote everything is fine. Perhaps they even feel that it is better that the middle-class voters do not exercise their franchise. After all the latter group is immune to the kind of blandishments that are held out on polling day. But this is a myopic attitude that the Corporation will do well to correct. Such irresponsibility is reflected in the lack of respect for civic duties – you just need to take a look at the number of building violations, the reluctance to pay taxes, the bypassing of rainwater harvesting and the avoidance of garbage segregation at source – most of these are middle and upper class violations. A city that does not participate in the civic process also does not observe civic discipline. The two are interconnected and in the long run, this will return to haunt us, the residents of the city.