Sunday, April 19, 2009

The city’s moment?

The city’s moment?
For the first time in history, the urban Indian voter has become a significant, relevant factor in Indian politics, and this may be a defining moment.

With the delimitation of parliamentary constituencies based on population numbers, urban voters will elect nearly a quarter of the 543 representatives of the people. The hypothesis, as yet untested, is that developmental issues rather than caste and communal issues will be the focus of the urban election campaign.

A demography-based political shift is already under way in India’s mega cities. In Bangalore, for instance, assembly constituencies have risen from 16 to 28 and parliamentary constituencies from two to four. Of course, as with everything else connected with India’s elections, there are many imponderables. For instance, the quality of voter rolls in urban areas will make a big difference. A study — in fact the only such study — by Bangalore-based Janaagraha, a not-for-profit working in the areas of citizenship and democracy, revealed 60 per cent-plus error rates in the voter rolls of the one urban Bangalore assembly constituency that was researched. In rural areas, electoral roll error rates are estimated to be around 10 per cent. Janaagraha’s founder, the urban affairs expert Ramesh Ramanathan explains it like this: rural voter rolls are static but urban voter rolls have two types of glaring errors. Errors of commission, or names to be deleted (people move neighbourhoods, cities, etc) and errors of omission, which are names to be added.” Voter rolls in urban areas are very dynamic, and there is a big market for these incorrect names — as every political party knows,” according to Ramanathan. A lot happens in that last hour of voting in urban polling booths, he adds. The reason voter roll errors make a difference is that the margin of victory is very narrow and voter turnout is abysmally low (45 per cent or thereabouts) in Indian cities.

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