After voter turnout figures were announced at the end of polling for Mumbai’s municipal elections on Tuesday evening, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis took to Twitter to express his elation. “Thank you Mumbai for the record voting percentage and people from all municipal corporations and ZPs for participating in festival of democracy!” he said, scarcely able to contain his enthusiasm.
A bit of context: Mumbai had 55 percent people voting in the civic elections. That’s just over half the people in the country’s economic capital who chose to exercise the most fundamental of all fundamental rights.
Fadnavis should feel many things about this — he should be ashamed, he should be disgusted, he should even be sickened by the hopelessness of it all — he should certainly not be elated. One almost hopes he was saying this sarcastically; at least it would make sense. The chief minister mocking his capital city would at least suggest that this is not acceptable. But the saddest part of it all is that he was genuinely grateful that at least half the people did show up. He knows how bad it can really be.
But he does have a point in calling it a “record turnout”. This truly was the best showing Mumbai has put up in the last three civic elections. In the 2012 BMC election, for instance, only 44.75 percent of the city voted, while it was 46.14 and 43.25 percent each in the 2007 and 2002 polls. These statistics get even more dismal when it comes to Lok Sabha elections: In 2014, the city had a 53 percent turnout, as against 41.40 and 47.30 percent in 2009 and 2004 respectively.
Mumbai’s reputation for being a city that just can’t be bothered to get involved with the electoral process has been well documented, and perhaps the only surprising thing now is that we still continue to get surprised by these abysmal statistics. Fifty-five percent of the city’s population having voted should be an indictment, not something we pat ourselves on the back about.
The BMC is India’s richest municipal body. It has an annual budget of over Rs 37,000 crore. If it were a state, it would be among the richer states in the country. But the city’s residents could hardly care less who controls the purse strings to all this money. Social commentators who never miss a chance to pay glorious tributes to the intangible spirit of the city, that mythical never-say-die attitude, should perhaps be asked where these qualities go every time its denizens get a chance to actually do a thing about it. If only they were to act when they actually have the chance, perhaps they won’t be required to rise from the ashes like a hedonistic, self-destructing phoenix.
But then again, perhaps this is what defines the city. And in turn, this is what the city deserves. Apathy breeds misery, and the misery results in more apathy. Maybe the resulting damage will rouse Mumbai from its slumber. For a city that had 55 percent voter turnout truly does deserve the nightmarish quality of life Mumbai offers. It truly does deserve infrastructure that is bursting at the seams, a railway network that hasn’t improved beyond what the British left behind, a green cover that has depleted some more since the time you began reading this article. It deserves to remain a concrete jungle, one that is rotting from the outside and decaying at the core.
Civic elections determine which corporators get elected, these are people who directly impact the quality of life you lead. They are the ones in charge of sanitation, of urban infrastructure, of drinking water, of maintaining open spaces and public places. By opting not to vote, you as a city are basically signing off on your right to partake of these things. And you deserve the nothing that is coming your way.
Opted to spend time checking your social media timeline instead of going out and voting? Perhaps you deserve to be stuck in an endless traffic jam and inhale some more noxious fumes.
Preferred to spend Tuesday afternoon staring at a pristine view of the Arabian Sea from your penthouse window? Perhaps you deserve to have a 200-foot statue thrust in the way.
Chose to take a half-day from work just to go back home and chill? Better start getting used to having a corporate tower come up on the site where the neighbourhood park once stood.
Rather rant and crib about the demise of the economy and the rise of fascism in a post-Donald Trump era? Maybe you too will soon be kicked out of the city for stealing locals’ jobs.
And maybe that, finally, will get you to vote.