Saturday, October 24, 2015

Determinants of the Cochin Corporation Election
By Gowri S.*

Two decades have passed since the 73rd and 74th amendments were enacted, and now Kerala has 978 Grama panchayats, 152 Block Panchayats and 14 Zilla Panchayats in the rural areas and for the urban areas, it has 60 Municipalities and 5 Corporations and therefore a total of 1209 Local Self Government Institutions.
Formed on 1 November 1967 by merging the municipalities of Fort Kochi, Mattancherry and Ernakulam, the Cochin Corporation today is divided into 74 administrative wards from which the corporation council members are elected for a period of five years. The elections for the next council will be held in November.           
Here we try to look at the elections to the Cochin Corporation and understand the political setting of the city, from the point of view of the councillors. Political parties and media outlets try to gauge the mood of voters, in order to work out what will be the decisive issues for the coming elections. This is particularly important for the parties, as their campaigning strategy would be built around discussing these issues and their relevance to the city.
Interviewing a number of local councillors this summer, it became clear that there are certain issues that seem to cut cross political boundaries. While the manner in which various parties approach these issues may differ, they definitely seem to be matters that are on each parties radar.

Distribution of interviewees
Ward name
Elamakkara North
Ernakulam Central
Ernakulam South
Vytilla Janatha

While the sample interviewed (see above table) is in no way exhaustive, it does allow for some general observations regarding what the politicians consider to be determining factors in this election.

Determinants of election

      Local level issues:
It is no surprise that local level issues and problems faced by the people on a day to day basis are the most significant factor in the Corporation election. Transportation, infrastructure, waste management, water availability, mosquito menace etc. form the core issues on which people vote. It is from here that an evaluation of the present council and expectation from the next determine who comes to power next.

      National and State level issues:
The major social, economic and political factors affecting the State and parliamentary elections also have an influence on the local body polls. The anti-corruption mood of the nation, welcoming new actors and the promise of development had influenced the National elections and for the coming state assembly elections too, these factors are likely to make an impact.                      
Also according to the election schedule of the state, the local body polls will be followed by assembly elections in the next year. Until now the front which has won the majority in the local body polls has been able to win a majority in the assembly elections as well. Thus, not only are local body elections an indicator of the state assembly elections, but also a crucial test for parties in order to succeed at the state level.

          Party and Candidate:
The stature of the candidate and which party she/he represents are influential when it comes to the election. Out of the total 74 candidates in the last election, 11 of them are either in their consecutive second or third term. A good portion of the voters today still have ideological affiliations and vote accordingly. 

Anti-incumbency feelings play a very important and noteworthy role, especially in the context of Kerala. It worked in favour of the UDF in the 2010 elections and may work against it in the upcoming one. It is the bipolar nature of the state politics has led to this pattern, and the opposition is likely to build its campaign around the incumbency feeling of the people.                                                                                       
According to a report by the Lokniti studies, 56 per cent feel that a change in government every five years is beneficial for development. This is may also be one of the effects of the high education rate, with more people ready make full use the democratic process.

      Caste and religious mobilisations:
In the local body polls, the caste influence is visible in the nomination of the candidates, this due to the fact that the demographic setting of the constituency and communal sentiments are very relevant to the elections.                                
Caste and religious mobilisations too influence the election verdict especially in the State and parliamentary elections; here the coalition partners, become of key importance. Thus vote bank politics ,and community & identity based continue to function.

How people vote in the upcoming local elections is yet to be seen. Based on the interviews conducted, an idea can be given as to how the party representatives are viewing the election. How they choose to prioritise and frame these determinants will be seen through the course of their campaigns.
The ability of the two fronts to absorb any new emerging parties prevents a new face from coming up. While the BJP could be expected to win a few seats, no doubt due to the its dominance at the Centre, it wining a majority is still unlikely.                               
This election is likely to once agin put to test the established patterns of; a result towards anti-incumbency, and the Corporation and state level success of the same party.

* Author was an intern at CPPR. All views are personal.
Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kochi Smart City - clarity in thought process required

by D. Dhanuraj

The discussion and debates on Kochi Smart City are very much in newspapers every day. Kochi is one among the 98 cities shortlisted in the Smart City development plans of Government of India.  I had the chance to attend one of the stakeholders meet organised by Kochi Corporation.  There was high participation at the meeting. Everyone was given 3 minutes to discuss their ideas and views that could be added to the proposal.  All proposal are very interesting and noteworthy. I wish to share my views here;

The idea of Smart City is very ambiguous one. it is not about the projects like building malls or flyover alone. It is all about visualising Kochi as a smart city. In the meeting held, most of the proposals were projects like Housing, Tourism, Transport, etc. I would argue that they are the tools to reach a smart city concept and before finalising them, we should have clarity on what is Kochi Smart City? How are we going to evaluate the success of the Kochi smart city and what are the parameters used to measure the success?

The scale for measuring success of a smart city could be many;
1) how many have shifted to the public transport at the end of phase 1? 2) what is the reduction in carbon footprint at the end of phase 1? 3) what percentage of services under Kochi corporation could be accessed and availed on smartphones and in the digital world? 4) how much of the waste and garbage are treated in the city at the end of phase 1? etc. etc.

A visionary document for the smart city plan is crucial. By setting this framework, one can go back to the board room dissecting the various demands and gaps in the town at present.  It could include projects like that one mentioned above. Otherwise, there will not be any difference between JnNURM projects that we had from 2005 onwards and the proposed one. Most of the times we are motivated by the grants and loans provided by the State government and Central government. We have the experience lack of visionary planning in waste management, transportation, etc. for the money that we had received under JnNURM in the past. The style of operations is not going to be different this time also if lack vision for the smart city. We will end up with thousands of projects as part of Smart City plans, but they will all act and perform in silos leaving the citizens lives in misery.

Along with the visionary plan for the city, we require a powerful city council and Mayor for the development of the city. The Mayor should not be a glorified clerk but a real-time executive authority. It demands the control over the parastatal agencies that services citizens.  Mayor and council would handle the city development. They can't find an excuse in others anymore.  I wish Kochi corporation demands more power from the state government and thus ushers a new era in the decentralised of power in Kerala.