How many of your MLA / MP candidates will step into our steel and glass towers to address us in a language we understand best? Was the question posed to a politician by an IT professional at a round table organised by us a few months ago. Even as the politician was preparing to answer, the software engineer continued his monologue on why a typical city dweller is hard to please.
How to woo the urban voter?
Urban voters are a unique breed by any definition – enticing yet elusive this category of voters has never been perceived by any political party as a vote bank - at least not until BJP swept into power mostly because of this group. Today all political parties are aspiring to woo this community of voters but seem to be quite at a loss when it comes to the ‘how’ of it. Typically forming the bulk of urban India this group has become the toughest nut to crack.
“Low voter turnout shames India's IT city Bangalore” screamed the headlines of some popular dailies when there was a low turnout in the city of Bangalore at the 2018 Karnataka assembly elections.
Its not just Bangalore but over the last few elections, empirically measured in terms of voter turnout, the percentage of voters who participate in elections in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad etc has been found to be way lower than the average turnout of their respective states.
The urban voter has always remained a ‘mystery’ to people at large. We see an explosion of political opinion by young urbanites on the social media sites like Twitter, Facebook before the elections but translation of that into actual ‘voting’ has never been close to the volume of buzz they create or the chatter they generate … Urban India is increasing in size and influence.
Today 32 per cent of the Indian population lives in cities. The contribution of cities to the Gross Domestic Product is nearly 70 per cent demonstrating and they are in the forefront of economic development, innovation and knowledge. But when it comes to voting and influencing electoral results, cities are woefully behind their rural counterparts.
Urban Voter, what is your Carrot?
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw slammed Bangaloreans who did not vote. She said that those who did not vote had no right to complain about governance issues and such people cannot call themselves citizens. They at best can be called inhabitants she said. But this class is not to be shaken by shaming or chiding. So what works for this group? What is their carrot? Is there a way to understand their psyche?
Several studies and surveys have been carried out on this fascinating subject – seeking answers for questions like, Is exercising franchise a chore? Is it purely apathy? Do they find the candidates ‘not worthy’ of their vote? Is there no faith in the electoral process and do they think politics is ‘dirty’ or is the reason as mundane as not having an voter ID etc.
Understanding what inspires this educated, suave, cynical, influential group who is not interested in doles is but a challenging task. But as they say new age problems have to be addressed with new age solutions.
New Age Solutions
The new age city dweller would like to see efficiencies in governance, continuous engagement with citizens on issues of traffic & taxes, global issues like climate change and poverty addressed without resorting to ‘cliches’. They will not buy rhetoric and rosy pictures. They will look for substance and not sugar coated promises. What appeals to them is data and scientific answers.
This implies that political parties have to give tickets to educated and clean candidates. These candidates should be able to use technology ‘hang out’ with citizens, answering their queries, demonstrating their knowledge and commitment. Parties should try to have these candidates double up as ‘spokespersons’ who can counter fake news and establish their credibility even as they do that.
City issues are complex, layered and unique to the urban set up. Political parties should have a separate manifesto for cities. These manifestoes should not be written in isolation. They have to be written after wide consultations with diverse stakeholders. They have to be scientific and well- researched. No urban voter will be satisfied with just slogans. Manifestoes should be city-centric, action-oriented and time-bound.
For example, If the manifesto promises continuous water supply, the urban voter will be convinced only when candidates explain the science behind the promise, like how they proposes to achieve the same – by ensuring reduction in transmission and distribution (T&D) losses, reducing non revenue water, deploying sensors and actuators for detecting leakages, a backend command and control center for situational awareness and citizen co-operation campaigns for conservation, rain water harvesting etc. They will be happy to hear not just promises but potential risks too.
A realistic assessment of the situation where a candidate shares his apprehensions, seeks help and cooperation for achieving manifesto goals will be perceived as worthy of their vote. The candidates should believe in ‘inclusion’ and demonstrate that by speaking to all stakeholder groups and not just their traditional vote banks.
A candidate who is willing to ‘discuss’ his manifesto for the constituency with the urban voters using various on line and offline platforms will stand a better chance of being elected. Such a candidate is likely to get not only eyeballs but mind share too. Cities thrive on knowledge resources and innovation. The urban voter is indeed a thread from a fabric called city. He thrives on the very same resources as that of a city. He appears lazy and indifferent but he is neither. He can be wooed and that's possible with knowledge that matches his savvy.
Parties can entice him if they field a good candidate - candidate qualifications, clean image innovative approaches and data driven scientific framework are quite irresistible to this unique animal called urban voter. Anything short of that, he will remain elusive and inaccessible - in fact on the contrary there is a danger that he may turn into a ‘vociferous bank’ loaning his voice to those who are relevant yet recluse!