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Cover Story
The Count In Gurgaon

Residents set out to teach politicians a lesson

You can buy a house in Gurgaon. You can buy a vote too, if you are a dodgy politician. But, if as a resident, you want your name included in the electoral rolls, just forget it. It’s much too tough.

Gurgaon is the hottest address in northern India, perhaps all of India. It has acre upon acre of new housing. It has an array of corporate offices. Former secretaries to the government of India live here. Its shopping malls are billed as an experience to match Singapore. You can play golf. Or disco late into the night. A fairly decent Thai meal is there for the asking. Italian, too, in case that is what you would prefer.

And yet in this shining upmarket model of Indian urbanisation on the fringes of Delhi, burgeoning with people, the list of voters has just grown by barely 7,000 in five years. In 1996 there were 184,880 voters and in 2000 there were just 190,931. By contrast, the census shows a population of 1.6 million and a growth rate of 44.64 in the decade 1991-2001.

So, where have Gurgaon’s voters gone missing?

Estimates vary, but the number of eligible voters in Gurgaon is put at 300,000. And
if People’ s Action, an NGO, and several resident welfare associations (RWAs) are to be believed, politicians and the administration collude to keep Gurgaon’s new residents off the rolls.

Fully updated electoral rolls would make Gurgaon the rare Assembly seat in the country where educated and empowered voters would decide the fate of a candidate.

Voter jigsaw

In the last Assembly elections 55 % of the 190,931 in the electorate voted. The winner got a mere 25,000 votes. The new residents can easily throw this delicate jigsaw into disarray. They could also transform an essentially rural constituency, with its typical demands, into an urban one with different problems and expectations.

But getting on to that voters’ list has so far been next to doing the impossible. If you turned up at the local election office, or a venue decreed by it, you were told that there was only one form. It was your headache to get it photocopied. Then, you would have to get an affidavit made and have your antecedents verified by the local court. After that you would stand in a queue to submit your papers. A photographer appointed only by the local Election office, and available only on a certain day, would take your picture for the voter identity card.

At least one or two days would be spent in this process. The outcome of your efforts was also uncertain. Many identity cards arrived with names and addresses wrong. Your gender could be wrong as well. Government teachers were given the responsibility of giving you the card and they took their own time.

You also had to wait for announcements in the local media to know that the rolls were being updated. These would be generally made in regional papers. The result was that new residents of Gurgaon invariably missed out on announcement of a voter registration drive.

Were these hurdles the result of sloppy governance or were they by design? Either way they seemed to benefit politicians and work against the residents. The new residents are articulate, educated and demanding. They have invariably sunk life savings into houses and flats in Gurgaon. They feel tricked because for all Gurgaon’s gloss, bad roads, power breakdowns, and a water crisis plague it. Garbage has nowhere to go and shopping malls have been built next to private apartments making life hell for the residents.

Incredibly, Gurgaon’s rapid urbanisation has come without a master plan. Builders have merely carved up chucks of the district for themselves over the years with the support of politicians of the day. There is so much to answer. For that empowering new residents would be the equivalent of committing political suicide, if they use their votes to express their displeasure.

Simple rules, more votes

In a hard won concession from the Election Commission of India, resident welfare associations (RWAs) have now tried to set these problems right by verifying the antecedents of residents and putting their forms in order. Just two four-day efforts have brought in some 18,000 new voters.

It was Inder Nath, convenor of the Gurgaon chapter of People’ Action, who took the matter up with the Election Commission. A retired government servant, Inder Nath lives in Sushant Lok, an Ansal colony.

Inder Nath wrote to the commission and much to his surprise got an answer from the present Chief Election Commissioner, TS Krishna Murty. He was invited to a meeting at which he pleaded for simplifying the procedure for registering voters. He suggested that RWAs be allowed to verify individual antecedents and hand the details over to the local election office.

Krishna Murty decided to give it a try. The Commission overstepped the state election machinery and said that 60 RWAs should be allowed to authenticate applications for registration of voters. After several hiccups, the 60 RWAs were finally allowed to get into action and in the flurry of activity followed 8000 names were gathered in just four days from February 11 to 15. Another round followed in March and more names came in.

Although the letter from the EC arrived on February 4, the election office gave the green signal only on the February 9. The RWAs and People’s Action were told to deposit all forms with the local election office by February 16.

It couldn’t have been made tougher. Still the RWAs led by People’s Action swung into action. About 1,20,000 copies of Form 6 were distributed. Inder Nath campaigned with an auto-rickshaw and a jeep festooned with banners. Far from indifference, people were eager to enrol. The 8000 new names arrived in a torrent.

Palam Vihar submitted the most applications followed by Sushant Lok and Qutb Enclave.

Applications were authenticated in record time by the RWAs and submitted, a feat the local election office would have found hard to accomplish.

But applications continued to pour in so Inder Nath requested the EC for a second appointment. People’s Action met the Legal Advisor to the EC who assured them that a second drive could be organised.

So between March 11 and 15 a second drive began. This time People’s Action targeted 10,000 new voters. Once again RWAs got down to work. Palam Vihar submitted the most applications. “I think this is the first time, anybody has campaigned to get people on the electoral rolls”, says Sanjay Kaul, President of People’s Action.

Voter maths

“This is probably the only constituency in the country where the number of educated middle class residents is more than the number of uneducated citizens,” says Kaul, “This accounts for the greater level of awareness and the possibility of dialogue between rural Gurgaon and the urban city.”

The vote bank of local politicians, still comes from the old Gurgaon with its cluster of Jat villages and small town folk. The politicians are rustics with a rural bent.
“ People with a rural perception will want cheap electricity or illegal land. They want their area to be safe for children, the bus stop should be around, and women should be able to walk around. But what happens when you allow them to get away in numbers, is you get those policies implemented which represent their interests and not those which represent yours,” points out Kaul.

The urban middle class generally shies away from politics. According to Kaul, they believe their vote doesn’t count, so why bother. In any case, rural India sweeps aside urban India, during any election.

“But what is happening today, is that urban educated middle -class Indians are large enough in number to make a difference at least in those areas. Many don’t realise this. Also because of the quality of politics, no decent person wants to get involved,” says Kaul. Gurgaon is a classic example of this trend.

In the last assembly elections the victory came via a slender margin. “It is here that a difference can be made,” says Kaul. “If we can influence the election of candidates, then we have a chance. But if you don’t vote, you don’t count.”

“The whole point was, how do we get the administration to react to us?” explains Kaul. “We had meetings with the builders who would not listen. We understood the nexus between the builders and the administration was strong. We realised the whole problem was that we were just not large enough to affect anybody’s chances in an election. The question that arises is what does the administration have to do with elections? The fact is the administration is completely politicised. We know that this happens in large parts of the country so this is not unique.”

Rebuilding voters

In September last year, People’s Action organised the RWAs into a Joint Front. At the meeting Kaul suggested residents inflict electoral damage on unworthy political candidates. It was the only way to be heard.

But the new residents were not on the electoral rolls. It’s not as if residents did not want to vote. The process was arduous and time-consuming and people were not sure about the outcome. “People are so convinced that the system is against them they don’t try and register as voters. If you go to government departments in Gurgaon, and see how they work, you won’t want to register anybody. There is state pressure and local political pressure. In the local election office the appointee is not a CEC appointee but a state appointee and there is complete disharmony,” says Kaul.

“First you go to the election office and they tell you that they don’t have spare forms. There is just one so go and get it photocopied. The election office should be sued. Is this inefficiency, or is it that the man just does not want you to register?” asks Kaul.

Even if you get the form photocopied the next step is to get an affidavit made from the local court. “Each affidavit costs Rs 50 or Rs 60 and the whole day is wasted. Nobody has that much time,” says Madan Mohan Bhalla, secretary of the Hamilton Court RWA.

A small number of residents braved the system. But to get new residents to really matter politically it was important to muster numbers. For that, many more had to be listed.

By changing the system of registration, People’s Action made it easy for citizens to get enrolled. “The form could be simplified further,” said SP Malhotra from the RWA in Qutb Enclave. “We spent a lot of time correcting errors.” This was not the case everywhere. In Hamilton Court, a large multi-storeyed block of apartments, residents are connected through intercom. They could easily ring up the RWA for clarifications.

What is clear is that the drive has improved the image of the RWAs among residents. “We are strengthening the RWAs and setting standards for governance,” says Kaul.
Palam Vihar, for instance, has an energetic RWA, elected in April 2003. General Secretary Lajpat Gupta is an official with the Punjab National Bank and devotes his spare time to working for the colony’s residents. “Right from the start we took up issues affecting residents, whether it was a storm-water drain, security or maintenance charges. People could see we were working,” he says.

Members care

Out of 1736 homes in the colony, 1250 or more than 75% are members of the RWA. When a new family settles, the managing committee contacts them. Every block has an elected representative who meets the new settlers. “They realise very quickly that the developer is not going to work for their interests,” says Gupta, “when they face paying high maintenance charges and their grievances are not addressed, they quickly join the RWA.

C-1 and C-2 blocks are located at the far end of the colony. The RWA persuaded a resident from C-1 to join the RWA and he, in turn went round to his block enrolling members. In C-2, people are angry about a sewage pipe, which spills into their area. “They too have decided to join us rather than start their own RWA”, says Gupta.

In Hamilton Court, Bhalla says out of 225 families 245 people registered. “ Some had got their Voter Identity cards earlier, on their own. So I believe there would be around 400 to 500 voters here. We also have a floating population of about 10%, tenants or people on transfer or people who are just not interested. Overall it has been a pretty good response.”
About 100 residents are members of the RWA. “ But then under the new Haryana Apartment Ownership Act, only the owners of apartments can become members. This has affected our numbers,” he points out.

Apartment blocks, he explains, foster community living. “Interaction among residents, young and old is unbelievable. We celebrate all functions and there are regular clubs. I do believe apartment blocks are more conducive to community living,” he says.

In DLF Qutb Enclave too, RWA manager SP Malhotra says 50% of residents are members.

The problem of getting new residents to join the RWAs seems to be confined to the older colonies developed by the state run Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA). In Sector 23, Malkan Singh Yadav, who belongs to Gurgaon is the president. He continues to farm a tract of agricultural land in Manesar, a few kilometres from Gurgaon.

“When people move in here I go around with folded hands asking them to join, but they are disinterested.” He says there are cultural differences between him and the new settlers from Delhi. “Villagers greet each other, they are caring. These people are not,” he says.

But the issues, he points out, are the same. “In Carterpuri village, street lights, roads, sewage and water are serious matters. So is it here.” And lifestyles are changing. His son Satpal is studying to become a lawyer. He is disinterested in politics and feels that people are interested in voter identity cards only as a form of identity. His father agrees. “You need it to get your children into school, maybe to make a ration card. It is the village people who really vote.”

There are tensions between the villages and the new colonies. In Sector 23A the RWA president Brahm Prakash Yadav complains about security. Many homes have been burgled and he blames the village nearby for it. “We wanted to make a gate between us and the village, but the villagers are not permitting us.” Nearly 80% of people who have moved in belong to Delhi, he has tried to co-opt them by nominating two women among them as members of the RWA.

In Maruti Vihar, the president of the RWA, allege residents, refused to endorse applications and worried people called up Kaul asking what they should do. People’s Action has offered to endorse the applications. The drive has, says Kaul, made people realise the importance of electing responsible people to head their RWA.

No politics

It is said many of the RWAs in the old Huda sectors, are led by people with political affiliations. There have been efforts by local politicians to co-opt the wealthier residents as well.

“One of the politicians did come to our People’s Action group meeting and said, since you are so many, we will choose a candidate among you and then you can vote for him,” says Bhalla, “We said no thank you. We are a non- political formation.” Lajpat Gupta agrees. “ We would like to be a pressure group and ensure citizens get their rights from the government. We want bhagidari, just like in Delhi.”
But they concur their votes count. “Every politician knows which area is going to have a high voter turnout,” says Gupta. “We can be a very, very big vote bank,” informs Bhalla.

RWAS deny that people want voter identity cards just as a means of identity.

“The residents came on their own to get themselves registered. They have a very clear intention of voting. To get grievances redressed you have to vote, there is no alternative,” says Bhalla.

“People I believe want to vote. We will be launching a campaign to get citizens to the polling booths. We believe our votes count,” says Gupta.

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