Mangaluru: The Mangaluru City Corporation election-2019 is surely a fight for glory for both the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP. After its formation, the MCC has witnessed six polls and the Congress has been in power five times, while the BJP came to power only once. With the Lotus blooming in the Parliament and in the state Assembly, it is imperative for the BJP to snatch power from the 'hands' of the Congress and for the latter, retaining their power in the MCC at a juncture of time when the party is being billed off as a 'sinking ship', is almost a matter of survival.
To ensure victory, the two major parties - the Congress and the BJP - have put in their best efforts to woo the voters through a comprehensive manifesto. Both the parties have promised to institute ward committees as mandated by the Karnataka High Court.
While the Congress manifesto focuses on "Swachcha Sundara, Smrudha Mangaloorigaagi Magadomme Congress" (Vote for Congress for a clean, beautiful and prosperous city), the BJP manifesto paints picture of a clean, beautiful and orderly ‘Namma Kudla’ (Swachcha, Sundara, Suvyavasthitha Namma Kudla).
Even as both the manifestos speak of the same issues ranging from drinking water supply to UGD, the BJP has more stakes and a reputation to protect this time. With the two MLAs- Mangaluru South and North coming from the BJP and more importantly, the party state president himself hailing from Dakshina Kannada, for the BJP there is a greater challenge and a responsibility to win.
Meanwhile, the Congress evidently does not have the foothold it once enjoyed, mainly owing to leadership crisis at the city-level.
It now looks like an 'uneven' equation between the Congress and the BJP in the MCC as far as leadership is concerned. On one hand, there is the Congress which is fighting uncertainty among its leaders at the local-level, and then there is the BJP which has drawn its leaders from the grassroots. Mired in controversy and chaotic episodes making headlines just before the MCC polls, the Congress is evidently battling more internal issues this time.
With the election date fast approaching, the candidates can be seen utilising every minute to meet the voters. All the candidates are using the door-to-door campaign to woo the voters and among all the hustle-bustle, a unique campaigning technique has been adopted by the BJP in the wards under the Mangaluru South constituency.
Usually, every candidiate promises to work round-the-clock for the people during campaigning, but it is never given in writing! Breaking this tradition, the BJP candidates contesting the MCC elections for wards in the Mangaluru South Assembly segment have printed their visiting cards with details and written assurance that they will be present in the ward for their people 24x7, all the 365 days! We will have to wait and watch to know whether the people are buying this assurance and if the candidates will stay true to the assurances after victory.
Modi magic to work?
Every election, be it the parliamentary polls or the Assembly polls, the 'Modi Magic' made headlines, but is it going to work in the MCC polls? The answer may be a big 'NO'.
Veteran journalist Raghuram M feels that the 'Modi Magic' is not going to work in the MCC polls because the people are going to focus on core issues in the Urban Local Body elections. "Drinking water issues, waste disposal, water logging, street lights, good roads and the likes are on the minds of the people in the MCC limits. Modi and his charisma will be insignificant here. But, having said that, there are all possibilities of the people aligning with the party that is in power at the state and the Centre, knowing it fully well that bringing the same party to power in the MCC will help carry forward development works swiftly," he says adding that there are hardcore BJP strongholds in the MCC limits, which have a Congress corporator and vice-versa. "This shows that the voters in the MCC limits go by performance and person over the party!
Woman power rocks MCC
This year, 51 per cent of the candidates contesting in the MCC polls are women. While many see this as a positive development, many are a little apprehensive about the same. While civic activist Vidya Dinker calls it a great development, the result of a very long struggle, she says that the responsibility is now not only on the elected representative, but a greater responsibility rests on the shoulders of the voters as well.
"We must understand that the women, whether they are literate or not, are always told to 'shut up', even within the four walls of their house. The reservation in the wards brings in new hopes of empowerment through opportunity and exposure. The people of the ward must now put all their faith on the women representatives and encourage them to perform. The attitude of 'she is a woman and she may not know much' should be discarded," she says adding that it is a two-way process - the woman learns and the community fortifies her.
"I will be happy to be represented by a woman or a gender-sensitive man," says Dinker.
Meanwhile, talking about their apprehensions about the reservation for women in the wards, an activist, on conditions of anonymity, said that first of all the reservation for women could have been introduced in phases. Secondly, with this huge chunk of reservations going for women, there are possibilities of the sitting male corporators getting a ticket for female members of their own families, who may not have any interest in electoral politics or serving the people. "In such scenarios, the strings are in the hands of the man while the woman is only used as a proxy. When this happens, the very purpose of the reservation falls flat," says the activist adding that the parties must choose women who have an inclination to serve the people or are willing to learn and perform.
"We have often seen in the past that only a couple of women have been participating in the MCC general body meetings, while the rest only attend the meetings and remain passive. This attitude does not change during their entire term. There are many women corporators who pass on the phone to their husbands to answer questions and queries about the ward. What is the point of reservation if the women are still dictated/controlled by men?" the activist asks.
It is said that a lot of candidates fielded by various parties are highly educated, which means that they will be in a better position to understand the issues. However, many are of the opinion that educational qualification of the candidates hardly makes a difference as what is important is the willingness to work selflessly for the cause of his/her ward.
Issues that are doing the rounds: Smart City
Image Courtesy: Mangalore City Twitter page/Hriday Pai
Apart from the usual problems of drinking water supply, UGD, water logging, road connectivity, waste disposal etc, this time issues around the Smart City project and the Pacchanady dumpyard are being highlighted.
The Smart City project is an ambitious project for the MCC, which has the potential to change the face of the city. While Mangaluru did not qualify for the project in first round, it made it through in the second attempt. This time, the MCC made a project to develop the Old Port and to create a temple square from the GHS Road.
Whistleblower Hanumanth Kamath points out that while nothing mentioned in the project took off, all that the MCC did was rebuild a 'clock tower', a concept that has now been rendered obsolete. "Clock towers made sense when people did not have the luxury of wrist watches or wall clocks. Today, with each and every person having a mobile phone, our MCC thought it was appropriate to spend Rs 99.5 lakhs for the tower, which was once removed because it was causing an inconvenience to the people," he said adding that be it ADB projects or Smart City, nothing is going to yield results unless 'smarter', dedicated and sincere people represent us.
Kamath says that if at all the funds released to the MCC over the last 10 years were put to the best use, the city would have been at least 50 per cent as good as Singapore. However, the corporators utilised the funds while keeping the elections and votes and not the interest of the people and the city in mind!
"We are the capital city of Malaria and Dengue in the state. Our Corporation is paying Rs 2 cr per month to Antony Waste Management. If the company performs as per the tender conditions, we would not have paid this heavy price of putting our health at stake. But who will question them? Antony Waste Management Company must clear the stormwater drains as well, as per their agreement. They have not been doing that and nobody seems to even question them," he said.
The Pachanady area houses the dumpyard where the city's waste has been dumped for several years now. A place called Mandara in Pachanady got smothered in garbage due to heavy rains this monsoon and 27 families were forced out of the homes and onto the streets as a result. Heaps of waste came flooding down on these houses. Kamath says that the tragedy could have been averted if the local representatives had placed the interest of the people above politics.
"Not many people know that the health department had cautioned the MCC about the possible threat to the locals due to sliding of the waste. The department had recommended the construction of a retaining wall as a must. Though some amount was allocated, the local representatives diverted the funds for more visible works that could have fetched more votes rather than building a retaining wall for the cause of a few families," he said emphasising that till the elected representatives become more accountable, no Smart City can be built.
Social activists believe that if everyone works for the common goal of making Mangaluru into a truly smart city, then the first thing that needs to be done is to form Ward Committees, as mandated by the Karnataka High Court and as promised by most political parties in their manifestos. These Ward Committees have the power to make the sitting Councilor accountable and answerable. Further, many aware citizens in the city corporation limits have spoken about the need to bring in a provision to 'recall' a representative who underperforms.
All-in-all the 60 wards of the MCC are bustling with activities with candidates - some old faces and some new making their last rounds in a desperate attempt to convince the electorate to vote them to power. Whom will the voters choose? The suspense will be over on November 14.
Some distinct candidates
JESSEL VIOLA D'SOUZA: A fighter by instinct, Jessel Viola D'Souza has battled cancer and defeated it. Now, she is trying her luck in the MCC elections!
This 26-year-old MBA graduate is contesting on the BJP ticket from Ward No 38-Bendoorwell. Jessel fought against a form of thyroid cancer 'Papillary Carcinoma', when she was in Class 10. Despite being a fresher to the field of politics, the BJP has given a chance to contest in the election and also serve the people.
A BBM graduate from SDM College, Mangaluru, Jessel completed her MBA in human resources from Sikkim Manipal University.
Daughter of Alwyn D’Souza and Flany D’Souza, Jessel is married to dentist Dr Rayan Castelino. Jessel will take on seasoned politician Naveen D’Souza of the Congress. Jessel says that, along with addressing local problems such as drainage systems, drinking water, roads etc. she will spread awareness about cancer.
MEGHANA DAS: Till about a few weeks ago, Meghana Das used to don a red uniform and move around the city delivering food for Zomato. Meghana's attitude in life is simple. She says there is dignity in each and every work that is legal- no job is superior and no job is inferior. Having completed BA, Meghana could not find a suitable job and that is when she happened upon the online food delivery service Zomato, soon after which she took up the role of a delivery girl with open arms.
Destiny had something else in store for her and now she is contesting on a Congress ticket from Ward no 28-Mannagudda. Having taken a break from her job for two weeks, Meghana is meeting as many voters as possible in the ward and is convincing people to vote her to power because she has a bent of mind to serve them sincerely. The Mannagudda ward has been the stronghold of the BJP for a long time and Meghana will take on BJP candidate Vanitha Prasad. "If I win, I will serve the people and if I lose, I will go back and continue to serve the people," says Meghana.
PRATHIBHA KULAI: With an MA degree in English, MSW (HR) and M.Phil in Social Work, Prathibha Kulai is surely the most educated councillor of the MCC. Having served as a corporator for one term, she is now trying her luck for a second time from the Idya (East) ward.
During her last tenure, she was seen as a very strong and able person to decorate the seat of the Mayor. There was a neck-and-neck fight between Kulai and Kavita Sanil to reach the post of Mayor and when the selection could not be done at the district-level, an in-house committee was set up by the KPCC. An in-house polling was conducted and Kavita managed to get 17 votes while Prathibha bagged 16 votes.
Prathibha, however, has come a long way and has won the hearts of the people of her ward because of her work and is respected by all for her qualifications. Soft-spoken and approachable, Prathibha has also been straight forward, even when she allegedly faced harassment at the hands of a party colleague. She says that her ward has a beautiful stretch of beaches with a huge potential for tourism development and her dream is to make her ward into a tourism hub.
SANGEETHA R NAYAK: Pachanady ward (Ward no 19) made headlines recently when the BJP decided to field Sangeetha R Nayak as its candidate. Born as Ishrath Begam in Mangaluru, Sangeetha fought the religious barriers to marry her Hindu husband and embraced the Hindu faith in 2017. However, she is now contesting from Pachanady under the Backward Class (A) category.
What stoked controversy, is the fact that Sangeetha mentioned her religion as 'Islam' in the nomination paper filed by her. Soon, a tug-of-war started between the BJP and the Congress and the latter alleged that she misled the Mangaluru Tahshildar about her religion. However, her nomination has been approved and she is in the poll fray. Congress leader and MLC Ivan D'Souza convened a press conference and informed that the Congress party would approach the High Court to challenge her candidature.
REVATHI PUTHRAN: Talk about independent candidates and Revathi Puthran's name cannot be missed. The BJP and the Congress may be major parties, but in Surathkal (West) the name Revathi Puthran has become a nightmare for these political parties. Revathi has been representing the ward over the last 20 years and as according to many, she still has a very strong hold over the ward.
A former BJP member, she was denied a ticket when she came forward to contest from the same ward the third time. Irked by the same she contested as an independent candidate and defeated her opponents. This time she is seeking the support of the voters for the fifth time and will take on the BJP's Shobha Rajesh and the Congress' Shantha S Rao. Even as the BJP says that its candidate has a Master's degree in Economics and the Congress says that its candidate has a Diploma in Electronic Engineering, political pundits feel that the two-time independent candidate Revathi will not give away the ward easily.
PREMANANDA SHETTY: Four-time corporator Premananda Shetty, who has also been the opposition leader in the Mangaluru City Corporation three times, is now contesting in the elections for the fifth time. Shetty was elected from Bolara ward once and three times from the Mangaladevi ward. Claiming to have undertaken several developmental works during his term in
the Mangaladevi ward, Shetty is seeking the support of the public once again to secure a win. He has also said that several developmental works which are approved by the MCC, are yet to come up in his ward and that he wants to undertake these developmental works in the next term as well.
Speaking about his dreams for his ward, Shetty says that focusing on the primary needs of the people, upgrading the drainage system, main and interior roads, forming playgrounds and parks are his primary objectives.
As he was the opposition leader of the MCC, he had the opportunity to be one of the directors of the smart city project. “If I get an opportunity to serve the people again, I will do my best to respond to the grievances of my ward,” he says.
LANCELOT PINTO: Surely one of the veterans who knows the MCC inside out, Lancelot Pinto first contested in the Corporation polls in 1983 and is seeking the people's support for the seventh consecutive time. He has been representing the Bejai ward ever since the MCC came into existence. He has never lost even a single election since 1983. Never defeated and never replaced, Lancelot will take on the BJP's Prashanth Alva this time.
SUDHIR SHETTY KANNUR: Two-time BJP corporator and former-opposition leader in the MCC, Sudhir Shetty Kannur has served the Kannur ward earlier and is this time contesting from the Kodialbail ward following a change in reservation.
Sudhir Shetty Kannur was the chief whip in the MCC during his first term when the BJP was in power. He has also served as the Town Planning and Development Standing Committee Chairman of the MCC. Kannur has been instrumental in bringing several developmental projects to his ward, be it the construction of a school building for primary and high school or getting a health centre, library, fully-equipped cultural hall and stage, concretising and asphalting all the major roads, drinking water facility, drainage facility etc. He is known as one of the most active members of the Corporation and will be contesting against sitting corporator Prakash B Salian of the Congress.
Bunch of former mayors in fray
A total of seven former mayors- Harinath, M Shashidhar Hegde, Jacinta Vijay Alfred, Abdul Aziz, Ashraf K, Gulzar Banu and Bhaskar K are in the fray this time. While veteran Congress leader Harinath is contesting from the Marakada ward, Shashidhar Hegde is contesting from the Derebail South ward. Jacinta is contesting from the Falnir ward, Abdul Aziz from the Padavu Central ward and Bhaskar K is contesting from Padavu East ward. Harinath, who has tasted defeat once, has represented his ward five times. Shashidhar Hegde and Jacinta Alfred are contesting for the fifth time; Abdul Aziz and Bhaskar K are contesting for the fourth time.
It is to be noted that this time around, two ex-mayors- Gulzar Banu and Ashraf K have filed their nominations as independent candidates.
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