Written by Deborah Thambi
Five years after a corporate firm-backed collective of citizens captured power in the Kizhakkambalam village panchayat in Kerala and showed everyone how established political parties can be defeated at the grassroot level, similar citizen-oriented outfits have mushroomed across the state ahead of important local body polls. One of them is V4 Kochi that’s planning to contest all 74 wards of the Kochi Municipal Corporation that governs the state’s financial hub.
The corporation, founded in 1967, is currently ruled by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) which has been in power for the past 10 years. On Opposition benches are independent councillors as well as those allied to the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the BJP.
Even though the Election Commission hasn’t formally notified the dates of the polls, the campaigning has already begun in Kochi and elsewhere across the state. The polls, mostly fought along political lines in panchayats, block panchayats, district panchayats, municipalities and corporations, are seen as a semi-final before the Assembly elections in 2021.
In Kochi, citizen outfits like V4 Kochi are born out of the public resentment against political parties and their councillors. Despite being the state’s financial nerve-centre, the corporation is regularly called out for its inaction and lapses on various fronts like waste management, waterlogging, potholes on roads, unexplained delays in key infrastructure projects and seasonal outbreaks of viral infectious diseases. Add to that, the political infighting and blame-game between ruling and opposition benches resulting in government funds getting lapsed every year.
Nipun Cherian, an engineer and campaign coordinator at V4 Kochi, believes the outfit is more than just a tool to contest elections and birth public representatives. “We’re a people’s movement,” he says.
“We came together after we realized that the root of all our problems lay in the corruption and inefficiency in our system led by the political parties. We aim to discard these age-old political parties,” he says.
“With the advancement in society and information technology, many of the elements of direct democracy are feasible today. If we analyze the last 20 years, existing parties have used information technology to stop power from being delivered to the people. For example, the implementation of section 4(2) of the RTI Act. It says that all public information must be made available suo moto by every government agency. This has never been implemented.”
To capture the attention of the voters, V4 Kochi has begun to ideate and focus its energy on some of the most-talked-about, pressing issues of the city. Like, for example, when they held a demonstration recently at the Palarivattom flyover which developed cracks within a year of commissioning and had to be forcibly closed to commuters. Recently, the Supreme Court gave the state government the go-ahead to demolish the structure and rebuild it.
Biju John, who heads the political affairs team, says, “The new projects that are being implemented have not kept the common man in mind. What is the point of having a Metro system when the average man cannot access it and he doesn’t even have the most basic facilities needed to live? These are the major drawbacks of the existing political system in Kochi and we aim to cover this.”
“We believe in public participation. We want to implement systems envisaged through Panchayati Raj such as janasabha and ayalkoottam which are part of participatory democracy.”
Cherian said teams have been set up across all 74 wards to spread the message about the outfit planning to contest elections and explain why the public must vote for them. Closer to the polls, division teams in each ward will convene to select candidates matching the criteria set by the top leadership.
“Candidates should not be tainted with corruption in any way. They must have proper educational qualifications, a clear source of income and not have any affiliation to a political party,” he says.
However, it’s not going to be a smooth ride for the outfit as it’s up against three formidable political coalitions, the LDF, UDF and the NDA whose workers are deeply entrenched among the masses especially in a state where a tiny swing in votes can decide an election. But it will be interesting to see if the voter fatigue toward established parties can favour outfits like V4 Kochi.
(Deborah Thambi is an intern with indianexpress.com)
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