March 26, 2011

Why your vote counts

Can we really make a difference in an election? At the local level for the City Council, in the Assembly poll or for the Lok Sabha?
Or are politicians making us looking like fools once elections are over?
I think we have been fooled time and again because we allow these reps to get away.
Can you recall the name of the man who was elected Member of Parliament for the South Chennai seat?
Clue: he was from the AIADMK party.
Clue; he was not a film star
Clue: he was a man some AIADMK cadres knew.
The man's name is Rajendran and he is from suburban Chitlapakkam. He won by a whisker, he posed for pictures, he received garlands, he was seen in Delhi a few times and that was the last we saw and heard of him. At least in this part of a huge, high-profile constituency.
Winners of a losing party in this part of the country can be pretty soft.
In the end, it seems to be a game of numbers. So, can we make a difference?
Friend K. Satyanarayan, a book publisher who also has an interest in politics and community life was encouraged with the launch of two web sites for this state election ( and
So he did some homework and mailed us some interesting notes.
• There are 206,078 voters in the Mylapore constituency for the 2011 Assembly elections
• In the past two elections in 2001 and 2006, the winner polled around 62,000 votes.
• The victory margins have been very low in 2001 and 2006. It was as low as 6,047 votes in 2001 and just 1,657 votes in 2006.
• The average turnout over the last 4 Assembly elections was 54%, with the maximum turnout of 63% in 2006 and the lowest turnout of 41% in 2001.
• The past four elections have all been two horse races, with the winner and the runner-up together accounting for 90% of the votes polled.
• If the same trend continues in 2011, a candidate would need to get about 51,000-55,000 votes to win the Mylapore seat.
I assume Satya has not mailed the info for mere armchair debate.
If you read between the lines, there are a few messages for us all. Your vote will make some difference. Be in in Mylapore, Velachery or Virugambakkam.
Before we cast that ballot, if we can engage with the candidates now we may not be 'cheated' the way the elected MP did!

March 19, 2011

Elections 2011 - Websites on Mylapore, Velachery

If you ever come across an autorickshaw with the legend N. Murugan emblazoned on its canvas roof at the rear in the colours of the DMK party you may help me fill in on some political gossip.

One of the many dozen auto driver friends of mine had a story to share the other day when I hired him for a ride to work. He claimed Murugan was a DMK strongman and owned lots of auto.

Autodrivers do have their fingers on the pulse of the city and they have lots of info, leads and gossip. And they talk or even sing if you tickle them on their trips across town.

At Election time, you can dip into their small talk and get a sense of what is going on around you.

My OMR auto driver friend is betting on the return of Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK party. “I am a AIADMK man driving an auto that is owned by a DMK man,” he told me. ‘But take it from me, amma is going to come back.”

This can be a dipstick taken a month before we all go out to cast our vote in State Elections 2011. It may tell us which way the wind is blowing in some regions and with some people but it is
early days yet.

They used to say that most auto drivers in the city were pro DMK.
Actually, most were great fans of the late MGR; many in their 50s still are though not all side with the AIADMK of the day.
The more diehard fans of MGR were the cycle rickshawallahs. That generation is gone but the few who remain are proud to display photos and stickers of their thalaivar.

At elections, we cannot be swayed by idols, TV sets and grand alliances of the kazhagams. We need to look at the candidates, their parties and their policies.

The tragedy of today’s politics is that if the winner belongs to the losing party, not only is he or she cut to size, even that constituency is ostracised. That is why Mylapore MLA S. Ve. Shekher knew which sandwich to butter.

Where does that leave a voter?

Engagement is key. It is not enough for us to know about the parties and the candidates and vote for the best choice but to engage with the man or woman who has become the legislator of our constituency.

To help share information on the candidates, raise local issues and provide utility data that voters need, we have created two web sites for Elections 2011. One for the Mylapore Assembly constituency and one for the new Velachery constituency (which covers all parts of Adyar).

The URLs are - and

You may not only use the info and respond to reportage but also share your notes. Since this is completely local, please remain focussed. However, let not your acts be restricted to an online activity!
Engage in all ways you can.

March 13, 2011

Why vote in election 2011

They make you walk up and down a dozen and more times when you want to get a Voter ID Card.
They delay this for weeks on end.
Then they misspell your name on the card.
After all this, would you really want to participate in a state election process?
You call up your MLA but his phone is busy, his PA is busy and his dog is busy.
You email him and he sends you a smiley.
You want him to fix your dead streetlights and do some thing about the piling garbage. He makes a promise and does not keep it or keeps it much later.
You have not seen him in your colony but you have seen his picture in the newspapers. And when you finally turn up before him for help, he asks, “Did you vote for me in the election?”
And you wonder, why should I bother about elections and MLAs.
You get your filter water on order. Your generator starts when the EB line breaks down. You have ways to beautify your pavement and get rid of the stinking NMF garbage bin that is right next to your apartment block.
You can live without your democratically elected rep.
And you smirk - who needs an election?
Does an election to the State Assembly really mean anything to a metro neighbourhood?
If you go by the stats and analyses, the answer is a broad NO.
The number of people who make it a point to learn about the issues, the candidates and the politics is small. Those who prefer to remain ignorant are not embarrassed anymore unless you stick a mike and camera in their face and stump them.
The percentage of people who go out on Election Day and cast their ballot has been falling alarmingly. Some plan a holiday out, some watch TV, some just do not bother and some get driven away by the goons at the poll station or are driven in circles because of mixed data and patchy records.
But some make an effort. They even demand that they register their view that they do not approve of any of the candidates in the fray - you can do that by law.
We have distanced ourselves from grassroot democracy and its function. And we seem to be saying goodbye to elections.
Yes, you have not got the candidates you would wish for.
Yes, you do not expect much from either of the political parties. Yes, much looks like a black comedy.
But if we go away and away from what is core to democracy we may well be encouraging the worst.
Another election is with us. Think. You have a role to play.
And it does not start and end with casting your ballot.

March 06, 2011

Changing Face of Chidambaram

Heard of a soft drink called Bovonto?

It comes from the hugely famous Kali Mark group, a local brand that the previous generation will surely remember.

Bovonto holds its own in the rural market of the Pepsis and the Cokes. And when I saw rows of Bovonto in a cool drinks shop in Chidambaram this past week, I stopped, bought a drink and chatted with the shop owner.

I am in Chidambaram with the KutcheriBuzz team web casting the annual Natyanjali Dance Festival here. The job keeps us busy from 5 p.m. to well past midnight.

During the day, we explore the town. Each place or neighborhood has its own character and over time, it changes. The visual or mental record can make great archival material.

It is at the Bovonto cool drinks shop that I get the lead for a more significant development in Chidambaram. A dangler for a new apartments project that was to come up on the premises of an old cinema theatre here.

Today, as you drive into this temple town, you may not be able to sight the massive gopurams of the temple. Highrise apartments are the new gopurams.

They dot the shaven lands which once were fields on the edge. A few years ago, we had seen cement, yellow-painted boards advertising plots carved out of these fields.

Now, apartments seem to be selling faster than plots.

Advocate A. K. Natarajan who is also the president of the Natyanjali Trust says that the demand for apartments is big. He himself is developing a part of the ancestral property to build about 40 flats. These will be spacious but most sold ion the town are match-box sized.

So the tiled houses of the Dikshitars on the mada veedhis are giving way to apartments, office complexes and shops, all of them looking like long slices of cake. One block almost hugs the eastern wall of the temple.

Most flats here are bought by people who work at Annamalai University and at NLC, Neyveli and Natarajan tells me that they are investments for the buyers.

While the Kumbakonam-based Bovonto holds its own in Chidambaram the high-rises are changing the face of the town.