On 5th February, 2016, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections results were declared. Telangana Rastra Samithi, ruling party of State of Telangana, has won 99 out of 150 seats and has emerged as the biggest group. Obviously, the Mayor would be from that party. A dream of TRS, in the final phase of agitations for Telangana State, has been to hold the reins of Hyderabad, even as critics pointed out lack of its representation in the city. Ofcourse, critics equated TRS winnability with presence of sentiment of Telangana. Anti-Telangana arguments often included this as a necessary point to be highlighted, concluding that Hyderabadi’s are not asking for a separate Telangana.
In my writings, then, I countered this argument. Support for separate Telangana agitation was visible in various ways, including support for bandh. Calls for bandh by TRS without any cadre was responded well, even in old city. Shutting down this city entirely was never easy. Such virulent criticism has probably made Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao to take a vow; to disprove. And, he did it, with strategy, meticulous planning and execution.
These elections had all the elements of previous elections, good, bad and the ugly. But, there are some distinct features. GHMC elections 2016 became a huge recipient of time, money and resources of political parties, media and the political community. State Presidents of all political parties were directly involved, reducing their city Presidents to non-entities. Selection of candidates by the parties was also done at the highest level, most secretively, and announced only in the nick of the time. Every party was clueless about who can be their representative, until the final day, indicating a serious compromise of party procedures, democracy and involvement of ‘invisible’ criteria of selection.
As is usual, investments made were heavy, with TRS party leading and all the opposition parties lagging behind. Government did reserve 50 percent of seats for women, that is 75. In 2009, it was 49. Otherwise, all other caste-reservations remained more or less the same. Does more women in GHMC lead to any power shift and more gender-sensitive decisions? Maybe, not. Because most of the contestants include wives, daughters or relatives of previous corporators, MLAs, Ministers and other leaders. The shadow, even if the lady is allowed to work independently, cannot be ruled out.
Independence of corporators, women or men, is still a big question, given the party hierarchy and methods of working among all the political parties. This is because GHMC as a constitutionally-valid body is not independent. It is not as autonomous as it appears to be. Election- eve promises by political parties did not include any slogan for power devolution. In fact, TRS and BJP harped on their being in power, at the State and central levels respectively as the pivot for their appeal. The message was clear to voters – if you want results (and funds) vote for the ‘party in power’.
With Election Commission suggesting preparation of manifesto’s, major political parties quickly put out documents, with almost similar promises. A run-through these manifestoes shows that all political parties lacked knowledgeable human resources to prepare them. None of the parties could develop a integrated vision for the development of Hyderabad. A ‘Green Manifesto’ effort by us did not impact their thinking.
Overall, only two parties, TRS and MIM, with 99 and 43 corporators, would be the players, with Congress, BJP and TDP reduced to single-digit strength. Both parties are headed by individuals, who have their own views on how Hyderabad can be developed. These views have their assumptions and roots in conventional urban thinking. It might mean the continuation of this city’s journey on a path that has serious consequences on equity, justice and democracy. State of Telangana is likely to bear the brunt of this linear development of Hyderabad, as natural resources are continuously aligned for consumption of Hyderabad. Distribution of basic needs of water, food and shelter would be defined by wealth. Unaccountable and opaque systems of distribution and ownership is likely to perpetuate wealth accumulation with fewer persons, while the drudgery of larger majority would continue.
Unless, of course, GHMC is allowed to take a more autonomous, consultative and participatory path of planning and implementation of activities that respond to basic needs of the last person and that of the multitude.