Tuesday, 13 October, 2009

INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES - Waste of Vote unless you have seen them work !

Just came back home post doing my duty of a responsible citizen – voting for the assembly elections. Was amazed to see some candidates with signs like “pressure cooker”, “diamond ring”, “car”, cricket bat” and “whistle” asking the citizen to punch on their symbols. Had heard about even symbols like gas cylinder, sewing machine, brush, cupboard, torch, table, cot, candle, iron, hat, ceiling fan, television, coat, electric pole and camera. We might ridicule these, but if a foreigner sees Lotus, Hand, Railway Engine, Cycle of an Elephant he will see it no differently than the gas cylinder, pressure cooker or a ceiling fan.

If you read todays Times of India (13 Oct 2009) you will find that more than 50% of the candidates (1820 out of 3559) are Independent candidates, which was just 14% in 2004.
Now the question is why is there such a steep rise in the Independent candidates ? The thought around the same is as below.

Had heard some senior corporatizens talking about increasing independent candidates which is good as they might be unbiased or uncorrupted and one should vote for them or give them a chance. There is a point, but take an example of Meera Sanyal of ABN Amro who stood and lost from South Mumbai seat in 2009 elections or for that matter an example of Mallika Sarabhai who stood against Advani or even stalwarts like IAS Chandrashekhar, Capt. Gopinath of Deccan taking their plunge as independents and loosing miserably, forget the unknown common man of India who stands as an independent candidate.

Well, let us agree to the fact that with 60% middle class and upper class sitting at home enjoying a holiday – watching movie, playing golf or having a pre-diwali get together one can never expect candidates like Meera Sanyals and other independants to win as it is the masses who go out to vote. Agree to ANOTHER SCHOOL of thought which says that why should I vote for a “Film Star” like Govinda or a Personal Secretary of a Politician ? and there it follows what happened in the corporation elections in Juhu in 2007 when Adolf D’souza with Candle as a voting symbol won from a prestigious Juhu constituency slapping the candidates of the leading parties hard on face. But these are exceptions and are valid in smaller elections like chosing the local corporators but definitely not the MP or MLA, where the constituency span is comparatively huge. One always looks at either the party or the personal record of serving the society or the area where the candidates are seeking votes.

Many politicians who are denied tickets by their home party and do not want to switch to the opposition often stand as independants and also win…. Can look at examples of Buta Singh or even George Fernandes, there are many. Many stalwarts entered Parliament unaffiliated to any party in India’s early years, including Minoo Masani, V.K. Krishna Menon, and J.B. Kripalani. Later, Purushottam Mavlankar was elected twice from Gujarat. Maneka Gandhi, too, has won as an independent. Well, if one studies these candidates they had some background and also had put in their efforts into serving the society or by participating in public life in their own way and not for just a short time but for a considerable time.

People object to independents for 4 reasons. (1) that they can’t win. (2) that they take away votes from a more winnable, but not necessarily more competent candidate, even if the best way to describe such candidates is that they represent “the lesser evil”. (3) independent members of Parliament (MPs) cannot be effective without party machinery. (4) they would be hostage to their constituents’ agenda. A recent news article dated May 20, 2009 14:59 IST (refer http://election.rediff.com/report/2009/may/20/loksabhapoll-most-independent-candidates-lost-polls.htm) clearly states that 99.75% independent candidates lost LS polls.

Well, if there is a consistency data then also why do independents stand is the only question I am sure you would be thinking of. Having some close links, the underlying answer which we as citizen might not aware could be as below :

No Ramlal who is a mere tailor earning Rs 800/- a month have political vision or an urge to change India. No Nandu, who is the secretary of the local Ganesh Mandal have the funds to campaign and gain support for himself and No Ganpat, the auto-rickshaw driver has his reach beyond his chawl that he can see any chance to win. Some have a reasoning that it is to get some fame, but why would one put his self respect at stake where he know he is going to loose and will not even manage to get more than 200 votes.

The reason is simple, if you see the Big 70mm Maharashtra Picture in a Silver Screen size. As per the political analysts, many argue that MNS is backed by Congress-NCP to break the Sena-BJP Vote bank. What stops Sena-BJP or NCP-Cong or any political party to promote some Ramlals, Nandu and Ganpats where they see the opposition strong- atleast they would break away some votes of the opposition, thus making way for the prospect, their candidates. It is no secret formula, even the common man at the chai stall is heard talking on these lines....The second school of thought is that look at the reality shows thesedays- why would a mother give away her baby to Rakhee Sawant to mishandle in the Reality Show – Pati, Patni aur Woh ? For Money or for Fame – there can be no other option. Why would a family come to the reality show- Sach ka Saamna and break their relationships by divulging the dark secrets where the wife has slept with the neighbour – that too on the National television – again 2 reasons – Money or Fame.

In the case of Independents also – there can be the same 2 reasons – Money or Fame. Fame is not that important but money is. Ganpat knows that in the rest of his life which is 10 years @ Rs 800/-pm, he is going to make Rs 9,60,000/- and if he is offered Rs 5,00,000/- he would stand for the elections as the short fame would help him earn Rs 1000/-pm instead of Rs 800/-pm. One also speculated that like in the Sales Structure of products, they too have Slab structure where 500-1000 Votes gets him Rs 1 Lac, 1000-2000 Votes gets him Rs 3 Lac, 2000-5000 Votes gets him Rs 5 lacs and so on and less than 500 votes NIL. And ofcourse some basic expenses and small amount of Deposit covered.

But, as I write this, many would still be voting for Independents who could be friends or for a so-called incumbency or need of change, but am sure the results would show. Am sure out of 1800 Independents, we may see some winners too, but am sure they would have put in a lot of efforts and hard work in their areas and the voters would know it. The only appeal was to alert fellow citizens not to vote just for voting and because you don’t like A and don’t want B to come to power. Just think, analyse and act. At the end of it the beneficiary is you and the sufferer too !

And for the Independent Candidates – please put in some years of social service in your area- create some visibility of your work – and then go asking for votes –and then I assure you that even if your Election symbol is “Chappal” (shoe) or “Lota” (tumbler-which people in rural India still carry for washing their shits) people would vote for you and you would win - else thesedays, the citizen be it the literate junta or an illeterate junta - are getting smarter - they will not even let Amitabh Bachchan as an Independent Candidate win !

Monday, 5 October, 2009

Prepaid Taxis at Mumbai Airport on a looting spree !

Yesterday (4th Oct), I arrived from Delhi to Mumbai at the Mumbai Airport - Chatrapati Shivaji Domestic Airport and proceeded to the PRE-PAID TAXI Counter in the Departure section and got myself a Pre-Paid Taxi booked by paying the designated fare plus Rs 10 Service Charges. This is a good service initiated by “Domestic Airport Pre-paid Taxi Service” especially better for foreigners who were forced to pay exhorbitant monies for cabs – I remember a cabbie asking me for Rs. 500 for a distance of Rs 60/- some years back and I said “bahargaon ka nahin hoon…ch***** banata hai?” (I am not from outstation, I belong to here and don’t try to fool me) and then he came half price and I had to bargain further as no cab was willing to travel by meter. I saw foreigners paying Rs. 700 for Airport-Juhu ride instead of Rs 110 and there was no process or system to stop this money exhorting act of the taxi-drivers. Thanks that the Pre-paid taxi system was introduced in Mumbai that faulty metered taxis and arrogant taxi drivers charging exhorbitant prices finally ceased to exist, though some might yet argue that private taxi’s like Meru and Mega Cab (022-44224422) are better and professional than these Unionized yellow black Fiat taxis of Mumbai.

While booking the cab at the counter – I was asked – do you have any bags and since I had only strolleys (60 cms X 40 cms) which we carry for week long holidays, I said no and they guy cut a receipt of taxi fare and service charges and no luggage charges, which are Rs 10 per bag of 70 cmsX50 cms (Pls see the scanned copy of the Receipt - circled area). Many fellow passengers with small kids and families declared these similar strolleys as bags, when they were asked “kitna bag hain” (how many bags do you have?) and the pre-paid counter guys added Rs 10 to each and billed them, which they conveniently paid.

When I moved out, I was directed to a cab by the private security agency (GIC) person and the taxi driver post seeing the receipt refused to move as he said I had 3 strolleys/trolleys and the receipt should have 3 luggages – ie. Rs. 30 more. I argued that all the bags are much smaller than the HUGE – 70cmsX50cms bags and hence I do not have to pay the luggage charges. He asked me to come with him to the pre-paid counter and I refused and asked him to get the manager of the “Domestic Airport Pre-paid Taxi Service” – The officer who cut the receipt came and said I will have to pay luggage charges and when I asked him to get the measure-tape and measure the size and threw some big names, he was scared and asked his manager to intervene. Being a Sunday, I was free and fighting for human rights is a passion and hence waited for the manager. Till the time Cops came and were quite supportive and literally screwed the Cabbies for refusing to go. Let me acknowledge the support of the constable Mr. Nalawade and his Senior colleague who acknowledge the behaviors of cabbies asking for extra money from the customers and since customers are in hurry and Rs. 20-30 is not a big deal, they silently pay up. Time is more important than money, but if you see collectively, which I saw- almost every 7 out of 10 passengers, depending on their outlook were charged 2-3 luggage charges and these 20-30 ruppees does not matterhad it been a Monday morning, even I might have paid, to reach early to office rather than saving a few bucks.

The manager came and he also tried telling that I have to pay luggage charges and when the cops also saw on the receipt explaining the bag size (70cmsX50cms), they cornered the manager and the manager asked the taxi driver to go without the luggage charges.

The taxi drivers in frustration were trying to explain that they have to wait for 7-8 hours in queue and there is a nexus wherein the extra money for luggage is shared between the taxi drivers, the union and the service agency which is roughly – Rs 1 Crore as per rough estimate and back of the envelope calculations ( Rs 86 lacs as per the rough calculation- 1700 taxis X 70% = 1190 X Rs. 20= Rs 23800 per day X 365 days = Rs. 86,87000/=)

In this age of RTI and empowerment of knowledge the key, in my small way, I want to help all fellow passengers understand the concept of luggage, which no one bothers to look at as the quantum of amount is small – The rule (on the receipt) says that any BIG BAG of more that 70cmsX50cms size only. The taxi drivers can not charge for any bag smaller than this and not even for Big hand-bags – however bulky they are or even cartons which are small. Since there is no weight system in India, the taxi drivers and the private authorities – hand in gloves are trying to make bug bucks – and the concept remains subjective – but it is clearly written in black and white on your Pre-Paid vouchers that the Luggage charges are for Bags above 70 cms X50 cms– though small for each one of us individually, but imagine these 20-30 bucks can buy food for a poor family.

Hope this helps all understand and fight for their rights and was quite happy to see the Mumbai Airport Police supportive to the customers. One can look for the cops around the area as the GIC Private Security guys are useless as they also get tips for positioning the taxis ahead. One can call Airport Police Station on 26156315 /09 or even a toll free number 1800 2099 596. (I tried calling all these numbers before writing on this article and they pick up calls). Understand that these 20-30 bucks are no big deal but the attitude to give in to corruption is a big deal and all of us talk about changing India all the while, when it is in our own hands – in our own small ways ! And yes – let us stop such unionized cabbies and agencies spoiling the name of our Mumbai and India right from the first step one enters the land !