In 2012 delhi municipal polls, many Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) distanced themselves from politics. But, not this time. Fed up with chasing councillors for works, members of several RWAs have now decided to take up the political mantle this time.
These candidates say that their USP is better understanding of the neighbourhood, its residents and problems. More importantly, they won’t be able to get away easily if they don’t perform.
Anil Aggarwal, 50, is the president of RWA in C-1, Vasant Kunj. He has been associated with the residents’ body for the last 10 years and is now contesting municipal poll as an independent.
“What is the point of having a councillor if we have to run from pillar to post for approvals for even smallest of jobs, whether it is pruning of trees, repairing roads or desilting of drains?” he asks.
Aggarwal, who is a businessman, believes that people weigh the qualities of a candidate and don’t blindly vote for a political party. “Unlike established political leaders who are seen only during elections, we have to face our vote base every day. They are our neighbours and people who live around us. If I don’t work for their welfare as promised, I will not be able to face them again,” he said.
Looking for fresh faces that have some support base, newer parties such as AAP and Swaraj India have also picked up candidates from RWAs. In fact, some of the current AAP MLAs, including Gandhi Nagar’s Anil Vajpayee and Mehrauli’s Naresh Yadav started out as resident body members. “RWA members and leaders have proven their leadership skills and have a certain level of acceptability in their community, which makes them good candidates,” said AAP’s Delhi in-charge Ashish Talwar.
Anupam, a spokesperson of Swaraj India too said that candidates from RWA come with experience and support. “These people have first-hand experience of problems in their area. If given an opportunity, they are more committed and result oriented. That’s the reason why we focussed on such candidates,” Anupam said.
Seventy-year-old Ruma Sikka, a candidate for Swaraj India from Vasant Vihar, considers herself a veteran in “resident affairs”. She is an RWA member of Hills View Apartments and an entrepreneur by profession.
With delimitation changing the electoral pattern in many wards and with new parties entering the fray, traditional players like Congress and BJP have also picked up candidates from RWAs.
Prem Deep Balhara, president of Freedom Fighters Enclave RWA is contesting on a Congress ticket from Saidulajab ward. Similarly, Vinod Mohendru, is a BJP candidate from Rohini A and RWA president from Sector 17’s Pocket A-1. Mohendru said that voters are always unhappy with the work undertaken by councillors as they are not engaged in the decision-making and implementation process. “From my experience as an RWA member, I feel that taking residents advice to sort out problem is the best way to avoid criticism,” he said.
But there are others who feel that RWAs should be watchdogs for local politicians and should not deviate from this role. “The role of RWAs is to oversee the works and money spent by area representatives. They are not to become part of the political system,” said Pankaj Aggarwal, secretary of Delhi RWA Joint Front.
“Ten years back, some RWAs fielded their candidates but failed badly. I don’t think after that any genuine RWA members have taken part in elections. If they lose, then winning candidate will consider them as opposition. The RWAs will lose their negotiating power as an independent voice,” he added.
Geeta Bhargava from Defence Colony RWA contested the civic polls 10 years ago and lost. “To contest elections, one should have a political background. RWA members who jump into the fray just end up wasting their time and resources,” she said.
Ranju Minhas, who also lost the 2007 municipal polls and never contested again, says RWAs need to mobilise first. “They need to come under one umbrella and present a common manifesto. We lose because we are not united,” she says.
According to Madhuri Rawat Varshey, former president of Dwarka Forum (a registered body with 2500 members), social activists should contest elections because they are actually aware about issues in an area. ‘These people would dedicatedly work towards finding better solution for resolving the problems, rather then politicising the issue. Being a part of RWA forum I had worked intensively with officials on civic agency and know how to get the work done on time,”said Madhuri Rawat Varshney, AAP candidate from Dwarka A ward.
Urban experts say that there are others ways to improve civic participation in local governance. “Although the idea of RWA members contesting civic body polls seems positive overall, what will create real transformative change is if our cities have area sabhas and ward committees. Participatory budgeting too would be a powerful catalyst. What we need are formal platforms for citizen participation at a neighbourhood level,” said Srikanth Viswanathan, CEO of Janaagraha.