Maharashtra state elections are just over but something was immensely disturbing about them. Let me start by posing a question. Would it not be a flawed system if the Chief Minister of Maharashtra is elected by voters in Madhya Pradesh? Yes, it undoubtedly would be as it would lead to a lack of democratic accountability towards people in Maharashtra. If that is so, how do we accept a system wherein a city is run by persons who are not elected from that city? Take Mumbai, for example. Mumbai is grappling with various challenges such as delays in construction of flyovers, bad quality of roads, policing issues, dilapidated structures and paucity of housing (leading to slums), amongst many others. By and large these issues are local to Mumbai.

Let us see who is empowered to deal with these issues under the present system. The responsibility of constructing key roads and flyovers lies with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which is headed by the Urban Development Minister of the State. The matter of housing scarcity also comes under the Ministry of Urban Development. The Mumbai police come under the purview of the Home Ministry. Some of the other roads are looked after by the Public Works Department (PWD) of the State Government. The onus of dealing with dilapidated structures and slum rehabilitation lies on Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), which is headed by the Minister for Urban Development.

It is pertinent to note the constituencies from which the Ministers, heading these Ministries, contested the state elections this time and those held in 2009. The Chief Minister, who held the Urban Development portfolio, had become a MLA in 2010 through the State Legislative Council (Upper House) and this time stood for elections from Karad, Satara (the previous Chief Minister had got elected from Bhokar, Nanded in 2009, till he was removed from office on corruption charges). The Home Minister had won elections from Tasgaon, Sangli in 2009 and contested elections from the same constituency this time. The PWD Minister contested elections this time from Yeola, Nashik, the same constituency as that in the 2009 state elections.

This means that none of the aforesaid Ministers who governed Mumbai for the past five years contested the polls this time from any constituency in Mumbai. Similar examples of many other Ministers can be cited. There is no way a Mumbaikar can express her satisfaction or anguish with their past performance through her vote with regard to the issues local to Mumbai. She can only vote or not vote for the candidate fighting elections from her constituency but she cannot vote for or against the Minister who was ultimately responsible for Mumbai’s governance.

If democratic accountability means that the elected representatives are accountable to the people who elect them, it appears that Mumbai is not all that democratic. The electoral destiny of the Ministers, who made decisions worth thousands of crores for Mumbai, will be decided by voters from Nashik, Sangli, Satara and other places, and not by voters from Mumbai.

This is not to say that the State Ministers have no role to play in Mumbai. Matters concerning the entire state, such as intra-state transport, ports, tourism, earthquake rehabilitation, social justice, law and judiciary, agriculture, rural development, state excise and non-conventional energy, tribal development, higher and technical education, industries and labour, and minorities development, will have to be dealt with at the state level and Mumbaikars also will be affected by these decisions.

But the issues such as policing in the city, slums, roads, flyovers and dilapidated structures are, by and large, local to Mumbai. It is not clear how legitimate it is for elected representatives from places like Nashik, Sangli and Satara to deal with these local issues, when no Mumbaikar had a chance to vote for them. The problem with such a system is that it creates perverse incentives for some politicians to get elected from outside Mumbai, disregard good governance of Mumbai for private financial gain, go back to their far-off constituencies to get re-elected and return to govern Mumbai again. The disenchantment and frustration of Mumbaikars need not matter to these politicians as long as they keep their home constituency happy. May be that explains some of the grave challenges Mumbai faces today.

This is also not to say that only Mumbaikars should be Ministers in the government. But democratic accountability requires that those Ministers handling the issues local to Mumbai should be elected from Mumbai. This will give Mumbaikars a chance to assess their performance through their vote at the time of elections.

The lack of democratic accountability is not unique to Mumbai. Many other Indian cities suffer from it. Most state governments are unwilling to devolve power to the city governments such as the Municipalities. The Mayor, who is the elected head of a Municipality, is a figurehead in most Indian cities, while the unaccountable state government Ministers hold the reins of power over the cities.

Of course I voted in the elections held on 15th October, but I went to the polling booth with an uneasy feeling knowing that the voters from places such as Nashik, Kolhapur, Solapur, Sangli and Satara might have more say in shaping Mumbai’s future for the next five years than voters from Mumbai.

– Makarand Bakore is a practicing advocate in the Bombay High Court.

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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.