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Middle Class Neighbourhood Associations as Political Players in Mumbai

The activities of many middle class neighbourhood associations in Mumbai have gone beyond confronting and cooperating with the local administration in order to protect the quality of life in their areas to being concerned with improved governance. This article looks at the engagement of these associations with local politics through a study of advanced locality management units and their role in the recent civic elections and to understand if there is a process of political mobilisation. It also attempts to study their strategies, the relationship between participative and representative democracy based on their activities and their vision of urban society.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly November 24, 200761Middle Class Neighbourhood Associations as Political Players in MumbaiMarie-Hélène Zérah The activities of many middle class neighbourhood associations in Mumbai have gone beyond confronting and cooperating with the local administration in order to protect the quality of life in their areas to being concerned with improved governance. This article looks at the engagement of these associations with local politics through a study of advanced locality management units and their role in the recent civic elections and to understand if there is a process of political mobilisation. It also attempts to study their strategies, the relationship between participative and representative democracy based on their activities and their vision of urban society.The processes of globalisation and transformation of modes of production and industrial organisation also lead, contribute to and are embedded in a parallel process of restructuring the function of urban centres. Cities have become strategic places [Sassen 1994: 11] and play a role in the reconfigu-ration of the territorialisation process, which “intensifies the role of sub-national and supra-national forms of territorial organi-sation” [Brenner 1999: 52]. In parallel to economic transforma-tions, the objectives of political and administrative decentrali-sation as well as increased participation are pursued by inter-national organisations and national governments [Blair 2000]. In India, both these trends of rescaling, explicited by Brenner, and decentralisation are apparent and critical in reshaping large metropolitan centres. First, there is an increasing role of the states in attempting to make use of their capital cities for economic growth purposes [Kennedy 2007; Shaw and Satish 2007]. Second, the landmark 74th constitutional amendment on decentralisation and local self-government, though not fully implemented, gives more powers to previously debilitated urban local bodies. The setting up of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission engraves this new strategic character of metropolitan cities in a national policy framework. With a mandatory reform including the enactment of a community participation law, it supports the stand that political decentralisation should also be accompanied by citizens’ participation in local decision-making. In this paper, we shall attempt to examine whether this evolving shift towards cities as economic and decision-making actors leads to a rearticulation of the claims and a renewed form of mobilisa-tion of the urban middle class, which captured most of govern-ment resources of the developmental state since independence [Varma 1998; Fernandes 2007].1Thanks to its economically dominant position, its continuous stint with local elections and the wide range of its responsibi-lities, Mumbai is a relevant case to critically assess the rise of middle class participation through neighbourhood associations and its engagement with issues related to local governance and local democracy. To do so, we decided to consider the Advanced Locality Management (ALMs) units as a proxy for neighbourhood associations’ activism for a series of reasons. First, the improve-ment of urban services, central to urban governance and local democracy, is the first concern of ALMs. Second, ALMs partnered with the municipal administration, which enabled them to ac-quire a form of legitimacy and the role of spokespersons of resi-dents. Third, they capitalised on this legitimised partnership to harness visibility and produced a collective action that recently This article was first presented in the context of a collective research pro-gramme of the French Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi, called “India’s Democratic Renewal in Question”. I want to thank Navtej Nainan for the in-depth discussions we had on the Advanced Locality Manage-ment units in Mumbai, which will continue with common writings on the subject. My colleague Sylvy Jaglin led me to engage with the dis-cussion on the question of scale related to neighbourhood associations. I also received valuable comments on a first draft from C Bénit-Gbaffou, V Dupont and S Tawa Lama-Rewal. This work would not have been possible without the help of Mitali Kamkhalia and Deepak Dhopat for data collection and Bertrand Lefebvre for the making of maps. All other disclaimers apply.Marie-Hélène Zérah( is a senior researcher with the Institute of Research for Development, Paris, and is currently deputed to the Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi.
R North R Central R South P North P South K East M West Thana Creek Mahim Creek G South F South Harbour Back Bay Ward No of ALMs per ward 25 10 1 6 km Lefebvre, Manoricreek
(Bandra-Khar-Santacruz) 12 5 36.4
(Andheri includes Juhu) 16 6 48.5
(includes part of Matunga,
Dadar and Wadala) 4 1 12.1
(Bhandup and Powai) 1 1 3.0
33 14 100.0
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly November 24, 200763organisations, which are entitled to some amount of subsidies. In residential areas, the ALM scheme was initially designed as a flag-ship programme of the municipality in 1997. Though a compari-son among those schemes would be helpful in looking at issues of resource allocation, functioning of administrative machinery as well as locally elected corporators4 arbitration for different sections of the population, we shall focus here merely on residential areas. Nevertheless, in both cases, we have argued elsewhere that these “invited spaces” [Redkar 2005] are mostly managerial in their conception of participation. In slums, participation can even be considered as a process of labour contractualisation and cost re-duction [Zérah 2006]. For the administration, participation is a tool for efficiency, subcontracting and a coping mechanism against the restrictions on employment. However, by setting up public arenas for participation, which took the shape of monthly meetings at the ward level between the administration and the ALMs, the municipality provided an instrument perfectly suited for residents to discuss issues of declining public services that were their primary concern.At first, this scheme provided a window of opportunity to con-solidate loose networks of local associations, often engaged in cultural and local activities, around the issue of garbage collection and beautification of their neighbourhood. The first phase of the survey demonstrates how a process of collective action was engaged in, based upon prominent ALM leaders cooperating with the ad-ministration as well as confronting and pressurising it [Zérah 2006]. At the ward level,ALMs constituted a pressure group, which were de facto recognised as representative of their area by theadmin-istration as well as the police or the metropolitan authorities. Secondly, armed with this unofficial legitimacy, ALMs expanded their activities not only to other urban services but also to issues of land use and the control of urban space as their fight against illegal encroachements and for the removal of hawkers exempli-fies [Anjaria 2006]. SomeALMs even resorted to legal proceed-ings in an exemplary form of “nimbyism”5 (not in my backwyard. A second outcome of the ALM programme is the emergence of a collective identity. A common trait among members of neigh-bourhood associations is their discursive articulation of their rights as taxpayers (mostly house taxpayers) and law abiding citi-zens. Implicity, and even explicitly in some interviews, their head-on fight against illegal settlements is perceived as lawful and protective of their own rights. In a similar vein, their stand on hawkers is connected with the feeling that the quality of life in their neighbourhood6 is deteriorating. These two factors might partly explain the skewed location of ALMs in wards with high and rising income levels or in colonies with an old and rooted re-siding community (often Christian in Santacruz or Parsi in Parsi colony). Those areas are perceived by neighbourhood associa-tions to be threatened by the growth of the city, both in demo-graphic and economic terms. Indeed, if members of the ALMs be-long to the middle class, they can be part either of what some call the “new middle class” of professionals with rising incomes, or of a more traditional English educated elite, often old residents who share a sense of belonging to their colony.7 Other socio-economic characteristic of ALM members conform to their qualification as middle/upper-middle class neighbourhood associations.8 They have a privileged access to the administration, an indicator also highlighted by Harriss (2005) in Delhi. Overall, these are inhab-itants who have a number of resources at their command and are also able to articulate their views well. Thirdly, by definition, neighbourhood associations are essen-tially parochial. Though concerned with local issues, ALMs are aware of the potential restriction of their concerns if they are ex-pressed only on a narrow, local scale. Consequently, to broaden their base in a spatial sense, they have created federations, which enable them to articulate their claims at the ward level while maintaining their unique strength: a very local knowledge and expertise. Further, they are part of larger city-based platforms or organisations, either through direct memberships or by network based actions. One older organic link is with Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI), a Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promoted the ALM scheme and whose focus is on the improvement of local govern-ance, including local politics and the fight against corruption. Many members of the ALMs, especially among the East-Indian Christian community, are members of AGNI (more than 25 per cent of the first phase surveyALM have interactions withAGNI). Linkages are established with other NGOs dealing with matters of concern to ALMs, such as CitiSpace on the issue of removal of hawkers and Lok Satta on larger issues of local democracy. In the first survey, only threeALMs out of 50 had no interaction with any other group (either other ALMs, ward level federations or city-based NGOs). Thus, ALMs do not exist on a stand-alone basis but are part of a larger “civic” network. As such, they can get prominence in other forums where city issues are debated and can escape a potential “local trap” defined by Purcell (2006)9 as “the tendency to assume that the local scale is preferable to other scales”. It also provides them a stage to influence those larger city-based forums. To summarise, neighbourhood associations, in some parts of the city, have been able to build a form of countervailing power, to have a direct and privileged access to the bureaucracy (often by bypassing the councillors). Equipped with expertise and an output-based legitimacy, they have partly succeeded in co-pro-ducing services.10 One could further argue that they attempt, sometimes successfully, to co-produce decisions for instance when they decide along with municipal employees the design of a drain or the materials used for road tarring or when they monitor the contractors’ work. The use of judiciary activism can also be interpreted as a tool to bypass municipal decisions and to pro-duce decision-making. Hence, if we retain our hypothesis of a process of political mobilisation, a haunting question keeps com-ing back: with a number of successful outcomes, why would this collective behaviour lead to political engagement or mobilisation, especially as another common trait of the neighbourhood associ-ations’s identity is their unanimous condemnation of a corrupt political system and local councillors? Towards a More Political Form of MobilisationBacqué, Rey and Sintomer (2005) distinguish three goals of neighbourhood or participative democracy. One aim is to trans-form social relationships with a claim for social justice. This
SPECIAL ARTICLENovember 24, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly64clearly does not characterise the ALMs. Another dimension is to strive for better policies. It is linked to a managerial objective and the neighbourhood associations we study come from this posi-tion. A third dimension of participatory democracy lies in a more political endeavour, often to expand democracy, to instil an en-hanced form of civic culture as well as to constitute a “school for democracy” [Bacqué, Rey et al 2005: 31]. This facet, we shall ar-gue below, distinguishes a set of ALMs. In our analysis of the first phase of the survey, we classified ALMs into those with a “utilitar-ian” approach and those with a “civic” approach. The first ones use the ALM as a tool to solve their neighbourhood problems. Once problems are solved, they often stop their activities. In any case, they are not involved in the mobilisation process around the municipal elections.11 As such, they are closer to the portrait of an apathetic middle class, with a low voter turn-out especially for local elections. The second type of more “civic” ALMs are clearly more engaged in the political debate through a number of ways. We suggest that their recent shift from policy to politics and po-litical mobilisation articulates different scales: a spatial scale (the street – the neighbourhood – the ward – the city), a time scale (daily action – regular democratic control – long-term reform) as well as a discursive scale (universalist discourse vs pragmatic interest group bargaining). A Shared Diagnostic and Other PlatformsNeighbourhood associations are concerned with improved governance. However, through their repeated interactions with the municipal governance system, they have realised at first hand on that “good governance”, in contradiction to the often highlighted depolitisation process project behind it [Harriss 2001], is intrinsically linked to defining priorities, making choices and allocating resources. As such, the conventional political science question of “who governs?” is of critical importance. At first,ALMs share a very poor image of their local corpora-tors. In the first survey, 61 per cent of ALM members interviewed asserted that they bypass the councillors as he/she does not mat-ter. This supports research demonstrating that councillors have little effective power despite the decentralisation process.12 Moreover, neighbourhood associations consider that most coun-cillors are inefficient, corrupt and biased in favour of poorer sec-tions of the population whose votes they rely on. Nevertheless, mostALMs know their corporator and at some point of time have to interact with him/her. Indeed, despite the large executive powers of the commissioner and the bureaucracy in Mumbai [Pinto and Pinto 2005], it is unsatisfactory to simply consider cor-porators as powerless. At the local level, a corporator can have a say and can even exert significant power, either “to get things done” or “not to get things done”, which can be as important [Zérah 2006]. In a span of 10 years since the beginning of the ALM scheme, some of the most dynamic neighbourhood associations started interacting with the local politicians to garner support for some of their initiatives and activities.13 Sometimes they bar-gained with their support even though they also mostly wereat loggerheads with corporators who often support hawkers.ALMs have grasped the fact that it is not possible to completely sidestep corporators. As one secretary of a large federation (also anAGNI coordinator) puts it: “For the first time, I notice that the members of the ALM want to work with the corporator and the corporator is also wanting to come to them. This is a new phenomenon and I think it is very positive, as the triangle, corporator – assistant mu-nicipal commissioner – citizen needs to function properly.” As a matter of fact, in areas whereALMs are organised, corporators have also started to discuss with them.14 Second, a similar equivocal diagnostic is shared by city-based platforms. Already in 2002, on the city scale,AGNI articulated a concern regarding the level of corruption and inefficiency. More recently, this agenda is pushed strategically by another organisation, Lok Satta, which has been able to lobby at higher levels of govern-ment as well as consolidating a base withALM members.15 Lok Satta is run in a more professional manner, has a corporate culture as well as a neoliberal vision of India’s economy, all acceptable to the neighbourhood associations. Lok Satta shares the diagnostic of the ALMs regarding the declining standard of political lifeat the local level but situates it in a larger framework: “The experi-ence over the last decade shows that in many cases local govern-ments are beset by the same evils of corruption, arbitrary exer-cise of power, and inefficiency, which have become the hallmarks of centralised governance… The process of power has been dis-torted, and politics has become a business involving large, unac-counted investments with multiple returns anticipated in a pa-tronage-based, unaccountable, centralised governance structure. Not surprisingly, power at the local level is exercised in a similar manner. The difference is that local corruption and arbitrariness are far more glaring and visible, and touch people’s lives more directly as they affect basic amenities and services” [Lok Satta Maharashtra Chapter 2006: 49]. In addition, and this also makes their discourse agreeable to the political establishment itself, they argue that the problems are structural and related to the functioning of political institutions. Therefore, they argue for a deepening of the decentralisation process: “People elected to rule have no power to rule, but only responsibility. That has becomethe lot of corporators, who continue to be blamed al-though they have no power to oversee or ensure that the policies decided by them are executed faithfully”[Lok Satta Maharashtra Chapter 2006: 11]. Third, this common diagnostic also leads to a mutual espousal for reinforcing the “neighbouring” dimension of local democracy, a missing dimension in the implementation of the 74th constitu-tional amendment. Indeed, ward committees, conceived as the third tier of decentralisation, are organised on the administrative ward scale16 and comprise on an average a population of 7,48,000 people. The participation of three NGOs in these ward commit-tees, supposed to represent civil society, has turned into a tool for political clientelism [Nainan and Baud (forthcoming)]. To effec-tively implement a more local and participatory form of demo-cracy in large urban agglomerations, the central government wants to make mandatory the enactment of a community partici-pation law. The objective is to bring local democracy closer to the people with the creation of area sabha representatives (ASR). In Mumbai, this agenda is taken up by Lok Satta,17 which pushes strongly for the setting up of ASR. Those would be elected for
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly November 24, 200765each polling booth and be part of ward committees constituted at the electoral ward level. This mirrors an ideal of local democracy where decisions are taken at the neighbourhood level, in a paral-lel format to that of the gram panchayat. We argue that this ex-plicits the meeting point between city-based organisations and theALMs on the basis of shared stakes. By taking forward the agenda ofASR, Lok Satta provides a pragmatic tool to give flesh to a form of local democracy. This is easily conceivable for the neigh-bourhood associations. They can foresee its implementation and which role they could play. In fact, we argue that it provides them an efficient tool to mobilise people in their area, to enforce a min-imum of internal democracy in federations, as well as to accom-modate potential conflicting individual ambitions. On the other hand, for a platform such as Lok Satta with probable political am-bitions in the long run, the mesh of these associations is a strate-gic space to exert their influence, test their strategies and opera-tionalise their vision of a “new local and democratic governance framework”. Thus, we argue that the convergence of “bottom up” structures of neighbourhood associations, connected with “top-down” organisations, such asAGNI and more recently Lok Satta articulates both the space scales (the street – the neighbourhood – the ward – the city) as well as the time scales (daily action – long-term reform) and this crystallises into political mobilisation. Evidence in both the surveys of 2005-06 and 2006-07 support this stance: theALMs of the western suburbs have established strong links with Lok Satta and their federations are part of the “vote Mumbai campaign” launched by Lok Satta for the 2007 municipal elections. Observing the 2007 Municipal ElectionsDuring the 2002 municipal elections, some neighbourhood asso-ciations and AGNI had organised “meet your candidate” meet-ings. Five years later, we assume a progress in their ability to mo-bilise resources as well as to take new initiatives locally or to con-tribute to larger movements. First of all, one form of the political mobilisation of the ALMs and the city-based platforms is directly linked with representa-tive democracy. At the city level, in June 2006, Lok Satta launched the vote Mumbai campaign, comprising more than 50 organisa-tions. It is an apparent disparate coalition with organisations that do not necessarily share the same vision of the city. However, for the time being, it seems that the consensus on the need to im-prove city governance still outweighs dissent among those organ-isations as they have rallied around the main proposals of Lok Satta. To publicise this campaign, the organisation relied on tra-ditional tools such as presence in the press (print media, radio, and television), street theatre, meetings, signature campaign. In addition, Lok Satta, supported by the academia and teaching pro-fession, organised a series of debates in Mumbai’s colleges. To measure the spread of the mobilisation, roughly equated with “middle class” mobilisation, the signature campaign collected 5,77,000 signatures out of 8.3 millions voters. It represents less than 7 per cent of the voters and confirms the limited engage-ment of middle class mobilisation, despite its high visibility. As another initiative,AGNI decided to rate all the candidates on the basis of their police records, assets or liabilities and their educational qualification. The “best candidates” were given a five-star mark. The rating was based upon the official affidavits submitted by candidates to the state election commission. It turned out to be very controversial as in some housing societies, the ranking did not reflect the field perception of neighbourhood activists. At the local level, these two initiatives were relayed by theALMs members in various ways. They publicised both cam-paigns as well as had an active role at the neighbourhood level, by informing residents about the AGNI rating, cheking the elec-toral rolls as well as mobilising middle class voters on the day of elections. In effect, 60 per cent of the persons interviewed men-tioned that they would encourage people to go and vote. These modes of political mobilisation are telling as they present the equivocal vision of representative democracy held by urban mid-dle class citizens. On the one hand, rallying voters can be inter-preted as a form of relegitimising representative democracy by broadening the turnout and enhancing people’s participation at election time. On the other hand, an unsaid premise is that a lo-cal corporator has to be educated to be efficient and good. She should also have sufficient assets to ascertain both her earnest-ness and the fact that she will not need to take recourse to illegal practices to finance her activities. Hence local democracy is above all about efficiency in governance and “well spirited citi-zens”arebetter equipped to hold local responsibilities. This re-flects an elitist vision of local democracy in contradiction with the democratisation and the empowerment aimed at by the 74th constitutional amendment. A second level of analysis shows that the modes of action of the ALMs do not stop at encouraging their fellow residents to vote. They implement political strategies based upon their experience of participative democracy through the ALM scheme. One such instance can be found in the H administrative ward (composed of six electoral wards in Bandra) before and after election. In one of the electoral ward, the federation supported a process of “block voting” where a number of residents agreed to vote for a candi-date. They also organised a series of meetings with the different candidates, who could present their programme but also had to take position on the priorities set up by the ALM federation. This is a pre-electoral strategy of an interest group lobbying for its own agenda. In the more socio-economically homogeneous elec-toral wards, this can prove to be a successful political strategy. One cannot ascertain that this is yet the case with the 2007 elec-tions but the fact that inH ward candidates also initiated meet-ings withALMs is a first indication that those neighbourhood as-sociations can play a larger role in the future if they manage to sustain their activities. To do so, one coherent strategy would be “the articulation of classical forms of representative government with procedures of direct or semi-direct democracy” [Bacqué, Rey et al 2005: 37]. This is based on the vision that participative democracy is a continuous process wielded outside election time. Exercising regular and continuous control of their representa-tives and holding them accountable all along their tenure is one modality of participative democracy. In Bandra west, the federa-tion of neighbourhood association started this process as soon as election results were declared. They organised a meeting with all elected councillors to put forward a clearly defined and agreed
SPECIAL ARTICLENovember 24, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly66upon agenda of five priorities.18 All corporators participated in the meeting, attended by 300 residents, and agreed to report on their activities every six months. This local event was relayed in the Mumbai English press, which covered these municipal elections extensively. Special col-umns entitled “your vote, your voice”, “I will vote” (often with a celebrity emphasising that he/she will vote), “people’s power”, “your neighbourhood” and editorials propelled the image of an enthusiastic middle class suddenly aware of the stakes in the city political game, and willing to exercise its franchise. One newspa-per even published polls with a prevision of a record voting rate of around 66 per cent. As a matter of fact, the voting rate turned out to be a meagre 46 per cent, slightly higher than the turnout in 2002, invalidating this supposed upsurge of the middle class. Mo-bilisation of neighbourhood associations continued to be limited to some pockets in the city and the shape it took depended on their number and lobbying power. In two wards studied where ALMs are non-existent (S ward) or weak (F north ward), only a small number of residents publicised the AGNI rating. InH ward, where the federation of ALMs is larger, they considered putting a candidate in one ward where they felt they could potentially win but the ward was reserved and they did not have a candidate fit-ting the category. They opted for the “interest group bargaining” strategy highlighted above. Finally, in theK west ward, and more precisely in the electoral ward number 63, where the ALM’s net-work is sizeable, anALM independent candidate contested the elections and won. This victory, celebrated by the press, deserves to be studied as it stands in contrast to other cities such as Delhi, where independent resident welfare associations candidates stoodfor elections but lost.Further, it goes one step ahead as it bids fair for neighbourhood associations to directly engage with the rules of representative democracy. Account of Ward Number 63 and Its Outcome Since 2002, we have been following those associations, which were included in the first and second phase of our survey. This enables us from a methological point of view to provide an argued narrative of the shift from collective action to political mobilisa-tion and successful engagement with representative democracy. We shall suggest that this exceptional outcome in Juhu, as com-pared to other wards or to the failures of independent candidates in Delhi, results from the conjunction of the ward characteristics itself, pre-existing conditions of collective action and a well-man-aged electoral campaign based on an undisputed candidate and a clear political line. Ward number 63, comprises part of Juhu, an elite suburb of Mumbai, known for its beach, its film stars and its five star hotels. Juhu is not exclusively a middle or even upper middle class neigh-bourhood. There are also slum pockets and an old urban village. However, the delineation of the constituency was redrawn forthe 2007 municipal elections, carving out a number of slum pockets. As a result, the proportion of slums in this ward was below 20 per cent (as against the average figure of more than 50 per cent of Mumbai’s population living in slums). This ward included part of the poshest area of Juhu, where residents are less inclined to vote and participate in neighbourhood associations.19 However, the residents of those bungalows and upper class buildings had to face the same conditions as the common people on July 26, 2005 which saw the deluge and its aftermath. Not evenrelianceontheir private financial resources could protect them. Consequently,the number of newly formedALMs increased in 2006,whichbuiltup political mobilisation. Finally, this ward was notreservedtherefore paving the way for a general candidate.Secondly, Juhu has had for many years a very active network of ALMs organised around resident federations with a large number of members, that constitute a pool of activists used to working with each other. Years of activism, including actions such as exerting pressure and collaborating with the govern-ment, strengthened their visibility, legitimacy and support within the area. One known example is the role of the resident federa-tions in the project of revamping Juhu Beach where they success-fully filed a public interest litigation case.20 Thirdly, their close networking with Lok Satta, for which this constituency was an ideal test case strengthened this group of self-motivated residents’ resolve to engage directly with the proc-ess of election. To do so, they chose to experiment with the con-cept ofASR. Among a number of candidates, 23 unofficial ASRs were elected. Later, they elected their “consensus citizen candi-date”, Adolf D’Souza, among four others. This candidate de-scribes himself as a spiritual personality wanting to transform political culture. His dedicated role as the coordinator of the ALMs at the administrative ward for years gives him high credi-bility among the neighbourhood associations. According to our second survey, this choice also reflects a political line all mem-bers adhered to, around two main objectives: improved govern-ance and a honest representative. They further share a number of priorities such as better infrastructure and amenities, transpar-ency (especially regarding tax uses), cleanliness and environ-ment, stopping illegal encroachment as well as hawkers. This led to a process of mobilisation whereby ALM activists and members of the locality carried out a traditional campaign with door to door visits, checking the voters’ list, organising meetings on a voluntary basis. Classic methods were combined with a wide-spread use of the internet and mobile phones. The campaign was easily financed by donations. The “vote ward 63” campaign also received support from Lok Satta and AGNI as well as a number of vocal film stars of the neighborhood.21 As a result, D’Souza won with a comfortable margin of 600 votes. Engagement of Neighbourhood Associations At this stage, it is relevant to draw lessons from this exceptional situation and to critically question the political perspectives of neighbourhood associations in Mumbai.First of all, while there is a reality of political mobilisation of residents’ associations, the main question is whether the strategy of facing political competition is replicable or self-defeating? An optimistic view could be derived from the ward 63 experience and is palpable among other ALMs: members in neighbouring wards campaigned for D’Souza in ward 63; in the F-north ward, ALMs have planned to set up a federation and to get support in drafting their status from the Juhu federation. Despite this exuberance, a harsher record shows that ward 63 is in fact just one ward out of
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly November 24, 200767227. Conversely, in other areas, candidates backed by ALMs or with five star rating lost. Overall, the voting rate did not increase significantly and remained very low in posh areas of the city, con-firming the long-established trend of disinterest of the middle class towards municipal elections.22 Some persons interviewed post elections acknowledged their disappointment with the vot-ers’ turnout. We suggest that these other wards, though middle class and with an English educated elite, still do not have the “mix” of population that exclusively characterised ward 63 and which is a precondition for any further political gains of neighbourhood associations along with sustained activism. It appearsthenthat a most suited political strategy would rather be lobbying or bargaining with candidates (at the time of elec-tion) and corporators (once elected) rather than the impractical political route. However,ALMs are part of a civic movement which clearly en-gages with politics and conveys a political discourse. D’Souza’s speech after winning talked of the “creation of a new political culture” and “of the centrality of Mumbai and western India in building a better democracy… It is but natural that Mumbai is at the heart of the citizens’ movement to recapture the republic stolen from them”. The leader of Lok Satta articulated the importance of local democracy as “All politics is local. The big cities have to be hubs of citizen action and political transformation”. Those quotes have unmistakeably political overtones while speaking about democracy and local government. This ideological and idealistic discourse contrasts with the otherwise pragmatic ap-proach of the ALMs in their dealings with the administration. Toexplain this contradiction, one needs to go beyond under-standing theALMs only as an elite capture tentative. In effect, they constitute an interest group, based on socio-economic cri-teria.23 The vested interests of residents associations and their vision of a legal, clean, efficient and modern city are obscured bytheir universalist discourse on general interest and public good. A similar ambiguity characterises the political discourse of placing citizens at the core of a “new political culture”, as it favoursconsensusoverdissensus and carries a defiance towards traditionalparliamentary politics. Nevertheless, this has an ap-pealing dimension for some members of neighbourhood associa-tions who deem it possible to combine political engagement with political defiance. This is not the case for all the ALMs and some of them refused to support officially any candidates, maintaining their neutral stance. Indeed, the victory of anALM candidate and the shift of resident associations towards political engagement bring this movement face to face with two interrelated challenges and delu-sions. First, though politically active, neighbourhood associations continue to portray themselves as apolitical. This stand implies or suggests a desire to stay away from political party games. Second, these residents come together around the idea of “self-governance” as depicted by the first series of area sabha meetings in ward 63 organised to identify local issues.24 Can these two viewpoints be reconciled in the larger local political arena for an isolated independent corporator since politics means negotiating and arbitrating resource allocation of the corporation and taking decisions regarding programmes for the whole city as well? The case of ward 63 already displays the in-built ambiguity of practising politics at the margins. Once elected, the independent corporator,at the times of the mayoral election, decided to give an “issue-based” support to the Shiv Sena candidate. This was agreed and discussed by a majority of his unofficial ASR, most probably as the only practical option, in order to be able to access some municipal resources and implement his local agenda. Yet, it exposed the fragility of an independent position when one of the most prominent member of the Juhu Federation re-signed its ASR function: “None of us wanted to become politi-cians. We got into this because we wanted to sow the seeds of change in the existing political culture. I do not want citizens’ groups across the country to feel that as independents they cannot do anything” (March 20, 2007 – His declaration, beset with either naïvety or deepconviction,dis-plays potential cracks among active residents whenpoliticsout-weighs governance. While asking about potential divergence among ALM members at times of elections, on the contrary, they mostly depicted a rosy picture of increased solidarity, which political experience will surely put to test. On the other hand, the “self-governance” delusion exemplifies the danger of a “local trap”, where actors fail to consider that local interests have to be balanced and consideredwithregardtocityinterests. ALMs and neighbourhood associations,through their elected representative, will be confronted with much larger issues than initially thought of. Finally, emulating Purcell’s definition of the “local trap”, we contend that neighbourhood associa-tions while wanting to become assertive politicalplayersare prey to a “political trap”, which could be qualified as the tendency toassumethatafterentering the political arena, one can ab-solve oneself from political postures. Conclusion The rise of neighbourhood associations and participatory democracy is partly the outcome of sponsored participation. The urban local body set up platforms and instruments to encourage participation in residential areas. This concurred with the transformation of old and loose neighbourhood groups into structured conglomeration of active citizens who decided to voice their demands collectively. Subsequently, along with other groups, they elaborated a universalist political discourse that embarked upon political mobilisation as well as political contest. This process can be seen in other cities but is more vibrant in Mumbai, where there is a long tradition of civic activism. Active residents feel that the neighbourhood they live in are their own and it is their right to take a stand and participate indecisionsonitstrans-formation and management. To articulate this right in a more legitimate and undisputable manner, political legitimacy appears necessary. Yet, contrary to their claims of defending the public good and general interest, neighbourhood associations emerge as an interest group mobilised on an apparently exclusive vision of the city. As such, this emerging interest group remains a marginal actor but contributes to the renewal of local democracy, while pushing forward the agenda of participatory democracy,

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