Mumbai voters play truant

MUMBAI: Tens of thousands of Mumbai residents took to the streets after the bloody November attack that shook their city, vowing to take control back from a government they believed had forsaken their security and abandoned them to marauding gunmen.

But when the time came this week to choose new leaders, most didn’t even vote.

The much-expected surge in political participation in the wake of the three-day rampage — in which 10 gunmen killed 166 people and wounded 304 — failed to materialise in yesterday’s voting in India’s month0long general elections. In fact, it dropped.

Turnout in Mumbai was 44.15 per cent, down from 47.15 in the 2004 elections.

“All talk, no vote,” the Hindustan Times newspaper said in a front-page headline Friday.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

For decades, India’s well-to-do have kept themselves largely detached from the rest of the country. They live in walled compounds, have their own sources of electricity, hire security guards and educate their children in private schools, avoiding the issues confronting the government and the masses.

In part, that is because it is far easier for the wealthy to buy those services than to rely on India’s lumbering, outdated and frequently corrupt bureaucracy.

Also, in the 60 years since independence, India’s leaders have done the math and turned to the nation’s hundreds of millions of rural poor to win office, prompting the middle and upper classes to withdraw from the political process.

But the November 26-29 attacks were supposed to have changed that — at least in Mumbai.

The gunmen attacked south Mumbai, a centre of social power. Among the targets were the Taj Mahal hotel and the luxurious Oberoi hotel, sites of countless business meetings and playgrounds for Mumbai’s high society.

The reactions came quickly: Outraged businessmen marched in protests; their children cupped candles through all-night vigils. They filed petitions and lawsuits, set up political parties and promised never again to ignore the political process.

But those promises melted away in the 43.3 Celsius heat on voting day.

“The polling centres set up in my area didn’t have proper sunshades for people waiting in the queue. Many left without voting,” said JD Naik, a retired civil servant.