More on elections

a follow up and part two of half life finished

This is a pretty impressive election. Just look at some of the facts, complements of the Diplomat:

India’s upcoming general election will be the largest democratic event in history, with more than 814 million people entitled to vote to decide the country’s 16th government. This, however, is not the only record that will be broken when the world’s largest democracy goes to the polls. According to the Centre for Media Studies, Indian politicians will spend as much as $4.9 billion during the electoral contest, which will end in May. The estimate makes this year’s general election the second most expensive of all time, behind only the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign in which, according to the U.S. presidential commission, $7 billion was spent.

The sheer scale of the electoral exercise is unprecedented. Almost two thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people are eligible to vote – 100 million more than in 2009 – and 96% of these have already been equipped with electoral ID cards. In nine polling days spread across five weeks, the world’s largest electorate will visit 930,000 polling booths to cast their votes using 1.7 million electronic voting machines. 11 million personnel, including members of the army, will be deployed to assist with the elections, whilst a further 5.5 million civilians will be employed to manage the voting process.

Back to the extraordinary ordinary in Mysore.

As you may now be beginning to notice….Manjula is very much my touchstone and helps keeps my ‘ear to the ground’.

As these election for lok Sabah (parliament) are upon us, I’m reminded of last years Karnataka state elections. Manjula was on holiday. I was astonished to hear that her mother came back to Mysore a journey of some hours on an uncomfortable bus in order to place her vote. I was impressed. I thought back to my own studies in politics and the importance we gave to those who’d struggled to give us the vote. It was the sort of commitment that those who’d fought for the vote would have been proud. But you know, in India, nothing is as you’d expect.

Cary, a good friend of some six years, burst my reality bubble.

He explained that political parties pay people to vote for them. Manjula’s mum had travelled back to Mysore as she had been paid to vote for a particular party.

It also why we’ve found, over the last few weeks, checkpoints manned by police and election officials, popping up on many of the roads outside the city. Cars are stopped, searched and when found, large amounts of money or gifts that can’t be properly accounted for are confiscated as it’s assumed they are to be to be used as bribes.

It seems that it is a common practice, at least in state elections, to bribe the electorate to vote for a particular party and in manj’s mum’s case it was 500 Rs. A significant sum for this poor lady who might be lucky, when she found work, to get 200 Rs for a days work. I’m reliably informed there is no bribe money around for this national election.

Another more subtle technique, for state elections, is to promise gifts to the poorer sections of the community , sewing machines, cycles for school children etc and give them once elected, so it influences the vote and it’s paid from the coffers of the state government. Normal politics I suppose, we’re all part of that particular system.

Over dinner this evening, it’s a last supper as Manj goes on holiday (again!) tomorrow. Manj happened to mention that the pressing lady (she operates out of a hut down the road and presses our clothes with an enormous, heavy charcoal driven iron) had ‘earned’ 2,000 Rs by promising to vote for four different political parties in last year’s state elections. Hilarious.

So who has the last laugh?

The poor accept the money, conscientiously vote and press the buttons (they vote at electronic voting machines) for the party they’d wanted to vote for anyway.

People have to survive as best they can.

Half life finished

Manjula voted today for the first time in her life. A momentous occasion. Well done Manj!

Check the photo of Manj. Here’s the mark of the indelible ink on her thumb to prove she’s voted and can’t therefore vote a second time.


Of course, I’m not allowed to tell you her voting preference or her age but she received her very first voting ID just this week and declared that she’d got one at this late stage i.e. with ‘half life finished‘ so better late than never, eh?

We arrived by scooter 30 mins before the voting station was due to open, at the school close to where Manjula used to live. [Trumpets Blaring] We were waiting for her mother and father to join us. This was a serious family outing.


There were a few people hanging around, a lady selling milk at the corner and a foreigner (me). The first sign of official life was the arrival of the army. Punjabis who were down from Delhi. They and the Police begin by insisting that there was no selling or loitering (aka innocently hanging around), cars or two wheelers parked within 200 metres of the school. The lady selling bags of milk at the corner was clearly not happy but she had to go. I was obviously not loitering. I was however sitting on a bench on the corner well within the exclusion zone but as a foreigner I’d got my ‘get out of jail free/community chest card from Monopoly’ and as I’d bonded with the sergeant, so there was no issue. I was allowed to stay.


Manj went over to a scrum of people to check whether she was on the list and able to vote. She was, hooray! Her mum was less fortunate (and now I’ve hear that there were many other people like her) she had her card but was not on the official list. So unable to vote. Manj’s mum came round to the house later on. She had found her name on the list held by a man loitering 201 metres down the road so was able to vote. (Just don’t ask as I’ve no idea,, India is an enigma)


But why had it taken so long for Manj to be able to vote?

Who knows?

The fact that she hasn’t had an ID card of any description until very recently reveals such a lot. The world’s biggest democracy has some difficulties reaching all the communities to enable them to use their vote. Understandable in many ways. There are two thirds of 1.3 billion people eligible to vote.  A poor woman initially from a rural background is likely to find it most difficult.

Its especially difficult the poorer you are and in particular for women.

She now has Aadhaar card (general ID), BPL Card, Election card, and also very importantly another means of ID which is her bank account. So what does it reveal? Has something changed?

Something has changed in her life and in general.

People are now much more conscious of the need to get an ID card. They may need them to get a bank account which in turn will allow them access to benefits ranging from subsidised gas, health services and foodstuffs for those Below Poverty Line (BPL). The introduction of the Aadhaar, a general ID card, supposedly being issued to all the population has had a significant impact. Prior to this Manjula just had her school leaving certificate. A critical document for especially poor people but still not a lot of use.

It’s pretty clear (and shocking) that a woman’s official identity is linked with a man: father, husband, step father, employer. Ask Manj for her name and she doesn’t know what to say beyond Manjula. Her father died, she’s divorced from her husband, and mum remarried so not to put to fine a point on it… I’m now probably the most significant man in her life!!!

Manjula as ever, the ‘together’ woman that she is, has with her mum and step dad, got out there and asserted her rights.


I’ve tried to do my little bit. Hence she now has a bank account and regular payments of her monthly measly pay into her account. All of it contributes to helping her become more ‘official’ and who knows where that might lead? One day she might even get a passport and do some international travelling 😉

How can cycling grow in India?

Cycling is still seen by many in India as poor people’s activity. We are however seeing a slow but dramatic increase in cycling, particularly amongst young people. If this follows the trend seen elsewhere cycling will hopefully grow with more and more people from all sectors of society joining in. This will bring tremendous benefits for our personal health, the environment and the community in general. Yet as we see from this article the conditions for city cycling are getting worse and this disproportionately affects the poorer people in society. So what can we as keen cyclists do about it?

Sustainably Cycling


I moved to Mysore over four years ago and was pleased to discover that there was already some interest in leisure cycling. One of my early cycle trips organised by Sham Sunder, an inspirational guy, who is Director of National Institute of Engineering’s CREST also highlighted that Mysore had a significant movement in the use of sustainable technologies and organic farming. This was proving to be a very interesting place.


Golden Opportunity

The new companies act in India and the Responsible Business week in the UK are two of the many opportunities for businesses to stop, reflect and, I would hope, work towards being a more responsible company. It is of course a constant and continuing journey.

In this case, in my view, a business needs to look BP –  that is Beyond Philanthropy.

Philanthropy is undoubtedly a force for good and some of the real catalysts and facilitators such as Dasra, Innovaid or Centre for Responsible Business in India or Business in the Community in the UK are helping individuals and businesses look beyond the simple ‘crumbs off the table’ approach to philanthropy, to something much more strategic that can be scaled up and therefore make a significant difference on the social landscape. Well done to them, they’re doing a great job

Its important that philanthropy leads to investment in our communities that has a lasting effect but that isn’t enough. If our businesses in India or the UK or anywhere else for that matter stop there, at what is just a baby step, they are less likely to survive as a business. There are many mature companies that are leading in this field and in the future will thrive partly because they are already looking way beyond philanthropy and so are already doing much much more. Their stories are invaluable to help guide and support us all.

To go Beyond Philanthropy for a business, is to look at all aspects of their business and its behaviors, of course, recognising and responding first and foremost to what’s relevant to their own business and essentially understanding and interacting in a sensitive way to all their stakeholders. In my view its about aligning with the overall business strategy, gaining buy-in at all levels, developing a shared understanding, adopting a straightforward model and continually reviewing, adapting and changing.

I’m now developing (as well as spending sometime with corporates) my very small business here in India and its just as important for me to think about how I serve my customers, treat my employees, and grow my business in ways that are ultimately sustainable. Otherwise other people who are socially and economically excluded will be left behind in the headlong pursuit of economic growth  and if we’re not extremely sensitive I wonder what will be left of the world for us to support our living and for us to enjoy.

I hadn’t quite intended that would so quickly get into this subject but its been asked of me and I suppose its unsurprising now that I’ve just completed working in the field for fifteen years.


I’d value your view and if there is the interest could continue the conversation.