A dynamic city deserves a charismatic and inspiring mayor! (Will we ever get one?)
Can you name the last three mayors of your city? Do you know their achievements during their tenure? Did we even get to ask them what they have achieved? Have you come across the interview of your mayor in the local media? We hardly know the mayors of our cities and what they set out to achieve. However, the mayors of various cities across the world are reaching new heights on their charismatic leadership and leading the urban development initiative in their cities. This is for them to elevate to national-level politics after becoming the mayor of an important city. But, quite an opposite turn is taking place in India’s urban politics. The last ten mayors in the city – whether from BJP or Congress – did not make to state-level politics or held an important public office after their tenure as a mayor. The position of mayor in our cities is a ceremonial position in our cities without any real political power.
Many cities have the Mayor-in-Council kind of system where the Mayor has full authority and ultimate political and financial autonomy in his city. In India, we do not have such a system. Our cities are indirectly governed by state governments and do not enjoy full political or financial autonomy even after the 74th constitutional amendment act. Most urban projects would have to pass through the scrutiny of the state officials and politicians. But it is still possible for a mayor to have a decisive role and vision and forge a partnership for development with the municipal commissioner and the standing committee chairman. The successful mayors around the world are punching above their own weights. Cities like New York and London have famous mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Boris Johnson respectively, who managed to implement many successful and people-centric projects in their city. For successful politicians, it is always ‘people first’ and not ‘friends first’.
In many developing cities, a positive turn in urban politics is being lead by their mayors. Tri Rishmaharini is the first female mayor of Surabaya in Indonesia. She is a trained architect with a masters’ degree in urban management and with a work experience of 20 years in government agencies. She decided to make the most of public open spaces and empty lands. In a short time span of three-four years, she managed to develop 11 parks with full WiFi access, libraries, fitness and sports facilities. Similarly, Enrique Penelosa who was recently re-elected in Bogota, Colombia had a track record of developing a new public transport system, building public libraries, giving space to the street-hawkers and building sidewalks. Similarly, Lee Myung-bak was the mayor of Seoul before he became the president of South Korea between 2008 and 2013.
From Bogota to Surabaya, the city-level politicians have turned adversities into advantages for their cities. Our cities have their own dynamism of local culture and businesses, and are bustling with indigenous entrepreneurs. The results of the local body elections are due in Gujarat and it is the right time to hope for a dynamic mayor in your town!
(30th November, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)