It was in Koramangala that Smartvote, a movement to improve citizens’ civic engagement, began as a door-to-door initiative

For six months beginning in November 2009, Mira Pinto’s Sundays were filled with an unusual amount of activity. She would typically get to a meeting-place in the Koramangala area, along with several fellow residents. They would divide themselves up into groups and get down to work, which involved walking from house to house in the area and convincing people to register themselves to vote for the upcoming BBMP elections.

This buzz of activity was part of Smartvote, an initiative to improve citizens’ civic engagement through simple targets such as increased voter turnout.

While Smartvote has expanded its activities to the rest of the city over the years, it was in Koramangala, in 2009, that Smartvote began as a localised, door-to-door initiative started by Prithvi Reddy.

With the heft of a local Residents’ Welfare Association behind him, Prithvi Reddy decided to improve the Koramangala residents’ voter turnout.

For six months, groups of four or five would go on rounds of the houses in the Koramangala area, knock on doors and make their case.

Sometimes, the slow trickle of going from door-to-door was too inefficient, and so they would stop at community centres such as the Seva Sadan church, where at one shot they would get many registrations.

Smartvote has simple goals aimed essentially at increased engagement with the electoral process. Some of their logistical goals were easily achieved — providing an online searchable database of registered voters, for instance, and educating people about the role of the BBMP and the local corporator.

A success

“The campaign went very well,” recalls Prithvi, who is now the Karnataka coordinator for India Against Corruption. The group even set up a call centre where people could check if their names were on the list.

“We received 23,000 calls over the last two days. I remember we had an 81-year-old woman come up and vote — she had been waiting to find out if her name was on the list or not,” he says.

Their more ambitious goals — such as holding a public debate and generating a citizens’ candidate — weren’t as easily achieved.

Holiday spirit

Reggie Thomas, a retired citizen who has lived in Koramangala since 1974, recalls that they would meet every Sunday and on holidays outside the Koramangala Club, for instance. “We would distribute pamphlets, create awareness on a corporator for the ward,” he says.

It all had to be done with a bit of tact, of course. Not everyone took kindly to having a group of strangers knock on their door.

Groups would be carefully constituted of equal proportions men and women. The women would go first, strike up a conversation. Once they determined that they had a willing listener, the rest of the group would join in.

‘Real community bonding’

Sometimes, recalls Mira, they would reach the home of an elderly couple who had been instructed not to open the door. “We would talk through the doors, explain what we were there for,” she says.

“It was all great fun,” says Reggie. “We got to know new people, have some real community bonding.”