Mumbai: Getting Mumbaikars to vote is a tough job. Mumbai First wants to give it a try.

The city-based thinktank has signed up over a hundred Mumbai companies and educational institutions in its Vote4Mumbai campaign. Among them: ICICI Bank, JP Morgan India, Vodafone India, Multi Commodity Exchange, Paytm, and Maharashtra government’s Directorate of Arts.

In a video on the homepage of Mumbai First website, Anand Mahindra, chairman, Mahindra Group and a Mumbai resident, calls on fellow citizens to vote.

The campaign, backed by the state election commission, aims to persuade the city’s residents to vote in the 21 February election to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), India’s richest civic body with an annual budget of Rs37,000 crore. All six group companies of RPG Group have signed up for the campaign.

Mumbai’s voting numbers have always been pathetic, and even worse when it comes to BMC elections. In the last two BMC elections in 2012 and 2007, the turnout was 44.6% and 42%, respectively. In absolute terms, this means only 4.3 million and 3.8 million eligible voters turned up to vote.

The assembly and Lok Sabha election turnouts in 2014 were 55% and 51%, respectively. For comparison, the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 had a nationwide turnout of 66.4%.

“Close to 1 lakh corporate citizens have pledged to vote this time after we launched Vote4Mumbai campaign," says Shishir Joshi, chief executive officer, Mumbai First.

Since 1997, the BMC is ruled by Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party, with the latter as a junior partner. This time, the two are contesting separately for the 227 seats. A total of 2,271 candidates are in the fray.

Mumbai First has also approached reputed educational institutions with a sizeable strength of students who could be eligible voters. “I believe it is a very good initiative and should help improve Mumbai’s voting percentage which has been very low. Be it individuals, associations, or companies, everybody should try creative and innovative ways to get citizens to vote and take part in the process," State Election Commissioner J.S. Saharia said.

One of the theme slogans for the Mumbai First Vote4Mumbai campaign is “Vote Kar Ya Crib kar, Vote Kar Mumbaikar" (Vote or Crib, Do Vote Mumbai Citizen).

“The Election Commissioner was very excited and wondered why no one had thought about this before. The companies also immediately came on board," Joshi says. He agrees that similar appeals have been made independently by the Election Commission and some companies before at the time of elections.

“But the key differentiator this time around is that the company heads have issued a kind of informal diktat to their employees asking them to vote and show that they have voted. If an Anand Mahindra tells his employees to vote and show that they have voted, it does make a lot of difference," Joshi adds. Mahindra was one of the first to sign up, Joshi said. If in the past, such appeals resulted in 2 out of 10 employees actually voting, the probability of compliance was 7 out of 10 this time, he said.

“We are happy to support the Vote4Mumbai initiative. Elections are the core of a vibrant democracy. As a conscientious corporate, we are encouraging all eligible employees to exercise their right to vote and fulfil their constitutional responsibility as a citizen," said Vodafone India managing director and CEO Sunil Sood. Vodafone has around 1,500 employees in Mumbai and the company is engaged in an internal communications programme to raise awareness about elections.

Rajiv Mishra, director of Maharashtra’s Directorate of Arts, said the students are being asked to vote. “We will also tell the teachers to check if the students have voted or not. We have told the students to take pictures when they turn out to vote and upload their pictures on social media. We want the students to understand the value of their vote and their constitutional responsibility to vote and take part in the democratic process," Mishra said.

Mrugank Paranjape, managing director and CEO of MCX, said the exchange had about 385 employees of which 200 are eligible to vote. “We have sent out an email to all employees asking them to vote. On the day of the voting, we have also allowed for flexible timings and we will keep a desk where employees can report if they have voted or not. The essence of participative democracy is taking part in the most basic of democratic exercises which is voting and at MCX we are trying to sensitize our staff to this democratic duty," Paranjape said.

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