Mumbai Votes

Quick Look

Mumbai Votes tracks politicians and political parties, comparing their promises to performance in order to better inform voters.

Beginning Date: 
January 3, 2004
Annual Budget 2008: 
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 


Size doesn't matter:

Democracies, no matter what their size, need to strive to be better and more successful. From India to anywhere else in the world, the philosophy and framework must aspire toward just that. Holding our elected representatives accountable is the only way to usher an era of good governance.

As Vivek Gilani, the founder of Mumbai Votes puts it: “When I was eligible to vote for the first time in my life, I became palpably aware of the fact that my nation, starting with my family and city, were riddled with this problem of blind voting! I saw people I respected around me, people I thought were intelligent, my role models - my parents, teachers etc., were casting their most important vote, their most fundamental right in engaging with democracy, in an atmosphere of blindness and lack of information. There was voting happening on the basis of perception, opinion, gossip and crude parameters, such as personal charisma! It became very clear, that all the deficiencies and maladies that our democracy was encountering, eventually stemmed from the very act of blind voting. I knew that had to change, and I vowed to myself that the next time I voted (in 2002), I will ensure that my vote is the most informed vote I have ever cast in my life.”

Gilani’s idea started from there:

To start a base for collecting information about the performance of elected representatives once they have come into power, and to make a very clear assessment of whether they merit votes again, or if one needs to re-consider for the next election. The process - incentivising progressive politics in our region.

Gilani says that, in a project like his, there are two cycles consequently at play: First, during the election cycle when they provide detailed coverage of candidates, and second, after an official is elected to evaluate how he or she delivers on campaign promises.

Mumbai Votes hopes to achieve authority status by declaring to political authorities and potential aspirants that there is a forum and archive where every transaction, vote, and act in the public arena is recorded for posterity. The goal is to incentivise good politics and decent political behavior by creating a constant reminder of citizen-led supervision and accountability.


You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Date of Audio: 
February 5, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

I think, if it gets to the point that this information really starts hurting the political establishment, there can be certain obstacles. It has been seen as a nascent but important enough threat to them to raise an alarm. The mere act of just shining the light upon their incompetence in some cases has great ramifications on their political future. There has been a certain sense of defensiveness that has become palpable. They realize how transparent this movement is. It is currently seen as a threat to them, rather than an opportunity to showcase their capability of providing the kind of legislation that the city demands. Because of that perception of theirs, it becomes difficult to get a constant stream of video-interviews or appointments on time.

And another obstacle would be if they threaten or harm any of our volunteers or me! Not that it will deter us, but that would make college students think twice before they get on board.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

There is only one plan - the INDIAN RAILWAYS!(laughs) I didn’t get here to escape, but there are political ramifications. However, what is equally true is that the hurt sentiments are also temporary. I don’t think a lot of politicians would act upon their impulsive feelings of momentary anger at Mumbai Votes if it prevented them from getting elected. But, how can one really guard against somebody really becoming vicious, and doing something hostile - how can somebody really stop that? I don’t really have any plan to overcome that.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

It is aiming to overcome the problem of a lack of clear information being communicated from the political establishment to the citizens regarding what they have done to address the campaign promises that were made before the elections. That brings in the need to be informed, so any individual can assess what his/her elected representative is doing/or has done on the job that they vie for with such fervor during elections. Are they doing justice to the vote that was cast in their favor?

What are the roots of that problem?: 

When information can tarnish reputations, and lay threadbare, the incompetence of politicians into the public domain, there can be severe repercussions on the future of those who have been incompetent. There has been a throttling of information - an invisible nexus between the political establishment and the election commission where both seem to be working in unison to ensure that, prior to election, there isn’t adequate time to research your candidate, thereby making a smooth launchpad for politicians, who do not truly deserve to get votes.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

Well, because I didn’t think anybody else was going to do it!

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

Partly, yes. The government certainly should provide a part of this information. But, it’s like the function of journalism – this information can never really be fulfilled by insiders. An unbiased citizen-based body needs to exist, irrespective of the information that the government provides you. I think that scrutiny is essential and should persist, even in the presence of an official channel of information. But I do believe that we are doing the government’s job. We are unearthing public information, or information that should be clearly available in the public domain. This information needs to be intricately carved out from their vast repository, such as, the parliament’s website, which does exist in the public domain but it's so unwieldy! It’s almost designed for you to be unable to go through! Even if you go through it, you might not come back out alive. The information is so labyrinthine. It is incredible.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

It severely destabilizes the status quo. There is a lot of incompetence and lack of clear thinking among our elected representatives, and that would become explicitly clear if this information were to get out. That is what they are trying to withhold. They will not have a clear platform for playing identity politics and politics of other kinds, which in my opinion don’t have much merit. But they continue thriving on those issues by suppressing and subverting the true developmental issues that should be highlighted. It’s comfortable this way for them.

Is there a right to information law in the country where this project is based?: 
How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

It turns into offline change by the mere act of the people, who now go to vote – they don’t throw a dart in the dark and walk out nibbling their nails, wondering if they voted for the right person. It’s direct offline change, as it results in offline voting. It also provides fodder for good conversation among peers, be it at the work place, in the college canteen or the family living room. What it then does is start creating a sense of entitlement, a sense of being a deserving citizen, where you start demanding this kind of information. It raises the quality of governance, which we feel we are entitled to, and feel we deserve. It brings up the whole idea of quality in a very important aspect of our lives.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

One thing about an activity or an endeavor such as this is, you might not have a way of assessing why things are changing even when you see change happen, though there can always be hypotheses. There can be a correlation between what we are doing and the tangible change that we see in the outside world. I don’t think I can unequivocally establish a cause and effect relationship - I can just look at correlations and say, for instance, in the last two elections that we have covered, we have made it very easy to unearth the pending criminal case records of every candidate and elected representative in Mumbai, along with analyzing it, using a scale of gravity of punishment for various offences that they might have been charged for. That makes it very clear for a person to understand the criminal propensity of a candidate or a sitting representative, and to see to it. They didn’t get voted into power the next time. This could be because of the information that Mumbai Votes put out, or there might be other factors working as well.

But, there definitely has been a trend of lower percentages of candidates with criminal records getting elected into power. Also, social movements trying to address low voter turnout have diagnosed the problem as one of voter registration - where registration system is very unwieldy, bureaucratic and sluggish, discouraging people from registering to vote. This has been their assumption. Based on the feedback that I get from the users of Mumbai Votes, I have sensed a very tangible impact. Actually, a lot of them weren’t voting, not because they didn’t have a voter ID card or weren’t registered, but rather because they felt that their vote was meaningless and wasn’t going to tilt the scales in any favor. There was a belief that the same caliber of politicians would keep returning and, besides, they didn't know who the candidates were. There is no such excuse for voters anymore. They can now vote with information. And that has - even though the numbers don’t bear it - propped up the voter turnout in Mumbai.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

For the last one year, it has been 50-60 hours, at least. But the idea now, is to create a self-sustaining structure, where I divulge a little control and let Mumbai Votes out of my very closely guarded control, because I feel that its essence will get mutilated the moment it leaves the very tight control of my hands. I haven’t allowed anybody to touch the philosophy of Mumbai Votes.
You can say, paradoxically that there isn’t complete democracy within Mumbai Votes. I don’t want to let that remain a defining feature. I am looking to build a management structure around it where people who have understood what Mumbai Votes’ core purpose of existence is take on a more managerial role. They will take on the entire research, analysis and communication areas of the project. I expect to reduce my number of hours to 15-20 hours a week.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

Around 10-12 hours a week, on a sustained basis.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

By far, conducting video interviews of elected representatives and making appointments to conduct these interviews has been the most time consuming task. Researching the coverage of newspapers that don't have their contents archived online has been another one. We have not given up on newspapers that aren't archived online. Very pertinent information about very local issues is found only in such papers. Photographing the articles, going to the locations where these archives are, and unearthing this information is very time consuming.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

All the data that we collect, is used to establish a baseline of an elected representative’s own-stated position about various issues. Every newspaper article that appears about every MP, MLA or Corporator, which defines that person’s or party’s position on various political and public issues is used as the baseline for assessing their campaign promises versus their actual performance - what we call "consistency vs inconsistency." Every statement adds to the baseline and is also used to assess whether it is consistent with the baseline or not. It is a constantly evolving baseline, which includes the manifestos, the annual interviews that are conducted, etc. Our assessment is directly done from extracts of the reportage that we do, through our video interviews and other content analyses. We actually do coding, conduct inter-code reliability processes, and ensure that our coding procedure is worthy, and numbers resulting from it are truly meaningful.

We have a team of MBA students, who are developing a social media marketing strategy, where Mumbai Votes can publish a semi-annual analytical report. These reports will then be circulated among citizens and organizations all over Mumbai, through channels like Karmyog and umbrella NGOs like the Association for Democratic Reform, AGNI, and others. We want to make this content available to everyone, and hopefully start a tradition of an annual MP, MLA and corporator debate, which are filmed and possibly disseminated through podcast. The elected representatives will be presented with this analysis. It will become the fulcrum for an intelligent debate about what our assessment of their last years performance has been, and build from there, a roadmap for the forthcoming year.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

There is no login module right now, so we can’t identify. Another option could have been a blog, but I am very clear that Mumbai Votes will never have a blog, where people can voice their views about politicians and political issues. That was exactly the genesis of Mumbai Votes - there are so many opinions in our politics but not enough clear and crisp assessment. We don’t seek to have two-way conversation with the users of Mumbai Votes but with our elected representatives.

Our processes and methodology are up for debate though, and the users can help us improve.

How do you attract new participants?: 

In the past we have relied on a lot of gratis support from media institutions who have very generously projected or published our videos and content on their screens all over Mumbai.

  • There is a group called, ‘Out of Home’ (OOH) Media that has given us a lot of guided support.
  • There have been radio stations that have, completely free of charge, spread the word about Mumbai Votes.
  • In addition, we do a lot of person-to-person marketing, where our entire team descends on the streets, promenades and coffee shops of Mumbai, and we engage people on a one-to-one basis. We especially do this prior to elections by just posing a very simple questionL ‘Excuse me, are you going to vote in the upcoming election?’ Just a conversation! That quality of contact is so good that they then become ambassadors of Mumbai Votes in their Housing Societies.
  • And yes, one very important channel to attract new users is, Jaagore-Janaagraha. They have been a very big supporter of Mumbai Votes. They have a database of over 130,000 registrants. We have been using their channels as well to tell people about the available quality of information on Mumbai Votes, and to give them regular updates.
What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

I think that Janaagraha has certainly been very effective. After t26/11 (the November 2006 terror attacks in Mumbai), there was a lot of interest generated in civic participation and democracy, though all the interest proved to be very temporary!. At that time, there were a lot of TV stations and newspapers covering Mumbai Votes. Every time a newspaper would write something about us, there would be a direct impact the next day – more than 4000 people would visit the website. Those were surges, of course! After that, there has been a more sustained kind of audience for Mumbai Votes. It has achieved a credible mass and the word-of-mouth is spreading.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

For volunteers (mostly journalism students), it encourages them to apply a lot of the theories and principles, which they learn in their journalism programs about how to do social science research: how you read for opinion-based sentences in news reportage, how you use news articles as sources which very often have a bias/slant as material for conducting an unbiased assessment. So, it helps them practice these principles. It leads them to learn to think critically, and to become self-sufficient individuals. It is an incentive for a lot of people, who are about to step into the workforce and are required to perform very complex tasks of management and critical thinking.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

We look for students who have done political/social science research to do the coding of media coverage.

We need people who can edit videos, understand technology really well, people who understand web design and IT management. Those are some of the core skills. It is a completely diffused project that does not requiring complex software. We have people working in different parts of the city and we use Google Docs to update information and give instructions to each other. So those skills - and, yes, we also need good communication skills, people who can write things that are not just ‘text messages’! It is hard to get people like that, though. I have to tell people several times, that life is not a long text message!

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

We have been blessed with quite a few individuals in Mumbai who, after the 26/11 attacks, decided to come forward with support. I don’t know how they got to know about Mumbai Votes - maybe through chain e-mails. They came forward and decided to fund this with their personal funds. That has been quite an adequate model till now. As long as the funds come with no strings attached, and with a clear understanding that it is only going to be used for running the cost of Mumbai Votes. We want to continue with individuals who resonate with this idea and the activity.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

We work with Janaagraha, AGNI, a very important group - Parliament Research Services, in Delhi, an individual/project in Bangalore, called Project Clean Up, and with Vivek Shangari and Karmayog. In addition to this we also work with academic institutions like Mumbai University and several colleges with journalism and management programmes.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

Yes. We have developed some tools.

  • Basically, an offline version of Mumbai Votes… We have developed this ‘Mumbai Voters Guide’, which we put out before the General Assembly elections. It is almost like a telephone directory of your candidates, with profiles of them - their political background, legislative records, transcripts of their video interviews, etc.
  • We are also on the verge of developing education tools, which is basically to demystify the legislative bills that will be up for debate in parliament, and the basic principles of the constitution of India. These have a direct impact on our life, and we want to convert them into video content, which we would like to disseminate through viral networks like YouTube to make them meaningful instead of just abstract concepts.
  • In the future, we want to have a mobile phone application, where you can ping the website for data on your elected representative.
  • We are also trying to pursue a project with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Powai/Chennai – to do optical character recognition of regional language newspapers, so that instead of photographing the regional language newspapers the idea is to develop a tool that can scan it, and the software will automatically identify articles and classify them under various categories. Right now, it seems to be too daunting, even for the people at IIT.
Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

No. They have heard of it, but I don’t think that there has been any official communication.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

I do believe that the current obstacles are related to the archives of information of our media institutions - that certainly needs to be improved. Most respectable journalistic institutions have very interesting and interactive archives, but I know that there cannot be a law, that says, all newspapers must have excellent, searchable archives,.

Also, the whole fair use clause of the International Copyright Act needs to be upheld. There needs to be greater freedom to use newspaper articles for the purpose of research. There have been cases where you ask people to use their archive and they wouldn’t allow it. Before, we took a lot of content from a newspaper, then there was lot of resistance and they insisted that we pay a certain exorbitant fee for every news story we take even though we don’t intend to sell them, and just want to use them for research and to display them on our website. That can really be a great hindrance for a movement of this sort, because, nobody has that kind of budget.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

Not replication, but there was this one website that came up called 'Maharashtra Votes' a few months ago, which also had the same color scheme as our website, and a very similar logo. It seems like it was a front for some political party - you can almost figure that out. They were trying to pass it off as unbiased information.

There has been a lot of interest from cities such as Delhi and Bangalore. There is a group in Bangalore called Smart Vote. They also look to provide information – just about candidates during elections. After the general assembly elections we actually met them in Bangalore and they were keen to adopt some of our practices in Mumbai Votes like incorporating the whole student and academic engagement model, having a reliable stream of volunteers and interns, etc. There also have been students from Delhi University, who want to build something like Delhi Votes.

What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

Karmayog! - there is nothing like Karmyog in this entire city. It is an incredible portal that connects citizen energy with NGO vision. Any person in Mumbai can go beyond the narrow confines of a 9 to 5 life, and really contribute. They are also coming up with this "empower movement," where any citizen with a mobile phone can report on a civic issue, as they see it happen. It will build probably the most comprehensive database of civic complaints, which is a very essential thing, even for Mumbai Votes.

If someone gave you $10,000 how would you use the money?: 

I would develop a tool - a scanner, where every piece of news information that comes to our doorstep everyday is automatically scanned, and the tool, in a very efficient and smart manner, uploads the information to Mumbai Votes - so that the mundane work of mining this information from the internet or hardcopy newspapers gets resolved. We can move to investing in the more challenging social science analysis that we really want to do.

If someone gave you $100,000 how would you use the money?: 

I certainly would like to hire a lot of these students as interns, who get paid a decent stipend. I also want to develop a control center, or a space where a lot of our volunteers and researchers can use the Internet and IT resources. We can create something like a nerve center, a mini institute, where research work can happen in a consolidated manner.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

We do not want to become a body, where only professionals work, because the essence of this movement is that we are all citizens who have empowered ourselves. 2010 and 2011 is to solidify the research and analysis mechanism for Mumbai Votes and to create a comprehensive protocol for the Promises Vs Performance analysis for MPs and MLAs - enhancing it from now on, and trying to build in these smart tools for doing our ground research - our basic research.


interesting and useful project

This is a great project which help holding the MPs to be accountable.
It is worth to share as a model to blogosphere and encourage for more public participation to this net.

Regarding the obstacles, Gilani, the founder, need to be persistent in maintaining its independent role/analysis in order that MPs and public's trust is strengthened. Beside the research/evaluation methodology that Mumbai Votes is currently employing, a great public participation tool should be incorporated. For example, public pool or online survey where public can voice their opinion. This will give more visibility about the Mumbai vote and also encourage public to visit this page.

Generally, i like this project idea where MPs is watched for their promise to be put into action.

Thank you for your

Thank you for your observations about Public Participation through online polls etc. We have recently commenced a Social Media Communication wing which will specifically address this critical function of galvanizing public opinion and keeping them riveted to the idea throughout the elected term - to stay vigilant and and track performance regularly and not just during election periods!

A commendable initiative

As I see it, the project aims to fulfill 2 need areas, both of which are very important and relevant for civic engagement in the political process.

1) Be a one-window information resource about Mumbai's political candidates and elected representatives so that they can make an informed voting choice and

2) Push for greater accountability among the elected representatives, by tracking and stacking promises against an actual performance index and making that information public. This Promise versus Performance Index is indeed an innovative strategy for gauging accountability.

The methodology followed appears to be detailed and the data well-researched and objective. However, the presentation of the data could perhaps be a bit more user-friendly. While the option of being able to compare candidates on various parameters using a visual mnemonic is very useful, the numerous flags took a while to get used to. When it came to individual candidates, I found the presentation format used by to be somewhat simpler and more user-friendly.

Given that the scope of the project is pretty ambitious (given the large number of politicians it aims to track, with limited resources), perhaps some form of crowd-sourcing of information could be considered to get many more hands on board to contribute to the data collection process. Then the internal team could of course follow their filtering & validating process so that the final output is not compromised.

Another small suggestion. It would be nice to have English subtitles on the videos. By the way, is there likely to be a Hindi/Marathi version of the portal too, in the near future?

The project is already collaborating with many other civil society organizations. Maybe a little more visibility on the ground would help towards furthering awareness about the project. The printed Voter's Guide from Mumbai Votes as well as the proposed mobile application (hopefully SMS-based) both seem to be steps in the right direction.

Sharing data

Thanks for pointing us to Aparna. Both projects are pieces to a larger puzzle, but it would be nice if they shared data so that readers have a more comprehensive overview of the performance, risks, and potential biases of their elected officials.

Check out

Hi Vivek - we need more ppl like you in this country. It's a commendable initiative and we cud use more such projects.

Aparna, check out and you'll be amazed to see what this guy is building. Vivek - i hope this is the same Vivek Shangari from Bangalore you are referring to in your interview?

I am from Bangalore and I heard about this project from a techie friend of mine in LokSatta party. vivek shangari is a well known figure in the techie circle for his programming skills and rumors are abuzz that he is using some high-fundu artificial intelligence technology for this project.

When r u ppl completing this project? is there any way i n my friends can help you? how can i get in touch with u?

I checked out

I checked out,, and - while Mumbai Votes and Praja are working, Project Clean Up hosts only non-working mockups, but the presentation of data here is definitely the best. It is easy to understand and at the same time looks very beautiful. Also, the functionality & analytics shown in these mockups are a level above from all the other projects of similar nature. I hope Mr. Vivek Shangari is successful in developing this.

As David says in his post - it would be nice if all of you combined your project into one and share your data. It will make life much easier for the user if everything is under the same roof.

I wish you and Mr. Vivek Shangari and everyone else involved in such projects - all the best. Abhinav if you manage to get the contact information please pass it on. I too would like to contribute in any way I can.

Dear Abhinav, my apologies

Dear Abhinav,
my apologies for not having seen your reply offering to help! thats certainly possible. Kindly email at and confirm if you're still keep on helping out. We're on the verge of launching Bangalore operations.

These are wonderfully

These are wonderfully prescient ideas Arpana. We are resource-constrained in terms of better presentation, but it is certainly uppermost on our priority list. Over time we will present information more intuitively.
I think crowd-sourcing will not work here since the degree of training required to do the research is non-trivial and clean-up of inaccurate data and information could be as intensive as primary data gathering.
Once we have the web-design and coding resources in place, there are plans to publish this in hindi and marathi versions as well. Its importance is certainly understood and being paid heed to.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <pre>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options