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No one to speak for this city

Once again,Karnataka’s election was at cross-purposes with the national vote

Written by Saritha Rai |
May 19, 2009 11:17:44 pm

Yet another election has drawn to a close this past weekend and India has a brand new government. For Bangalore,India’s technology hub,its modern face,its brand in the outside world,a familiar story is unfolding.

Not for the first time,Bangalore (and Karnataka) finds itself at complete odds with the national voting trends. The city has been swept by the Bharatiya Janata Party whereas Congress Party-led UPA alliance has won an equally one-sided victory in many states and will rule the country.

So even as a huge deficiency of infrastructure slowly crushes the city and a faltering economy simultaneously skims off jobs across many sectors,Bangalore’s citizens are ruing their political luck. Many attribute the city’s many developmental challenges to Bangalore’s (and Karnataka’s) dysfunctional voting pattern. For decades,it is almost a predictable theme — Bangalore votes one way while India votes another.

In this very election,contrast Bangalore with Delhi which overwhelmingly voted for the Congress,Kolkata where the Trinamool-Congress UPA alliance prevailed,Mumbai where the NCP-Congress UPA alliance won and Chennai where the UPA partner DMK triumphed. “Once again,it appears that we will have nobody to represent Bangalore’s agenda to New Delhi in a clear way,” says Rajeev Gowda,a professor at IIM Bangalore whose aspirations for a Congress Party ticket in South Bangalore were thwarted.

While politicians like Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and successive chief ministers in Tamil Nadu whether J. Jayalalithaa or M Karunanidhi have extracted maximum benefit from aligning and negotiating with Delhi and extracting portfolios and resources,“Bangalore and Karnataka are losing out because of the mismatch,” says Gowda.

So even though Bangalore — which has been on the wrong side of the grouping for several times in a row — has a new set of elected representatives,expectations are muted. “I’m frustrated by any lack of vision or map to develop Bangalore,” says Prosenjit Purkayastha,the Bangalore-based CFO of California-headquartered engineering services firm,QuEST Global. None of its elected representatives seem to have chalked out any achievable targets to solve the infrastructure challenges,says Purkayastha who has lived and worked in Mumbai,New Delhi and Kolkata,and moved to Bangalore two years ago. “I feel let down.”

For long,Bangalore has been the genial face of a new India. Compared with crumbling,slum-ridden cities like Kolkota and Mumbai,the city has been celebrated for its weather and its urbane appeal. But today it is being stifled by its narrow,traffic-clogged streets. There are no signs of let up as migrants continue to swarm into the city which stands at the cusp of three of the four southern states. In the last two decades,its population is close to doubling from 4.13 million in 1991.

Bangalore’s out-of-sync voting has widened the gap in thinking between the city and Delhi,citizens feel. The variance has hit funding and clearances for mega-city projects whether the peripheral road systems,or the international airport (which took off after much delay) or the metro rail project which is tottering along currently.

Following last year’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai and risk perceptions in Bangalore,even a central security force to guard its businesses and technology companies arrived after a major holdup.

Bangalore is India’s foremost high-tech region accounting for over a third of the country’s total software exports and three-quarters of a million jobs,says NR Narayana Murthy,co-founder and chief mentor of Infosys Technologies. “Nobody can afford to ignore Bangalore,” he says. It is up to Bangalore’s representatives to marshal their arguments and convey the city’s wants and needs. “If we do not communicate,we will lose,” says Murthy.

The city’s growing discontent over its water and power supply,sewers and public transport systems has been largely ignored by its politicians. Perhaps the depleted expectations explain Bangalore’s poor voter turnout (45 percent) compared with the national average of 60 per cent. India cannot let Bangalore slip low on its priority list,says Veena Sonwalkar,user experience designer at outsourcing firm MindTree. “When people talk of India,they are thinking Bangalore,” says Sonwalkar,“How can India neglect its own future?”

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

This is the first of a fortnightly column

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