How will Bengaluru vote this time? In 2014, all the three city constituencies; Bangalore South, Bangalore Central and Bangalore North went the BJP way with margins of more than one lakh votes. In Bangalore South and North, the margin of victory was more than two lakh votes.
Bengaluru is the fastest growing city in the country, with its population doubling decade after decade. Bursting at its seams, the city is facing the worst of urban nightmares with large number of vehicles, traffic jams, poor road infrastructure and attendant pollution. Poor garbage collection and uncontrolled sewage have led to the phenomenon of ‘fuming and burning’ lakes.
On the other side, Bengaluru is also perhaps the only place where secular and non-partisan civic organisations have led movements opposing large urban projects like steel flyovers and arterial roads. They have also led relatively successful initiatives towards transparency and accountability. A huge tech-savvy population, restless, idealistic and the hub of civic innovation should ideally be hungry for a political outlet to their aspirations. It is also the city where new forms of political funding were experimented with initiatives like the Bangalore Political Action Committee. However, the political class had been tough to influence, and without substantial voting power or enormous nuisance value, most of this transparency activism is either ignored or sidestepped.
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Looking at how the city had treated its independents or activist candidates does not give much hope. In 2014, Balakrishnan, former CFO of Infosys and an AAP candidate got a mere 39,000 votes from Bangalore Central. Gopinath, the founder of Air Deccan, lost the 2009 elections and could get only 16,000 votes in a parliamentary constituency against Ananth Kumar. Renuka Vishwanathan, a retired IAS officer contesting on the AAP ticket got a mere 2600 odd votes in the Shanti Nagar assembly constituency in the 2018 election. Babu Mathew, a law professor and activist contesting on behalf of the AAP in Bangalore North just got less than 30,000 votes. But those who sailed with the mainstream parties did much better. H T Sangliana, from Mizoram, the no-nonsense cop who retired as DGP of Karnataka, won the Bengaluru North constituency on a BJP ticket. He later shifted to the Congress and lost the seat. Though he was lionised in Kannada movies, he never tested the waters as an independent. Makes sense.
In this election, there is Modi-BJP vote, a Congress plus minority vote and a general anti-establishment vote. JD(S) is a significant factor in an assembly or a local body election, but it fades away in Bengaluru during a national vote.
Let us look at the three constituencies.
It is now in the news because of the selection of Tejasvi Surya as the BJP MP candidate ignoring the claims of Ms Tejaswini, wife of Ananth Kumar. Tejaswini has an identity of her own as a former ABVP activist, campaign manager for Ananth Kumar and is deeply involved in non-profits working in the field of education. The rejection of her claims by the BJP high command has shocked the local cadres and the state leadership.
Ananth Kumar for his part has won six times from Bangalore South. And he has once (1999) defeated the same B K Hariprasad who is contesting now as a Congress candidate. The only time Ananth Kumar seemed to struggle was in 2009 when he faced Krishna Byre Gowda to win by a margin of just 37,000 votes. However, he regained his composure in 2014 and defeated Nandan Nilekani of Infosys fame by a margin of more than 2.2 lakh votes.
Hariprasad of Congress, who is a Rajya Sabha member, is not new to the constituency and is a staunch loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family. He had been active in the Congress since his college days. But now, he appears less combative on ground though he makes it up with controversial statements. He called Pulwama incident a ‘match-fixing’ between Modi and Imran Khan. Not sure if it is going to pay any electoral dividends. Krishna Byre Gowda of Congress might have given the BJP a run for its money, but he is contesting from Bangalore North.
The constituency has a fairly large Brahmin voter base and BJP-minded Vokkaliga voters. Of the eight assembly constituencies, five are with the BJP. Though there might be dissidence amongst a section of the BJP cadres, one is not sure how much of it is affecting the BJP voter. It remains to be seen if dissidents take their battle to a new level through whisper campaigns and active sabotage. As of now, it does not appear to be the case. Despite controversies, Tejasvi should sail through.
Film actor and activist Prakash Raj is contesting as an independent from Bangalore Central with the support of AAP. AAP has a motley cadre in the constituency, and even in 2014, their candidate got less than 40,000 votes. However, Prakash Raj is immensely popular with Tamil and Telugu audiences, much more than he is with Kannada film viewers. In Telugu and Tamil he is a blockbuster villain and character artiste, and there are a substantial number of Tamil and Telugu speaking voters in this constituency.
He has been an outspoken critic of the Modi government, and there is a nod among the voters for his sincerity and his willingness to stick his neck out and stand by whatever he says. However, it remains to be seen if he is able to get his message across in a polarised election and in a polarised constituency.
Bangalore Central apart a substantial presence of Tamil and Telugu speakers, also has a large minority vote. Of the eight assembly constituencies in this segment, five are with Congress and three with the BJP. Of the five Congress MLAs; three of them are Muslims and one of them is a Christian.
The constituency is also home to the IT hub of the city, and includes large number of voters employed in IT sector and also pockets or voters from the north and the neighbouring states who work in these companies.
In 2014, BJP candidate P C Mohan defeated a youthful Rizwan Irshad of the Congress with a margin of 1,30,000 votes. V. Balakrishnan, former CFO of Infosys who contested on the AAP ticket got a mere 39,000 votes. Rizwan was a youth Congress nominee and was not liked by the bigwigs then.
The constituency was formed only in 2008 and even in the elections of 2009 the BJP candidate P C Mohan had romped home contesting against H T Sangliana; a Karnataka super cop who then had a larger than life image. But with Sangliana the margin was much less, a mere 35,000. A Janata Dal (S) candidate Zameer Ahmed had played the spoiler for Sangliana as he got around 1.6 lakh votes and ate into the secular vote.
This time the ‘secular’ vote is with Rizwan, and he has found a larger acceptance within the party and the general public. The question is whether Prakash Raj with his profile, campaign and theme is eating into the anti-incumbency votes in the constituency. It appears to be so, and the more his campaign finds resonance, the more it might hurt the chances of Rizwan of Congress.
The contest in Bangalore North is between BJP Union Minister Sadananda Gowda and Congress state minister Krisa Byre Gowhnda. Sadananda Gowda a former chief minister of Karnataka and a former state BJP president has really not stuck roots in this constituency. He is from Dakshina Kannada district and had contested earlier from Mangalore and then from Udipi. Krishna Byre Gowda is a minister and an MLA representing a constituency in Bangalore North. Of the eight assembly constituencies in this segment, Congress has won from five, alliance partner JD (S) from two and the BJP has a lone seat.
This was considered so safe a seat for the Congress-JD(S) alliance that Deve Gowda wanted to contest from here. The Congress had earlier conceded the Bangalore North seat to the JD(S) as part of its seat-sharing arrangement. However, it was pointed out that most of the Congress MLAs in the Bangalore North Lok Sabha constituency were Siddaramaiah loyalists and as their mentor had a love-hate relationship Deve Gowda, it was considered a risky proposition. Then the JD (S) gave back the seat to the Congress.
Byre Gowda is young, has a common touch, and is well known in this constituency. He is the son of Janata Dal leader Late C. Byre Gowda, a five-time MLA and a popular figure.
Bangalore North was once the pocket borough of Jaffer Sharief, a senior Congress leader and union railway minister. He had won seven times from this constituency. Many other celebrities too have tried their luck here, from firebrand socialist George Fernandes and his brother Michael Fernandes (both of them lost) and Syed Shahabuddin, a former IFS officer turned politician from the Janata party (he too lost). It was only Sangliana a former DGP who broke the Jaffer Sharief spell for the BJP
It should be an easy ride for Congress in Bangalore North, unless we go by the state BJP claim that this time around, it is a much bigger wave for Modi than in 2014.