Bengaluru has been gripped by intense election fever ever since the announcement of former Infosys co-founder and the brain behind the Aadhaar project, Nandan Nilekani, as the Congress candidate from Bangalore South. While the Congress won the Bangalore Rural seat in the bypoll last year, the other three seats in Bengaluru are currently held by the BJP. If the saffron party fails to retain any of these seats, it would indicate that the so-called Modi wave has failed to weave its magic among the urban denizens of India’s Silicon Valley. Perhaps, nowhere else in the state would the election results be watched out for more keenly than in the four Bengaluru constituencies.
With a lot riding on the electoral outcome in this region, both the BJP and the Congress are going all guns blazing in their campaign to win these seats. The Congress is desperate to snatch the highprofile Bangalore South seat as well as the Bangalore Central and Bangalore North seats from the BJP. This is also a prestige issue for the Congress high command as it had fielded Nilekani from Bangalore South and the party’s youth wing leader Rizwan Arshad from Bangalore Central against the wishes of senior state leaders. As of now, it seems there will be a close contest between the Congress and the BJP in all four seats.
Let’s begin with Bangalore North, which was once a Congress stronghold — or rather, a stronghold of former railways minister CK Jaffer Sharief, who held the seat from 1977 to 1996. The party lost the seat when Sharief did not contest from there in 1996. He came back to win the 1998 election, but was defeated by HT Sangliana of the BJP in 2004.
Following delimitation in 2009, the constituency has seen a sea change in demographics and is now composed of a mix of rural and urban voters. While Muslims and Christians form a significant chunk of the electorate, the Vokkaligas — the state’s most populous caste group after the Lingayats — also have a considerable presence here. Of the eight Assembly segments in this constituency, three are with the Congress, three with the BJP and two with the Janata Dal (Secular).
Both the Congress and the BJP saw internal strife over the selection of candidates for the Bangalore North seat. Instead of sitting MP DB Chandre Gowda, former chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda is contesting this seat for the BJP this time. And C Narayanaswamy, who recently quit the JD(S), got the Congress ticket after winning the primaries. The Congress was hoping for a good show with Vokkaligas, SCs, STs, OBCs and Muslims accounting for 12 lakh of the total 23 lakh voters in the constituency. But the JD(S) fielding a Muslim candidate, former police officer Abdul Azeem, might dent the Congress’ vote share in a close contest with the BJP. The BJP, however, seems quite sure of its support among the 8.5 lakh voters in the 18-30 age group and banking on the “clean” image of Gowda, besides the appeal of Narendra Modi. The Congress, on the other hand, is trying to project Gowda as an “outsider” (as he hails from Puttur) vis-à-vis Narayanaswamy, who is a local.
While both the Congress and the BJP candidates are Vokkaligas, the Aam Aadmi Party has fielded a Christian — labour activist and former law professor Babu Matthew. But analysts feel AAP has little influence among the voters and the battle will be mainly between the two major national parties.
In Bangalore Central, the incumbent BJP MP is up against a first-time Congress candidate. Of the eight Assembly segments in this constituency, four are with the Congress, three with the BJP and one with the JD(S). While Sharief was keen to contest from this seat, which has a large number of minorities, and even threatened to join the JD(S), the Congress high command decided to field 34-year-old Arshad. Rumour has it that Arshad, who had become the state Youth Congress president by defeating the children of senior Congress leaders, was handpicked by party vice president Rahul Gandhi. Besides reaching out to young voters, the youth leader also expects the 2.1 lakh Muslim voters to rally behind him, though his rapid rise has caused some heartburn among the local Muslim leaders of the party.
On the other hand, the incumbent, PC Mohan of the BJP, is banking on the Modi factor and the party’s traditional support base in Rajajinagar, Mahadevapura and CV Raman Nagar, where the BJP had won the Assembly seats in last year’s polls.
While Mohan had declared assets worth Rs 5.37 crore in 2009 to the Election Commission, after five years as MP, his assets are today worth Rs 47.57 crore — a whopping nine-fold increase.
Two new entrants in the fray are former Infosys CFO V Balakrishnan of AAP and danseuse Nandini Alva of JD(S). While Balakrishnan is trying to woo the middle-class voters, Alva is banking on the popularity of her party supremo, former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, and the star quotient of her son-in-law, Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi.
Bangalore Rural covers a range of areas on the fringes of Bengaluru city. A traditional support base of the JD(S), the constituency has gradually shifted towards the Congress. The two parties hold sway in three each of the eight Assembly segments here. In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress’ Tejaswini Gowda emerged as a giant killer, defeating Deve Gowda with the backing of DK Shiva Kumar. In 2009, Gowda’s son and former CM HD Kumaraswamy brought this seat back to the JD(S). But, after Kumaraswamy vacated the seat to plunge into state politics, the seat returned to the Congress with Kumar’s brother DK Suresh defeating Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha in the bypolls held last year.
This time, the JD(S) has fielded R Prabhakar, a candidate who doesn’t belong to Deve Gowda’s family. The BJP, which had supported the JD(S) in the last Assembly election, has fielded P Muniraju as its candidate and has been harping on the “Modi wave”. AAP candidate Ravikrishna Reddy is trying to take advantage of differences within the JD(S) and corruption allegations against Shiva Kumar and Suresh. However, with CP Yogeshwar, who won the Channapatna Assembly seat on a Samajwadi Party ticket last year, recently joining the Congress along with other local leaders, Suresh seems to have a strong chance of retaining the Bangalore Rural.
Undoubtedly, the most keenly watched contest is for the Bangalore South seat, which is seeing a high-decibel, neck-and-neck contest between Nilekani of the Congress and five-time BJP MP Ananth Kumar. Though Kumar had initially thought it would be a cakewalk from him, Nilekani has proven to be a tough rival, despite being a political novice. Though local Congress leaders opposed Nilekani in the beginning, they fell in line soon after the high command announced his candidature. In a constituency with a high concentration of upper middle-class youth and employees of the software industry — most of them non-Kannadigas — the former technocrat with a clean image is expected to be a major hit.
In terms of Assembly segments in this constituency, both the Congress and the BJP are equally placed, with four MLAs each. Both the parties have fielded Brahmin candidates in this constituency, where Brahmins form a sizeable chunk of the electorate. And both the candidates are facing anti-incumbency — Kumar, as five-time MP, and Nilekani, for representing the ruling party. Though the battle here is expected to be between the two major national parties, the others in the fray include child rights activist Nina P Nayak, who represents AAP, and social activist Ruth Manorama, the JD(S) candidate.
In his campaign, Nilekani has raised the issue of Kumar banking on the Modi factor instead of his work for the constituency. On the other hand, Kumar has accused Nilekani of presiding over “a failure called Aadhaar”. While Nilekani got Rahul Gandhi to campaign on his behalf, Kumar had Modi to campaign for him.
Insiders in the BJP, however, believe that the odds are stacked against Kumar. Unlike previous times, says an insider, the Congress rank and file seems to have firmly rallied behind their party candidate. Because Nilekani has been selected by the high command, they are all expected to work for his victory. In earlier occasions, Kumar used to reportedly “manage” certain Congress leaders to ensure his victory. But, this time, he won’t be able to do that. Making matters worse for Kumar, Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik, who is contesting as an independent from here, has been raking up the issue of Kumar’s connection with Niira Radia and his alleged involvement in HUDCO scam. It remains to be seen if Nilekani is able to take advantage of these factors and win. If he does, it could prove to a major morale booster for the beleaguered Congress and debunk the much-vaunted notion that most of the upwardly mobile urban Indian professionals across the country are desperate to see Modi as PM.