There was curiosity on the faces of residents in Bengaluru's Shivajinagar on Friday afternoon. Actor-turned politician Prakash Raj was on his first visit to meet residents in the busy, central area in Bengaluru after announcing his decision to contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate earlier this month.
"This is the first of many visits to speak to citizens and understand their problems before we finalise our manifesto for the election. We have a responsibility to understand the problems of citizens," he said, taking a moment from the public interaction where he was repeatedly mobbed by several people.
Starting from the dargah close to Shivajinagar police station, Prakash walked through the by-lanes of Shivajinagar interacting with auto-drivers, vendors selling flowers and meat. Residents peeped out of balconies of apartments and out of old-school tea shops and street-food stalls that fill the roads in the area.
Among them, there were several people welcoming the entry of Prakash Raj as a viable alternative to the duopoly of Congress and BJP, which has dominated elections in the constituency in the past. "I welcome his entry into this area because he is a different kind of politician. He considers all religions to be equal and he is fearless with his words, which is rare in politics", says Mohammed Tabrez, 28, who runs a bakery business in Shivajinagar.
But, not everyone is convinced by his political credentials. "I am on the fence. We cannot be voting based on his acting. He is very popular in our area since everyone has seen him on TV but we have to consider what he is promising and what his plans are for the constituency," says Nikkatsabha, a 27-year-old resident of Shivajinagar.
In the next few weeks, Prakash Raj will visit each of the eight assembly constituencies - Shivajinagar, Shantinagar, Gandhinagar, Sarvagnanagar, Chamarajpet, Rajajinagar, Mahadevpura, CV Raman Nagar - that constitute the Bengaluru Central Lok Sabha constituency. The constituency is a mix of affluent, middle class and slum-dwelling voters who speak a number of languages including Tamil and Telugu in addition to Kannada.
At one point in his public interaction, Prakash Raj said, "The people living here in the by-lanes, the ones who are poor, they are the ones who will vote more than the educated, college-going people living here. There are elected representatives who have not visited them and we need to change this," he added.
Prakash Raj already began an auto campaign on Sunday where volunteers in auto-rickshaws travel to the eight assembly constituencies to interview residents and compile information on what they are looking for from their elected representatives. "We want to get a head start because the BJP and Congress have an established base here and will have begun their campaign much earlier," an official working with the campaign told TNM.
Prakash Raj has already received the support of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in his bid to be elected from Bengaluru Central constituency. AAP will not be fielding a candidate in Bengaluru Central constituency and is actively backing Prakash Raj. He also hopes that the Congress-JD(S) alliance does not field a candidate in this constituency.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Bengaluru Central, BJP's PC Mohan had defeated Congress leader Rizwan Arshad by over one lakh votes. Prakash Raj is hoping to pull off a surprise in the elections and emerge victorious by riding a wave of popularity.