Illegal debris dumping, pothole-riddled roads, sewage in rajakaluves, lakes catching fire and rampant unplanned constructions have landed Bengaluru in a mess. Unfortunately, the city has been facing these issues for over 25 years now.
Despite outrage in the media, protests carried out by activists, cases filed in courts, these blatant violations continue. But here’s the thing: The outcry by citizens against the political class on their collective apathy to these civic issues does not turn into the way they vote. Indeed, the trend in Bengaluru has been that in Assembly election after Assembly election, MLAs are re-elected in their constituencies – and worse, most citizens don’t seem keen on coming out to vote to keep politicians in power accountable.
Political parties – Congress, BJP and JD(S) – keep fielding the same candidates. In fact, a look at the winners and runners up from previous elections shows that only six of the 28 constituencies in Bengaluru have witnessed a change in their candidates.
For instance, BJP’s Suresh Kumar won elections in 1994, 1999, 2008 and 2013 from Rajajinagar. Since 1985, Shivajinagar has either been won by Congress’s Roshan Baig or BJP's Katta Subramanya Naidu. In Gandhinagar, Congress candidate Dinesh Gundu Rao has won elections since 1999, and in the last two elections – in 2013 and in 2008 – even the runner up has been consistent. BJP’s PC Mohan came second in both those elections in the constituency. Similarly in Shivajinagar, Roshan Baig from the Congress won both the 2008 and 2013 elections, and Nirmala Surana of BJP came second both times.
In as many as 19 of the 28 constituencies in the city, the same candidate was voted back to power between 2008 and 2013 – even though the candidate had switched parties in some cases. This includes Chamarajpet, Shanthinagar, Shivajinagar, Gandhinagar, Rajajinagar, CV Raman Nagar, Malleshwaram, Sarvagnanagar, BTM Layout, Basavanagudi, Bommanahalli, Govindrajnagar, Jayanagar, Vijayanagar, Bengaluru South, Byatarayanapura, Dasarahalli, Mahadevapura and Yelahanka.
Why have election results remained so predictable in Bengaluru?
Low voter turnout
According to political analyst Mahadev Prakash, one of the major reasons why parties have not paid much attention to fielding stronger or different candidates in Bengaluru is due to the city’s record of having a low voter turnout.
“If you observe the voting pattern, the voter turnout on an average has always been less than 50% in Bengaluru Urban district. The voters are usually from middle-class, lower-middle class and the population of slum dwellers. It is the slum dwellers who show up in large numbers to vote,” Mahadev Prakash says.
“Many leaders hand out money to the poorer voters,” he says. “Very few of the youth and educated elite vote during the election. This is one of the reasons why the same candidates remain in power for years on end,” the analyst adds.
Internal understanding between parties
Political party insiders say that since 1985, parties contesting in Bengaluru have had a backdoor agreement of what candidate would be fielded in which constituency.
“Since 1985, whichever constituency KJ George contested, either the JD(S) or the BJP has fielded a weak candidate. In return, the Congress would agree to field a weak candidate in Padmanabhanagar, which is the stronghold of BJP’s R Ashoka. A similar agreement is true for Ramalinga Reddy and Aravind Limbavali. No strong candidate has ever contested against these big names,” a senior Congress leader says.
Will the parties stick to the same strategies as the past?
However, BJP sources say that this time around, party president Amit Shah has ordered the leaders to suggest only winnable candidates in every constituency.
“The field is getting aggressive. Bengaluru had always been neglected and the votes in the Assembly elections were divided between BJP and Congress. Presented with strong candidates, the BJP can win more votes. However, one drawback is that the voter turnout is not as great in state polls in the city. This could be due to lack of a better choice, and BJP wants to change that now,” a BJP insider told TNM.
Congress sources say that in the crucial 2018 Assembly polls, the party, too, is planning to change things around a little bit. Following the assault by his son Nalapad, MLA NA Haris is likely to be dropped, in favour of Rizwan Arshad. The party is also planning to field Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy’s daughter Sowmya Reddy from Jayanagar, and a new candidate, Raksha Gowda, from Malleshwaram, sources said.
“In Bengaluru, development has never mattered for state elections. But if a candidate was wrapped up in a criminal case, they have been brought down for sure. This time around, the fight is not the same. It is a bigger challenge as the party wants to begin its revival by winning in Karnataka. Tickets will be given to strong candidates who have not been smeared by scandal,” the Congress leader added.
“There is greater expectation that the voter turnout will be better this year. Especially due to a lot of campaigns run by civic activists, which had not been done in the past so aggressively. Besides there is also expectation to see how the youth vote in this election. In case the voters surprise election analysts and show up in large numbers, every candidate has an equal chance of winning, be it the heavyweights or the new AAP entrants,” Prakash says.