AAP’s Renuka Vishwanathan, a 1971-batch-IAS officer (retired) faces an uphill task in her electoral debut in Bengaluru.
The first woman collector in Karnataka and a former member of the Planning Commission is pitted against two-time MLA and incumbent Congress candidate NA Haris from Shantinagar. In both 2008 and 2013, Haris had won against his rivals convincingly with the margin being over 20,000 votes in the last election.
Haris’ candidature was withheld till the last minute apparently owing to the negative publicity over his son’s involvement in a high-profile assault case. But the ruling party stuck with him after multiple internal surveys predicted a result in his favour.
But Renuka believes her understanding of the problems of the constituency as a former administrator as well as the “achievements” of her party in Delhi, will make her the next Shantinagar MLA.
She claimed that it’s a straight fight between Haris and herself discounting the JD(S) and BJP candidates saying, “They have both discredited themselves totally because nobody knows which is BJP and which is JD(S).”
Both the respective candidates switched sides until very recently.
A confident Renuka told TNM, “I am winning the elections and have no contingency plans. There is only a plan on how to proceed after I win the elections. We have already chalked out the blueprint to solve most of our problems.”
In the run-up to the elections, TNM caught up with Renuka for an interview. Here are excerpts:
What are the civic issues concerning Shantinagar?
Everywhere in Bengaluru, the big issues are city-level issues. Garbage is the most pressing problem. Other issues are water supply and electricity. And then on the other side, poor drainage and sewage issues.
Everybody is concerned about the transport situation. People are concerned about safety and security and they fear that it is diminishing everywhere.
What are the the other issues you feel that are important?
The poor are intensely worried about their children having no future because they don't have an education, and they fear one health emergency can completely destroy the wealth of the family.
Even when the current MLA is an expert in education with so many private schools under his name, why could he not ask the CM to increase the budget for education. Karnataka has not increased the budget for education in the last three years. When I talk to people in the constituency, I realise they want good education.
And for most of these problems, there have been excellent solutions that have been found by our government in Delhi. And when they see the contrast, they will realise that this can happen here too.
How are you communicating the achievements of your party in Delhi to the people?
First, we started talking about it and then we saw the enthusiasm. We made flip charts, other stuff and showed the contrast between Delhi and Bengaluru. Now we have visuals that show the Delhi situation vis-a-vis Bengaluru. And when we show videos on education, we ask them 'Do you want to go to these schools?' All of them say yes because their parents pay high fees for private schools but hardly get any education. They are threatened by teachers saying why haven't you paid your fees and shamed in front of their classmates.
They ask what is the good karma that people of Delhi are enjoying and what is the bad karma that we are suffering? All our volunteers are carrying that video on their phones and they keep showing it. We don't have TVs or projectors. My pitch is partly what has happened in Delhi and partly of me being far better than the Congress candidate. They have not done anything for the last 5 years.
But unlike Delhi, you don’t have popular faces like Arvind Kejriwal here nor are you popular as a party?
I don't see any need for that. Because the opposition has done exactly all the things that they should not be doing. That itself is giving the people the justification to ask for a change. We are only giving them the option.
We are telling them what we did under similar circumstances in Delhi and the disgust with the ruling parties has been converted into hope for the future. Because people are so fed up and when you meet their needs, popularity will come. We met that need in Delhi, we will do the same here in Bengaluru.
What are your thoughts about Haris’ popularity and how will you convince voters to vote for you being a new face?
I have gone from house to house in many localities, to more than 3,000 houses and add to that the 15,000 houses my volunteers have gone. He is not popular. Don't talk about last elections. People did not have the option. When people look out of their house, the stench has increased. There are drains which are completely blocked, there are roads where the pavement is not even there. Every five years, people tell them it will be fixed but nothing happens.
What has been the initial response from voters?
I am very well known.You will be surprised. Every second person on the road now smiles at me. We have created a buzz among people and they are noticing it.
Do you fear that people might not vote for you keeping in mind the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?
The message is that in 2019, nobody wants the BJP at least in this constituency. The BJP has put itself in a corner by doing a large number of unpopular things over their entire rule at the Centre.
I think the voters have to start thinking clearly to strengthen parties like ours which are willing and capable to give the BJP a fight. See after 2014, in how many places has the Congress actually defeated the BJP? Even when they won in Goa, they failed to form a government.
Anyway, what is the difference between the Congress and BJP. Most of the ex-Congressmen are in the BJP. There is no ideology, no difficulty in buying them from one party to another.
It was only our CM (Kejriwal) who stood up to the BJP and succeeded in defeating them.