Muthu, a voter in the Tamil Nadu election in the Alandur constituency, has not missed voting a single election ever since he returned to India in 2010. "In all these years, I have not lived in Chennai but I have travelled to vote in the Assembly elections in 2011 and 2016 and in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019. But this time, I'm now mostly not going to vote because of the COVID-19 regulations upon returning (to Bengaluru)," he tells TNM.
Like him, many people eligible to vote in the upcoming Tamil Nadu and Kerala Assembly elections who are based in Bengaluru say that they are either undecided or may not travel to vote due to the Karnataka government's decision to mandate a negative COVID-19 test certificate for interstate travellers coming to the city.
"I am used to travelling to Kerala every time during the election to vote but this time I am having second thoughts because of the added restrictions the Karnataka government has placed on travellers returning from Kerala," says Hari, another voter from Thrissur, who is working in Bengaluru.
The elections in both the southern states will be held on April 6. The Karnataka government announced on Thursday its decision asking travellers coming to Bengaluru from another state to produce a negative COVID-19 test certificate from April 1. This means that those travelling to either Tamil Nadu or Kerala to vote in the elections will now have to take a COVID-19 test and produce a negative test certificate to travel back to Bengaluru.
Thursday's decision comes after a March 22 circular by the Karnataka government mandating that a negative COVID-19 test certificate not older than 72 hours is necessary for all travellers coming from Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab and Chandigarh to any part of Karnataka (and not just Bengaluru). These rule changes come into effect just days before the elections are set to take place.
Matthew, an advertising professional in Bengaluru, is a native of Kochi in Kerala. Like Muthu, he says that he may also skip voting in the election due to the COVID-19 regulations. "The regulations may make it difficult for me to get back to Bengaluru. I may get stuck in Kerala if I leave the city now. Earlier, I planned to travel to Kochi for Easter and then return after voting in the election," Matthew said.
In addition to travel costs, voters now have to get a COVID-19 test done which costs Rs 1,200 in private laboratories in Tamil Nadu, and Rs 1,500 in private laboratories in Kerala. The tests are currently free of cost in government hospitals.
Others, however, said that they plan to travel to vote in the elections despite the restrictions announced. "I will be voting in the Coimbatore South constituency and we are thinking of going as a family to vote because of the state of affairs in this country. My mother is a senior citizen who has taken the first shot of the vaccine already," says Ananth Srinivasan, another Bengaluru resident.
Some other people TNM spoke to said they are planning to travel to vote in the elections and continue working from their hometown for a while longer. "I have the option of working from home so I will likely stay in Chennai for longer and then return to Bengaluru," said one voter.
There are significant Malayalam and Tamil speaking populations in Bengaluru. As per the 2011 census, 2.8% of the city's population are Malayalam speakers and 13% are Tamil speakers.
Ahead of the 2016 Kerala Assembly elections, the former state Agriculture Minister KP Mohanan of the United Democratic Front (UDF) even pitched a poll tent in Bengaluru seeking votes. He was not alone as other politicians like CPI (M) leader Mohammed Riyas and BJP leader Kummanam Rajasekharan had canvassed for votes in Bengaluru five years ago.
It is difficult to ascertain how the COVID-19 regulations will affect the voting in the elections since it only affects voters in the two southern states who are currently based in Bengaluru. It is also noteworthy that many had left Bengaluru and shifted to their hometowns in Kerala and Tamil Nadu during the pandemic and will now be present to vote in the elections.