Independently running for the low-income citizens

A vegetable loader, a contractor-turned dalit activist, a former electrician - all hope to disrupt mainline party candidates who are making a bee line for votes from Bengaluru’s poor.

This coming BBMP council election is seeing over 700 independent candidates in the fray. While many are contesting as independents after being denied a party ticket, there are others from low income groups and resident welfare associations, fed up with mainstream political parties, and therefore deciding to take it upon themselves to bring about some much-needed change.

B Vedi is one such person. This 36-year-old has decided to contest in these elections upon the insistence of his supporters and ardent followers in the Dr B R Ambedkar Vegetable Loaders Association, based in KR Market and the residents of Sudhamanagar (Ward 118) where he is contesting from. Vedi happens to be the president of the loaders association.

Vedi is a first-time contender. He has been involved in helping and supporting members of the loaders association and residents of the many low income neighbourhoods (commonly known as a slum) in Sudhamanagar.

Ask him why he is contesting this time and he says he has done so on the request of the public. As one of his supporters P V Prakash says, "So many elections have taken place. No one has done anything for us. So we decided to make someone from among us to contest because it’ll be easy to address our problems."

Vedi President-Dr B R Ambedkar Vegetable Loaders Association

Vedi, 36, is President of the Dr B R Ambedkar Vegetable Loaders Association. He is contesting from Sudhamanagar, Ward 118. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

Vedi himself speaks very little. A man of few words, he refuses to say much about his background except that he never had any formal education. His family is his brother and sister, he says.

As per his affidavit, Vedi has a criminal background and has previously been charged under sections 302, 34, 399 and 402 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Section 302 of the IPC refers to punishment for murder, while section 34 refers to a criminal act done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all. Section 399 refers to those who prepare to commit dacoity and section 402 refers to assembling of five or more persons for the purpose of committing dacoity.

Vedi and his supporters remain tight-lipped about these charges. They, however, speak at length about how he has helped them.

Along with the loaders association, Vedi says he has conducted awareness camps on HIV-AIDS through stage programmes and distribution of condoms. "We have done this near KR Market, Town Hall and Kalasipalyam for lorry drivers, coolies and loaders who come fron out station. We tell them to take precautions", he says, speaking in Tamil.

He also conducted a blood donation camp in October 2008 where members of the loaders association donated 152 units of blood totally to Victoria Hospital. He even received a certificate of appreciation for this from the District Commissioner of Bangalore, G N Naik. The association also conducted a free medical camp in 2009.

With Vedi’s symbol being an apple, his supporters say that he wants to make the ward as hi-tech as the computer software major which goes by the same name.

Ask Vedi what he has to say about cash for votes, and he matter-of-factly replies, "Even if you give money to people, they will still vote for only those they believe in." He is confident of winning in these elections, as people have been offering their support during his door-to-door campaign. If elected he says, "I will serve the people with how much ever strength I have."

He refuses to speak anymore saying there’s nothing more to say and leaves. His supporters, on the other hand, insist that the work that Vedi has done must be highlighted.

One of the campaigners P Bhaskar says Vedi has adopted 25 orphaned children and has been looking after their hostel, food and schooling expenses for the past three years.

Vedi’s supporters all seem confident and hopeful of him winning. While one says that they are looking forward to some change once he is elected, another says emphatically, "He will do good for us."

From Sudhamagar to BTM Layout

It’s quite a similar story down south, on Bannerghatta road. Residents of the the GD Mara low income neighbourhood have a candidate amongst them. K Venkatesh, a member of the Dalit Pathers Party (DPP) of India, is contesting as an independent candidate from BTM layout (Ward 176). The DPP is not a registered political party in the state.

Here again, it’s a case of Venkatesh and his supporters being fed up with the current elected representatives. "The poor here are not getting what they should get. No one even comes and asks us", says Venkatesh, on why he chose to contest in the BBMP polls.

With at least 2000 houses in the GD Mara slum, Venkatesh is assured of their votes. "Even if we lose, we’ll continue to fight", he says.

R Venkatesh-Dalit Panthers Party of India

R Venkatesh of the Dalit Panthers Party of India is sure of winning these elections and wants to help the residents of the GD Mara low income neighbourhood. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

The main problems that he wants to focus on is ration and electricity. The DPP itself has worked closely with the people of this neighbourhood to provide basic amenities such as water and electricity. All this without any help from the government, they say.

But Venkatesh clearly states that he will work not only for the people living in his community, but for the entire ward. "We won’t discriminate between dalits and non-dalits", he says.

With over 500 members and 1000 followers from the the GD Mara neighbourhood, the DPP says they will fight the elections through healthy competition and not with money.

Another candidate, contesting from Rayapuram (Ward 137), N Sreenivasa Murthy also says he is contesting to help the poor. Himself a resident of Venkataswamy Garden, a low income neighbourhood in the ward, 42-year-old Murthy is contesting as an independent.

An electrician by profession, Murthy was previously a member of the Bahujan Samaj Party but left the party later.

He is confident of winning in the elections and wants to provide clean drinking water, sanitation, title deeds and care for the elderly who are neglected by their children.

"The BBMP has done nothing for us", he says, again hoping to be that much-required change for the people of his ward.

A start for ‘political participation’

For citizens like Vedi, Venkatesh and Murthy, contesting in the BBMP council elections is a start for them and their supporters to take part in the governance process. They hope to do what has been denied to them so far. Banking on them are hundreds and even thousands, anticipating that their candidate sits in the council starting next month.

While party candidates have the advantage (or disadvantage) of representing a particular political party, these independent candidates representing the low income group of Bengaluru, have their own following.

This coming Sunday will decide how much of a dent such independents have made into the city’s electoral races.

Comments:

  1. Narasim Katary says:

    It is good to see people like Vedi, Venkatesh, and Murthy getting their message across through the indomitable spirit of CM and reporter Ms Vittal.

    In the case of Vedi, if he has paid his dues to society and is atoning for his past by taking care of orphans and other less privileged people, then we should all be forgiving. After all, restorative justice is rooted in making amends. He appears to exemplify that effort.

    Shame and guilt are powerful emotional states that lead to ethical compensatory behaviour. A decent society must give scope for people to reinvent themselves.
    India has generally been a land of second chances and third chances for people who come to terms with their past.

    Venkatesh and Murthy come from low income neighbourhoods that are in dire need of basic necessities of life. Their candidacies only underline the gravity of challenges or as Mother Teresa used to say, gifts to be channeled.

    Is Vedi correct in saying that poor people take money from candidates running for office but vote according to their conscience? Hope so.

    Good story.

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