A turning point for Bengaluru

For over ten days now, Citizen Matters has followed the hectic election campaigns of candidates around the city. A mixed reality has already come out from our talking to candidates, their campaigners and voters. Some, for e.g. in Koramangala ward, have told us this: historically middle and high income groups (‘English-educated avaru’) won’t come out and vote on election day, so we cannot count on them for actually winning the race. We’ll stick to the ‘slums’.

Others have done the opposite. Depending on the ward itself, many mainline party candidates have taken out door-to-door campaigns canvassing in higher income neighbourhoods and apartments. Their visits may only have been for a momentary ‘namaskaara’ and not necessarily to ‘sit down and discuss testy issues’. Yet, it indicates that they are not taking a chance with the better-off’s presumed nonparticipation this time.

Furthermore, in specific wards where reformist party candidates are campaigning in particular, it is clear that turnout of the educated and better-off lot is critical for their races to even matter. The same applies to wards where RWA groups have floated independent candidates.

What does all this mean? In prior elections, the reality was simpler: Politicians at every level had cynically settled down to cash-for-votes politics played out in the low income areas. This, despite an
already prevailing unpredictability there: the poor take money from everyone and finally cast their vote for whom they want, not necessarily for who gave them the most moolah.

Cutting across this is a series of perhaps first-of-its-kind debates that have been held in a number of wards in the city. The standard ‘meet the candidates’ format has been pushed by various organisations including your newsmagazine Citizen Matters. Hard questions — from setting growth limits
for Bengaluru to committing to mandatory once-a-month meetings with citizens and RWAs – have been asked and answered.

The responses have given a chance for voters to assess their candidates in way that has not been done before. Will all of this increase voter enthusiasm amongst the educated lot and bring them to the booths on Sunday?

This is the real test for Bangalore on March 28th. If there is high turnout from these groups, it will very likely upset the cynical core of electoral politics at least for Bengaluru, and set the stage for better things to come. April 5th will tell.

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