Bangalore’s professionals steering poll campaigns

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Victoria D’Souza is the campaign manager for Meenakshi Bharath, the Lok Satta Party candidate for the Malleswaram constituency of Bangalore.
Victoria D’Souza is the campaign manager for Meenakshi Bharath, the Lok Satta Party candidate for the Malleswaram constituency of Bangalore.

Bangalore: She stormed into my office,” says Meenakshi Bharath, the Lok Satta Party candidate for the Malleswaram constituency of Bangalore in the forthcoming Karnataka assembly elections, on how Victoria D’Souza became her campaign manager in February.
Referred to as “Hurricane Victoria” by her colleagues, D’Souza, 32, manages and organizes Bharath’s campaigning schedules. An event manager by profession, the role suits D’Souza.

The energy levels are high in Bharath’s office less than a week before voting day—5 May. A young team of college students and professionals is bent over laptops, ensuring people have their voter IDs, updating Bharath’s Facebook profile, and following up on her media mentions. Bharath’s core team has 25 people, most of them under the age of 35.

“It just turned out that way. And there are more women than men,” smiles Bharath, a gynaecologist who began her social work four years ago when she volunteered with Janaagraha, a Bangalore-based non-profit that works towards citizen participation in urban local governance, to correct the Malleswaram voter list.
Bangalore is not only seeing a surge in the number of professionals like Bharath who are contesting elections, but their teams are also filled with professionals who are on a sabbatical to participate in the campaign; some are spending evenings and weekends on the effort, spurred into participating in social issues by activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement.

D’Souza first encountered Bharath in 2011 when she stopped at an anti-graft protest at Freedom Park in Bangalore while taking a lunch break from her event management job. The India Against Corruption movement led by Hazare was at its peak at the time. “That was when I saw Doc (Bharath) walking around checking people’s blood pressure and health,” says D’Souza. She used her resources as an event manager to arrange for tents for those at the protest venue.

A year later, when Hazare’s aide Arvind Kejriwal branched off to form the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), D’Souza volunteered to be a part of the political outfit. “I am still a part of AAP, but since they are not contesting and I know she is a great candidate, I wanted to help,” she says.

Lok Satta Party’s other Bangalore contestants (there are 11) such as Ashwin Mahesh, Shantala Damle and Sridhar Pabbisetty are also new to the political arena. “Since these are educated candidates with clean records, you will find educated and enthusiastic volunteers in their offices as well,” says Bharath of her colleagues.

The Lok Satta Party itself was formed by former bureaucrat Jayaprakash Narayan, who resigned from the Indian Administrative Service in 1996 to found the Lok Satta Movement, and launched the political party in 2006.

“It is a refreshing move. The educated urban middle class has grown to be a significant part of Bangalore and accounts for up to 40% of the city,”
says T.V. Mohandas Pai, a former director and chief financial officer at Infosys Ltd and now chairman of Manipal Global Education. “They are in a position to bring about change and are creating a critical mass.”

Pai, along with 13 other citizens of Bangalore, including Biocon Ltd chairman Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, in December 2012 formed B.PAC (Bangalore Political Action Committee), a citizen’s collective.

This week , the collective released a list of 14 candidates from 12 Bangalore constituencies that they have researched and endorsed, including the Lok Satta’s Bharath, Damle and Mahesh.

“Bangalore has a young population that averages at around 27 years. They are tired, they want change, they are well travelled and have seen better management and want the same for their country,” says Pai on why it is hardly surprising that those who complained about the system last elections are now paving a way into it.

Krishna Byre Gowda, the 40-year-old Congress party candidate for Byatarayanapura constituency in Bangalore North parliamentary constituency and a graduate from American University, Washington DC, tops the list. He is perhaps the only candidate from a major party to have volunteers with no political gain in mind.

Bhushan Nag, a 33-year-old who works with a software firm in Bangalore, manages Gowda’s website and Facebook page. “I have a full-time job and so do most of my work only in the evenings and over the weekends,” says Nag, who can be found in Gowda’s office on most weekends.

Nag says he was taken in by what he calls Gowda’s “straightforward approach” when he campaigned in the Bangalore South parliamentary constituency four years ago during the 2009 national election that he eventually lost.

“Krishna is very tech-savvy and has a clear idea on what he wants to put on his pages,” says Nag, who, despite being a resident of Jayanagar in south Bangalore, has extended his support to the Congress candidate for a north Bangalore constituency. “He has the vision to do something good.”

Indications of Bangalore’s educated letting go of their usual cynicism about the political system are visible in areas other than the electoral process.

Sumit Negi, an engineer from Uttarakhand who moved to Bangalore to work with a city-based tech firm, was one of five from Bangalore to go on a protest fast in August 2011 as part of Hazare’s campaign demanding the anti-graft Lokpal Bill.

“We felt cheated that nothing happened. But then I realized that if the educated of the country don’t work for it, nobody will,” says Negi, who quit a tech start-up he formed with a friend to volunteer with Kejriwal’s AAP, which is not contesting the Karnataka assembly elections.

Negi has spent the months leading up to the state elections working for the AAP’s “My vote is not for sale” campaign, which encourages citizens to understand their candidate and not blindly cast their votes in exchange for money and gifts.

His colleague Yogendra Manjunath, a scientist with Avesthagen, spends his weekends touring the city and nudging people to go to the polling booths and exercise Rule 49-O (Right to no-vote) if they do not find the local candidates worthy of their votes.

“During the India Against Corruption movement, I went under loss of pay because I ran out of earned leave,” says Manjunath, who mostly does his AAP work after office hours or over the weekends. “I have an understanding manager and I compensate for any missed work hours by working on weekends.”

Finding candidates for the next election is a personal goal, he says, and adds, “I don’t want to contest, but when we find the right candidate, I will do my best to bring the AAP to power.”

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