What was meant to be a healthy debate that would help the people of Vasanthnagar (Ward no: 93) decide on who was best suited to be their corporator went that way for over an hour. And then, in a matter of minutes, it spiralled into an emotionally-loaded exchange of words between rival political factions.
The debate held at the Punjab Seva Samithi in the Vasanthnagar Area, saw the participation of five candidates – R. Mallikarjuna (Janata Dal (Secular)), Lokapriya (Nationalist Congress Party), N.S Ramakanth (Lok Satta Party), B.R Naidu (Congress) and Katta Jagadish Naidu (Bharatiya Janata Party).
The debate was organised by the not-for-profit Namma Bengaluru foundation, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar. This is also the foundation that launched the Namma Bengaluru city awards which were given on February 27th this year by Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa.
After the candidates introduced themselves and presented their credentials and plans for the ward, they were asked to address the burning issues that affected the people at large. Subramaniam Vincent, editor and co-founder at Citizen Matters moderated the event and he started off with a list of questions. Candidates were given a few minutes to write down YES/NO against a list of questions on city policy and offer their explanations in turn.
The first question was whether the BBMP’s Transfer Development Rights (TDR) scheme for citizens losing property during roadwidening was a fair mode of compensation. To which, R Mallikurjuna, a former corporator for the Sampangiramnagar ward, said, "I think we should compensate the people with cash instead. The problem with the TDR process is that middlemen tend to misuse the rights and make lots of money out of it. So it is best to provide cash compensation."
While agreeing that cash compensation was the way to go, N S Ramakanth, who described himself as a "three-month baby in politics" and a former president of the Resident Welfare’s Association (Kumara Park) said, "TDR results in a lot of violations of norms. People tend to build six storeyed blocks where only four are allowed. I also think that people should be heavily compensated considering that they have lost property."
But Katta Jagdish Naidu, a resident of Vasanthnagar for the past 13 years, had a different answer, "The government cannot cater to each and every cash compensation demand, therefore, it is best if the people are given TDR rights. It is a scheme that is beneficial to both the government and the citizens."
Jagdish Naidu also said that the growth limits to the city must not be capped. "Everyone in the world and in the country wants to live in Bangalore. So, I think it would be unfair to put a cap on its growth limits. Instead, we should concentrate in developing basic amenities like roads, water and sanitary lines in under-developed areas so that as the city grows infrastructure is also growing along with it. We should also employ better technology that will help us cope with the problems and move ahead."
This statement regarding not capping the growth of the city, however, did not find acceptance among the other candidates. R Mallikarjuna said, "There is no need at all to expand the city and introduce new layouts. We are facing a lot of water and other problems because of the rapid and haphazard expansion of the city. It is best if we focus on solving existing problems instead of creating new ones." N S Ramakanth and Lokapriya endorsed this view and thought that Bangalore could be saved only if unplanned growth was stopped.
But all candidates were in agreement that buses around the city had to display both English and Kannada boards to make commuting easy for the general public and for the outsiders who did not know Kannada.
As other issues were brought to the fore for discussion, the arguments put forth by the contestants got increasingly personal. To a question on whether candidates supported introduction of English medium in BBMP-run schools (the same question was asked at the BTM-Madiwala debate also) N S Ramakanth said "yes". He also added that political leaders should stop making an issue of the introduction of English-medium in government-run schools because they wouldn’t themselves send their children to Kannada-medium schools.
Jagdish Naidu wasted no time in slamming Ramakanth’s remarks. Naidu, who is the son of senior BJP leader Katta Subramanya Naidu, said, "I agree that English needs to be taught in schools but there is no need for personal remarks on this platform! Whether or not political leaders send their children to Kannada or English medium schools is not the issue at all here!" For his part, B R Naidu (INC) said "yes" to English medium in BBMP schools.
Jagdish Naidu then drew swords with R Mallikarjuna on the issue of the ‘Akrama Sakhrama’ scheme. Mallikarjuna said that he was not, entirely, in favour of the scheme that called for heavy fines to be borne by the citizens and that he disagreed with even name ‘Akrama Sakhrama’. This angered members of Katta’s entourage who accused Mallikarjuna of going against his own party’s stand on the issue.
Naidu then asserted, "The scheme has been named so that ordinary people will be able to understand it. It’s like asking to replace the term ‘husband and wife’ to something more complicated! How can you even suggest that the wrong-doers can go scot free?" Things got out of hand when some of Katta’s supporters even went on to suggest that Mallikarjuna would be beaten up if word got out that he was against the scheme.
Mallikarunjuna then handed off his sheet of written responses (to the moderator’s questions) to a citizen to show him that he had written down that he was in favour of the scheme (he had written YES) but with conditions and that his views were misunderstood. By that time, it was too late, as Mallikarujuna’s supporters and Jagdish Naidu’s supporters became engaged in a verbal duel and police had to intervene to separate the two sides.
No amount of requests from the moderator were heeded. The moderator also asked both candidates Jagdish Naidu and Mallikarjuna to ask their respective supporters to restrain themselves.
"A large number of party workers tried to dominate the public question-answer session. I found it impossible to control the debate once emotions were set loose and people started grabbing the mike", says Vincent.
B R Naidu took a different line on Akrama-Sakrama. He said he was for a one-time settlement (penalties) provided the city should never again have to deal with this situation.
Peace was somehow restored only to be completely shattered when the issue of the lack of a playground in the ward was brought up by Chandrakumar, a young resident of the area. Though all the candidates were in favour of negotiating with the management of Mount Carmel College that has leased out the only ground in the area, there were emotionally-charged statements made by party workers in the audience about the rate that had been fixed for the lease. They claimed that Mount Carmel College was paying a lease of less than 150 rupees per year but was making a lot of money by renting out the grounds to third parties for a high price. Citizen Matters has not independently verified this claim at the time of publishing this article.
Previous disagreements once again resurfaced between party workers again forcing the police to intervene and ask the moderator to put an end to the debate given the situation. R Mallikarjuna claimed complete innocence in the matter, "Have I done any wrong? Please answer! I am completely innocent it was the other parties that brought about the commotion." ⊕