Did Lok Satta surprise big parties in the Bengaluru MLC election?

In this year’s graduate constituency MLC election for Karnataka, the three mainstream parties BJP, Congress and JD(S) won the first, second and third places respectively. The surprise result was that of Andhra Pradesh-based Lok Satta party, which came fourth.

Legislative council elections use the preferential voting system, by which voters can rank candidates in their order of preference. Initially first-preference votes for each candidate – wherein they were ranked ‘1’ – are counted. Then candidates with the least first preference votes are removed one by one, and the second preference votes marked by their voters are transferred to the respective candidates.

MLA N A Haris with a voter trying to sort out the latter’s grievance during MLC election. File pic: Sankar C G

In this election, at the end of the first preference count, A Deve Gowda of JD(S) and BJP’s Ramachandra Gowda won over 6500 votes, with JD(S) in the lead. Then came Ramoji Gowda of Congress with 5002 votes and Lok Satta’s Ashwin Mahesh with 4088 votes. After counting second preference votes, JD(S) and BJP won over 8000 votes, while Congress won around 5500 and Lok Satta won around 4300 votes. The lead changed to BJP and its candidate won the race.

Headed by Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, Lok Satta party was formed in Andhra Pradesh in 2006 and started its unit in Karnataka three years back. In Bangalore, five of its candidates had contested in the BBMP Council elections in 2010 and lost. The party  has professed its agenda as reforming politics to make it transparent and participatory. In Karnataka, this MLC elections is the first time the party is winning votes that are comparable to the three mainstream political parties in the state.

While Lok Satta says that the results demonstrate its growing clout, big party candidates are dismissive of it. However they seemed to have followed the party’s campaign closely and give varied possibilities for its good performance.

What the big parties say

BJP’s seasoned candidate Ramachandra Gowda says that Lok Satta’s good performance this time need not translate to continuing support in assembly elections. “Elections are different every time; issues and voter base are different. It’s like playing cards,” he says. Gowda opines that Ashwin Mahesh got his votes because he was a young candidate.

“Graduates want to see fresh faces, and Mahesh could educate them through media. General elections do not work like that – voters include people from slums and all other sections,” he says.

Ramoji Gowda of Congress says that former Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde’s support had helped Lok Satta. “They also had support from IT sector and from members of the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign this time. Upcoming elections may not be as good for them,” he says.

JD(S)’s Deve Gowda agrees. He further says that the votes that Lok Satta got were not those for them, but those against Ramachandra Gowda. “Ramachandra Gowda had been embroiled in many scams. Lok Satta’s entire propaganda was that Gowda was corrupt and that he should not be voted into power. Hence graduates who have no clear politics – mostly from the IT/BT sector – voted for them”, he says.

When Mahesh was eliminated after being ranked fourth, over 900 of his second preference votes went to Ramachandra Gowda, and only over 300 went to Deve Gowda. It was these votes that gave Ramachandra Gowda the slender lead and led to his victory. Deve Gowda says that this was because JD(S) party is not very popular among the IT crowd. When Ramoji Gowda was eliminated after being ranked third, BJP got around 700 second preference votes and JD(S) around 900.  This clearly indicated that at least amongst some Congress voters, second preference went more to JD(S) than to the BJP.

Dr Sandeep Shastri, Pro Vice Chancellor at Jain University and former political science professor at Bangalore University, opines that Lok Satta may not have eaten into the voter base of other parties. “Mahesh’s votes were from those graduates who are looking for ‘new’ politics, whom Lok Satta had newly enrolled. Mainstream parties have committed voters especially in graduate constituencies.”

Sideshow: Apathetic voters, messy elections and the blame game

Candidates blame voter apathy and irregularities in the elections, for the low voter turnout of 28% on an electorate of around 117,000 voters.

Ramoji Gowda of Congress plans to file a case in High Court highlighting irregularities and demanding re-election. Irregularities included names missing in voter list, allocation of faraway booths for voters, etc. “For example, four people from the same family in Electronic City were given four different booths – one in Electronic City, one in Madiwala, and two in areas further away,” says Ramoji Gowda.

He says that the names of 26,000 of the total 36,000 people he had enrolled, were not in final voter list. “I have acknowledgement slips for registration of all of them,” he says. Gowda, in his petition, plans to also ask for an investigation against the Regional Commissioner who was in-charge of the election.

Deve Gowda of JD(S) says that over 24,000 of the total 1.1 lakh names in the voter list is bogus. “When we sent appeals to all voters before election, over 24,000 were returned because the addresses were wrong. Also, booth allocation in outskirts – where JD(S) has more support – was confusing.”

Ashwin Mahesh (Lok Satta) also says that his campaign would have worked better if the election was held properly. Mahesh had already filed a PIL in the High Court of Karnataka on this before the elections. Meenakshi Bharath, Bangalore city President of Lok Satta, says, “Some 60,000 names in the voter list were of those who had registered during the earlier election in 2006. Many of these addresses could be outdated; only about 10% from this group came to vote.”

Ramoji Gowda and Deve Gowda blame BJP for the mess. “BJP is ruling and hence it is easy for them to manipulate the election.” Ramachandra Gowda says that BJP had raised the issue of irregularities too, during counting, and that other candidates can go to court for re-election if they want to.

Mahesh says that he has done as well as BJP, and better than Congress and JD(S), when considering voters from the city alone. “Virtually all my votes came from the city. One-third of voters were from rural areas where I had no election organisation. This shows that there is a real opportunity for new politics in the city,” he says.

Mahesh’s stature directly drew votes

On the other hand, many of those who voted for Mahesh seemed to have made their decision based on candidate rather than party. Lok Satta’s membership itself in the city is low – only about 500.

Sharath Shroff, 29, working at Dell International Services, had voted for Lok Satta in the election. He says that he was aware of Mahesh’s work, but not that of Lok Satta. “I knew that there was a party called Lok Satta, but I am not updated about the work it does. Even if Mahesh was an independent candidate, I would have voted for him,” he says.

Shroff had come to know about the election itself through Lok Satta’s social media updates, but had not attended any of the party’s campaigns. “I came to know that Mahesh was instrumental in introducing Big10 buses, improving Puttenahalli lake, etc. I use Big10 buses daily; so Mahesh had done something that directly impacted me. I also spoke to a friend who resides in JP Nagar, to know about Puttenahalli lake improvement.”

Shroff got himself enrolled as a voter without any party support and spread the word among his colleagues. “Only Mahesh’s campaigns were visible this election. I felt that he had the vision to work for the entire city, as opposed to other candidates who were only taking up specific issues of graduates.”

Another voter B Bhaskar, 60, is more skeptical about Lok Satta. He is a member of Jayanagar 5th block RWA and had been following Mahesh’s work for long. “I voted only for him, and know nothing at all about Lok Satta. In assembly elections I only vote for national parties like BJP and Congress as these parties have to be more accountable and are easier to influence, because of their national presence,” says Bhaskar.

A third voter Manoj Jhanji, 49, Director at Dell International Services, had participated in IAC campaigns and knew about Lok Satta. “I met Mahesh during an IAC campaign and came to know about his work. I voted mainly based on candidate, and based on party to some extent. Lok Satta is a clean party, but I will not blindly vote for any candidate of theirs; it will depend on who they are fielding,” says Jhanji.

Lok Satta party leadership concedes that majority of votes were because of Mahesh’s candidature, but that there were also those who voted for the party. State president K Ramalakshmi says that the party has grown in Bangalore in the last three years, and plans to start offices in other districts. She says that in future elections too, the party will field only candidates known to have done good work, maybe those from RWAs or NGOs.

On the party’s growth, Ramalakshmi says, “Thirty years back no one knew BJP. But its growth was more because of its right wing politics, and Lok Satta may not grow in the same scale since our values are different and we are demanding reforms.” She is also hoping for a tipping point, where instead of a few people actively work for change, “everyone will get involved.” She also points out that Bangalore is good for Lok Satta’s growth because it it is cosmopolitan. “Divisions based on caste/community are lesser, and people in general want good systems and politics”, she says.

For the moment though, everyone is taking a breather. But with the state’s assembly elections less than a year away, and Bengaluru having 28 seats, campaigners across all parties know that hard electioneering will be back soon.


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About Navya P K 317 Articles
Navya has 12 years of experience in journalism, covering development, urban governance and environment. She was earlier Senior Journalist, Citizen Matters, and Reporter, The New Indian Express. She has also freelanced for publications such as The News Minute, Factor Daily and India Together. Navya won the All India Environment Journalism Award, 2013, for her investigative series on the environmental violations of an upcoming SEZ in Bengaluru, published in Citizen Matters. She also won the PII-UNICEF fellowship in 2016 to report on child rights in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Navya has an MA in Political Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a PG Diploma from the Asian College of Journalism.