Was corruption an electoral issue for Bangaloreans?

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After the Karnataka elections, many political analysts said that people of Karnataka are not for corruption; the BJP lost the state because of corruption. But did they? At least in Bengaluru, this argument does not seem to hold any ground.

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It is true that the rest of Karnataka voted out the corruption-ridden BJP. Outside Bangalore, the party got just 28 seats out of 196, and lost its deposit in 110 constituencies – a defeat unimaginable and unexpected by its leaders. But in Bangalore, BJP lost just five seats, down from 17 to 12. The Congress party suffered two upsets (Narendra Babu – Mahalakshmi Layout and Prasannakumar – Pulakeshinagar) and won five additional seats, taking the tally to just 13 form 10.

 

If there was an overall trend for Bangalore’s 28 seats, it was this: most sitting MLAs across parties won their seats, 20 in all.

This takes us to an important question: Does corruption matter to an average civilian burdened with the day to day affairs of coping up with life in Bengaluru?

Says Kuppanna, 65, a retired government servant residing in Malleshwaram: “Corruption does not count. What I see while voting is what he has done for the constituency, and whether he has helped me on a personal level.”

There is a large majority of voters who follow the same criteria while choosing voters. “I’m traditionally a Congress voter. But this time I voted for BJP. This BJP MLA is good; when we visit him, he buys us drinks and talks with us. But the Congress candidate is not so good,” is how Hanumanthappa, an auto driver explains the phenomena.

There were attempts to boost interest on voting among individuals, by various non-governmental groups. One of them is Bangalore Political Action Committee, BPAC.

Mohandas Pai, Vice-President of BPAC believes that corruption still counts, as far as a normal voter is concerned. “Voters take corruption seriously and that is why many were voted out. The basic flaw is the justice system that takes an inordinate amount of time to dispose of cases,” he adds.

If this is true, and if a voter takes corruption seriously, why have the MLAs with unimaginable increase in assets in five years gotten re-elected? Some MLA contestants’ assets had swelled more than 1000% in five years – an increase no infrastructure bond, no bank or no ULIP can promise. Just an example: BJP MLA S Raghu (C V Raman Nagar) had figured as a topper among the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) list, by growing his assets by 4200%. He had Rs 72.9 lakhs as his assets in 2008, which increased to over Rs 31 crores in five years. He has been re-elected.

Here is a chart that lists the increase in assets from 2008 to 2013, for new MLAs/MLAs who re-contested. This is not to say that steep increases in asset base automatically mean the individual is corrupt. It is just a fact-presentation that lists the growth of assets in five years. The numbers here are taken from the affidavits of respective persons.

AC No.

Constituency

Name

Total Assets 2013

Total Assets – 2008

Growth in
5 years

166 Govindaraja Nagar Priya Krishna (INC) 910 Crore+ 767 Crore+ 19%
163 Shanti Nagar N. A. Haris (INC) 133 Crore+ readability of 2008 affidavit is not good, we could not summarise it Even data released by ADR did not seem to have it
160 Sarvagna Nagar Kelachandra Joseph George (INC) 31.55 Crore+ 24.2 Crore 31%
161 CV Raman Nagar S. Raghu (BJP) 31.6 Crore 72.9 Lakh 4241%
172 BTM Layout Ramalinga Reddy (INC) 35.9 Crore 8.65 Crore 315%
175 Bommanahalli Satish Reddy (BJP) 41.8 Crore 15.9 Crore 163%
176 Bangalore South M Krishnappa (BJP) 34.6 Crore 17.7 Crore 96%
171 Padmanabhanagar R. Ashoka (BJP) 26.2 Crore 9.98 Crore 163%
162 Shivaji Nagar R.Roshan Baig (INC) 19.7 Crore 8.17 Crore 141%
157 Malleshwaram C N Ashwath Narayan (BJP) 15.93 Crore 5.5 Crore 187%
152 Byatarayanapura Krishna Byregowda (INC) 6 Crore+ Affidavit not summarisable  
168 Chamrajpet B.Z.Zameer Ahmed Khan (JDS) 9.45 Crore 52 Lakh 1707%
177 Anekal Shivanna.B (INC-2013) (New) 7.06 Crore Affidavit not summarisable  
  Anekal A Narayanswamy (BJP-2008)(Lost) 7 Crore+ 3.11 Crores 155%
174 Mahadevpura Aravind Limbavali (BJP) 6.12 Crore 1.29 Crore 375%
164 Gandhinagar Dinesh Gundu Rao (INC) 22.76 Crore 20.33 Crore 12%
173 Jayanagar B N Vijaykumar (BJP) 17.62 Crore 75.82 Lakh 2225%
170 Basavanagudi Ravi Subrahmanya (BJP) 2.93 Crore 2.2 Crore 33%
155 Dasarahalli S.Muniraju (BJP) 13.7 Crore 20.12 Crore -32%
150 Yelahanka S R Vishwanath (BJP) 21 Crore+ 8 Crore+ 141%
165 Rajajinagar Suresh Kumar S (BJP) 2 Crore+ affidavit not readable  
167 Vijayanagar M Krishnappa (INC) 144 Crore+ 129 Crore+ 12%
151 K R Puram Basavaraj (new) 26 Crore+    
  K R Puram N Nandish Reddy (BJP-2008)(Lost) 118 Crore+ 36 Crore+ 228%
156 Mahalakshmi Layout Gopalaiah (new) 7.1 Crore+    
  Mahalakshmi Layout N L Narendra Babu (INC-2008) (Lost) 1 Crore+ 8 Lacs+ 1628%
169 Chikpet R V Devaraj (INC-2013)(New) 32 Crore+ 11 Crore+ nearly 300%
159 Pulikeshinagar A Srinivas Murthy (New) 4.1 Crore    
  Pulakeshinagar B Prasanna Kumar (INC-2008) (Lost) 6 Crore+ 76 Lacs+ 700%
154 Rajarajeshwari nagar Muniratna 28 Crore+ Affidavit for BBMP elections not available  
  Rajarajeshwari nagar M Srinivas (BJP-2008) (Lost) 32 Crore+ 14 Crore+ 115%
153 Yeshwanthpur S T Somashekhar (INC-2013) (New) 7 Crore+ 1 Crore+ 700%

* Only assets are considered, not liabilities
* Previous affidavits of some of the new MLAs could not be checked
* Some of the affidavits filed in 2008 are not readable/ could not be summarised.
* BBMP elections -2010 affidavit for Muniratna could not be searched out.

Anticorruption plank fails to make headway

Perhaps one reason corruption didn’t matter is that choices from alternative candidates to sitting MLAs were not attractive enough, with the result that incumbents were at an advantage anyway.

Some observers were looking to see if the Lok Satta party could capture the angst of Bangaloreans. The party ran its campaign on a ‘clean-politics and anti-corruption’ plank and fielded candidates – characterised as ‘professionals’ – in nine constituencies in the city. The AP-headquartered Lok Satta party is relatively new to Karnataka and does not have a statewide base and following. Their strongest base is Bangalore itself.

But with mainline candidates spending massive amounts of money to lure low-income voters, and with voters also mostly preferring the big parties with statewide or national recognition, Lok Satta’s anti-corruption plank did not make much headway. Some observers say that considering the odds, two of its candidates did do well. Ashwin Mahesh (Bommanahalli) and Meenakshi Bharath (Malleshwaram) came third in their respective races, beating JD(S) and KJP contenders.

Also the premise that the city has had a large population of voters frustrated with corruption and who may be sizeable enough as a vote bank is perhaps faulty. At the peak of Bangalore’s Saaku corruption and Anna Hazare-support campaigns during 2010-11, the maximum number of people who visited the Freedom park by some accounts was around 30,000 in a day.

Assume that around one-two lakhs of people visited Freedom Park over several days of the Hazare campaign. Compare that to the voter turnout for Bangalore on May 5th, 41 lakhs. The one-two lakhs are anyway spread all over Bangalore, not in any one or two of the city’s 28 constituencies. So the staunch anti-corruption voters alone could not have made a difference anyway.

Of course there is an undercurrent of those who may not approve of corruption internally though they may not go around protesting against it. But the people who don’t care for corruption seem to outnumber this minority category of voters who care about corruption.

Sridhar Pabbisetty, Chief Operating Officer of the Centre for Public Policy at IIM-Bangalore who contested from Hebbal on Lok Satta’s ticket, acknowledges the reality. “Familiarity and working for a long term in the constituency has been placed much above contributions made in policy (by voters)”, he says, interpreting the results.

But there is still another question: Bangalore being high-literacy city, did voters even know about the reality of assets and criminal cases of the candidates?

Media coverage of candidate profiles not enough?

There are many institutions in Bangalore working for reforms in electoral politics. Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), established by a group of professors from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, has been working towards empowering citizens with the details of assets and criminal cases of contesting candidates and chosen representatives. ADR releases extensive reports to media from time to time. The team covers elections not just in Karnataka, but all over India.

When asked why so many incumbent MLAs with multiple times of growth in assets, and even those with criminal cases, got elected and re-elected, Trilochan Sastry of ADR puts forth a different perspective, important nonetheless. “Media doesn’t report our studies seriously. The coverage is usually just one or two columns, with just the names of a few contestants. If the media doesn’t report how will people know about such things?”

The media industry has its own reasons not to carry serious issues. According to a decision maker in a major media organisation in the city who did not want to be named, every outlet has a fixed set of objectives, which contribute to the circulation / viewership and brand image. Readership surveys and Television Rating Points (TRPs) too play a major role in deciding editorial priorities.

As a result, local politics, less-serious issues and frivolous elements fetch more audience and yield better circulation or viewership, while serious issues have less audience. This is perhaps reason for the media not to carry the informative reports such as ADR releases in detail.

Coming back to Bengaluru, the voters of the capital city did vote in highest numbers, contributing to highest polling percentage recorded in recent times. So did they vote right?  Nobody has the time to think. It’s over; move on. The new government has come, it will do whatever it has to. Let’s think about it after five years. Corruption is the order of the day. It’s common nowadays. That seems to be the sober bigger picture, as far as this cosmopolitan, all-accommodating city is concerned.


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