Ramchandrappa (name changed) is a leading candidate of a prominent political party in the mixed income neighbourhood. He easily confesses he is offering residents between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 for each vote in Saturday’s election to the city council -- Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).
“Five hundred for low-class people and thousand for people like you,” he blurts out before realising that he might be quoted. “My rival is offering much more, sir,” he says trying to take the moral high ground.
The BBMP elections are no less expensive than the Lok Sabha elections that went by.
Residents of more posh neighbourhoods are being offered as much as Rs 2,000 for their votes.
It is within reason to estimate that the 800 candidates scrapping for the 198 seats in Bengaluru would have spent several hundred crores -- legally and illegally -- by the time the city goes to the polls.
These elections are too expensive for Gayatri, the city’s only transgender candidate who is contesting on a Republican Party of India ticket from the Hampi Nagar ward. She has survived in the city for 30 years by begging on its streets and her bank balance is Rs 3,000. Her chances in these elections are equally slim.
Despite the monies and hardships involved -- not to forget chief minister Siddaramaiah’s pride -- candidates such as Gayatri and Ramchandrappa might end up becoming lame duck representatives in the city council.
The state government recently muscled through a Bill which seeks to divide Bengaluru into five cities which will be governed by five different municipalities. Governor Vajubhai Vala has concurred with the view of the opposition BJP and JDS that the Bill lacks constitutional validity. He forwarded it with a dissenting note to President Pranab Mukherjee who has in turn forwarded it to the union Home Ministry for scrutiny.
If the ruling Congress in Karnataka sticks to its guns, the President can do little to prevent the city from being divided into smaller administrative blocks. And that would render the results of Saturday’s election null and void.
Citing this as a possibility, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was preparing for the elections with gusto, decided to boycott it at the last minute. Their official stand is that these elections are a “farce”.
The BJP -- which has its nose ahead of the Congress according to two pre-poll surveys -- has put this issue to interesting use on its campaign trail.
“If we lose and the Congress wins, they will not divide the city council. If we win, they will surely do it. Don’t let their plans succeed,” says M Paari of the BJP who is contesting his fourth election from the Bhartinagar constituency in central Bengaluru.
BJP spokesman S Prakash says that the party is ready to go to court if the government divides the city. The JDS, which has been surprisingly lenient toward the Congress on the campaign trail, has not made its position clear on the issue.
“We will wait for the President’s reaction,” is all party vice president HD Kumaraswamy will say.
Offering an evasive reply, Congress spokesman and minister Dinesh Gundu Rao says, “We also don’t wish to impose another expensive election on the city.” He did not say if his party will drop the bill to split the city.
The candidates’ list is likely to look very different in case another election is imposed on the city in a few months as feared by the opposition.
Ramchandrappa, who has sold one of his prime properties to raise funds for his campaign, says he won’t be able to afford another bout. And Gayatri hasn’t heard about the bill which is pending in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“We’re not professional politicians. You don’t have to mock us for not knowing all the details. Contesting is our way of bringing attention to the existence of our community. Winning is secondary,” says her campaign manager Pallavi.