It’s easy to spot the members of the Nilekani core group, called Together With Nandan (TWN) — a 1,500-member strong band of volunteers raised in January this year — in the sea of Congress workers.
Dressed in ethnic wear but anglicised to their toes, the tech-savvy and largely upper-caste young men and women don’t fit the image of campaigner, for sure. What’s more, many of them speak only English, while most Congress workers speak only Kannada and some faltering Hindi.
It’s visually apparent that politics is not their occupation. Many of them don’t even know where the Congress office is. “We are here for Nandan. We don’t really engage with the Congress,” said a TWN member.
The group’s entire poll pitch is centred on Nilekani and his role in building Infosys, the Bangalore Agenda Task Force and UIDAI. The TWN website doesn’t even sport the Congress’ party symbol.
So, what made them come together with the Congress without being too close? “The idea is to run two parallel campaigns. Our task is to maintain this distance without embarrassing or alienating the average worker,” said a close Nilekani confidant.
He said far from being a whim ending up as a blunder, TWN is part of a calculated strategy to defeat the BJP heavyweight, Ananth Kumar.
The group has a specific task: Increase the voter turnout in Bangalore South, where it’s been traditionally low. The opening line on their website is: “It’s time to cast our vote.” And it goes on to ask, “Are you registered to vote? Is your voter information updated? Do you know your polling station?”
They’re asking sharp enough questions to make the apolitical elite of Bangalore South sit up and take notice. The reason: “Ananth Kumar has thrived because of low voter turnout in each of the last five elections in Bangalore South.”
A TWN member said, “Our margin of defeat in 2009 was just 37,000. Our target is to get at least one lakh new voters this time.”
But Bangalore South is far from a gated community of the rich. Slums, such as Devaraj Urs Colony, Ragigudda, Ejipura, Rajendra Nagar and SG Palya house thousands of voters. And it’s no secret that they are the ones who actually care about elections. “We got tremendous support from these areas in 2009. But it is the elite who stayed away,” said one campaigner, while another confessed: “Most people in the lower income neighbourhoods never heard of Nandan. We are hoping that Congress workers will campaign hard in these areas.”
On paper, the BJP and the Congress appear even, with four MLAs each in the parliament constituency. But while the BJP MLAs started campaigning for Ananth Kumar months ago, the four Congress MLAs joined Nilekani’s bandwagon only a fortnight ago.
The first time they appeared together in public was when Nilekani filed his nomination last Friday. “They had to wait till Nandan formally joined the Congress. And Nandan did not want to join until he delivered on his promise of issuing 600 million Aadhar cards,” said a volunteer.