Elections offer new hope for city

Elections offer new hope for city
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First Published: Tue, May 20 2008. 11 49 PM IST
Updated: Tue, May 20 2008. 11 49 PM IST
Bangalore: It’s been a frustrating time for many businesses in India’s information technology hub. Endless traffic jams, sporadic power, a chaotic airport and many politicians who just couldn’t give a damn.
For four years, Karnataka was ruled by a chaotic coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S), whose focus was on farmers.
The result: More decrepit public transport, four-hour commutes, packed roads and blackouts that have taken some gleam off this city.
Now, many executives hope state elections, ending on Thursday, may offer hope for the world’s “back office”, accounting for one-third of India’s $41 billion (Rs1.75 trillion) software exports, by bringing in politicians to address grievances of businesses.
Karnataka will hold the first major election in India under a new constituency map. The first in decades, it gives more political weight to urban India and could weaken traditionally pro-rural politicians as the country prepares for the general election within the year.
“In the last four-five years, a lot was squandered away in Bangalore. What has happened, happened in spite of,” said Ashok Kheny, who has unsuccessfully battled for years to finish a $700 million highway and township project. More than 338 lawsuits later and vocal opposition from JD(S) leader H.D. Deve Gowda, the consortium has finished less than 50% of the work.
Bangalore is still booming. But the worry is the pace of the boom is outstripping infrastructure to a degree that companies may move elsewhere.
Faced with infrastructure bottlenecks and rising real estate costs, firms such as Infosys Technologies Ltd, India’s second largest software services exporter, and India’s top biotechnology firm Biocon Ltd—both based in Bangalore—are mulling expansion projects outside the city.
It was a sign of the times, executives say, that the three parties in the election—the Congress, BJP and JD(S)—have published separate manifestos for Bangalore.
The last election four years ago was seen as a rejection of former chief minister S.M. Krishna’s pro-urban policies. Krishna. But villagers no longer hold the sway they used to under India’s constituent map. Previously, India’s constituencies were based on a 1971 census, when India was hugely rural. The new vote is based on a 2001 census, when millions had migrated to the cities.
Bangalore has more than doubled its seats to 28, more than 10% of the state assembly.
“Traditionally in India, the perception of being a pro-urban politician was a kiss of death,” said V. Ravichandar, managing director of Feedback Consulting in Bangalore, which advises multinationals across India. “But parties are responding to a new urban reality, and a middle class is finding their voice.”
Some fear Karnataka may again produce a coalition government. Still, businesses were not about to give up their city.
“I’m always optimistic,” said G.R. Gopinath, vice-chairman of Deccan Aviation Ltd. “As the saying goes, business always succeeds if you have great inspiration and a lack of resources.”
Sumeet Chatterjee contributed to this story.
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First Published: Tue, May 20 2008. 11 49 PM IST