Bangalore Bhath | Rising to the occasion
“Nandan Nilekani cycles to south Bangalore with new promise,” said a recent headline in DNA. The Infosys co-founder and chairman of the government’s Unique Identification Authority of India (Uidai) was riding for a voting awareness campaign, three days after announcing that he would contest the Lok Sabha election as a Congress party candidate.
A week earlier, V. Balakrishnan, a former Infosys board member, had joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The move to politics is viewed by many in this city less as an aberration and more as a natural progression as leaders—and as voices of the average Bangalorean, the aam aadmi. The city is preparing to replicate the success of Delhi’s aam aadmi.
The answer, they found, lies in what they call “informed governance”—a governing body of democratically elected leaders who are trained to understand the working of the system before they get on the job.
Last year, T.V. Mohandas Pai, a founding member of B.PAC and yet another Infosys co-founder, asked Nitin Pai, director and co-founder of Bangalore-based think tank Takshashila, to create a programme that would train and nurture those interested in urban politics. The idea was to find a new kind of politician at the municipal level of governance. “That is the best way to change a city,” Mohandas Pai had said.
In December, B.PAC, along with Takshashila, launched the B.PAC Civic Leadership Incubator Program (B.CLIP) for aspiring leaders wishing to enter the system at the municipal level. In his first B.CLIP class on 6 December, Nitin Pai asked, “What is politics?” The answers ranged from public governance to leadership, to one candidate just simply saying, “The best way to make money.” After muffled laughter in the class, Pai defined it as a service or any act that isn’t for the self.
Manjesh J.C. is one of the 66 students in the ambitious nine-month programme which involves three months of theory classes on the working of the city’s corporation and six months of field training—getting an idea of what a ward is like, talking to residents, and so on. The course includes a fund of Rs.60,000 that each candidate can use on a public project of his/her choice. As it happens, more than half of this class has some political affiliation, while the rest have some track record of public service.
A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), 35-year-old Manjesh is seated in the office of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board in Vidyaranyapura, intently calculating how much water is consumed by the residents of the municipality ward he lives in. An engineer at Intel Corp., Manjesh has taken two days off for data collation. “Only if you know the facts can you find the solution,” he says, explaining that as part of this exercise, called the ward walk, he will spend a week understanding his ward, its problems and statistics.
Manjesh, like most of his fellow students, was enthusiastic about the leadership training programme. “It seemed like the logical next step to how I want to tackle my ambition to make my locality function well and participate in the corporator elections,” he says.
M.V. Rajeev Gowda, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and member of the Congress party, says he invited people with clean money to join politics much before it became fashionable. Gowda, who also runs a not-for-profit, launched the Urban Action Internship 2014, offering two streams of study, urban design and urban governance, on 11 January. “I have been talking to those with clean money to engage with politics for a decade now,” says Gowda “The time has come. It’s not viewed as dirty any more.”
Why is this city so engaged with urban governance, and why now? Harish Narasappa, co-founder of the Bangalore-based Daksh that collates data on elected representatives, says: “Just as frustration gave rise to the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, exasperation with the city’s infrastructure gave birth to organizations and citizen-led initiatives like Janaagraha’s Ichangemycity.com, where people wanted to take issues into their own hands. But why have the city’s issues not vanished, despite the NGOs and think tanks working in the area of urban development? At some point all those ideas had to meet governance. Which in our case is the municipal corporators who run the city.”
B.CLIP candidates have to go through a rigorous selection process, with interviews and written statements of purpose. They have to collect a hundred signatures from people who would be willing to endorse them if they stood for elections. “That was the most challenging part,” says former dancer Usha R.K., who wants to create more public spaces for dance and theatre performances. “I had all the ideas and the energy to fight, but talking to people, convincing them and getting endorsements, that’s the real challenge of politics,” she says.