Bengaluru: A day after the Karnataka elections, Congress leader and state agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda is rushing to visit his organic mango farm in the outskirts of Bengaluru. But one question is playing on his mind: what’s wrong with Bengaluru when it comes to voting?
“Only 10 people came out to vote in an apartment complex in north Bengaluru, my men who were monitoring the turnout in that part of the town told me. There are at least 400 voters there," Gowda said from his car, over the phone.
At 54.76%, the voter turnout in Bengaluru on Saturday underscores the abysmally low interest that the city folk have in state politics. The city has 28 seats, most of which have voted for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent past, and can completely swing the outcome of the cliffhanger election.
But the polling percentage was only marginally better than Bengaluru’s own previously set standards, 52.8% in 2013.
“We are not talking about those who are not registered, because of lack of interest or of some institutional barriers. Leave them. Those who have registered really have no excuse not to vote," said Gowda.
Even constituencies that could have been a hotbed of political engagements on Saturday resembled a sleepy town, like Sarvagnanagar constituency on the eastern side of Bengaluru.
On the one hand, K.G. George, Congress leader and minister for Bengaluru in the Karnataka government, is seeking a second term from the constituency. He is facing allegations of corruption, land grabbing, abetment to suicide of a police officer and general incompetence in solving the city’s many problems.
On the other hand, the opposition BJP is rallying the Hindu votes, a minority in the constituency, under M.N. Reddy, who was in the news recently for wheeling in a 62-feet, 750-tonne Hanuman statue from Kolar on a 300-wheeler truck—causing considerable chaos on Bengaluru roads.
Then there is Prithvi Reddy, convener of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Karnataka. He can be easily dubbed as the Arvind Kejriwal of Bengaluru, contesting under the promise of taking on the established players and offering a fresh start. But on Saturday noon, when this correspondent visited a polling booth in the constituency in a dingy gully—past heaps of garbage, a stinking sewage canal, and lavish places of worship—there were hardly any crowds.
“I could tick off only 10% so far," said Ibrahim Ahmed, an 18-year-old volunteering for a political party as its polling booth in-charge, helplessly looking at the list of 1,440 voters in his hand.
Syed Suleman, polling booth in-charge for another party, was worried that if it rains in the evening, as it had almost every day in the week gone by, fewer people would come out to vote.
He was wrong. The sky remained clear until the end of voting, and the rains escaped taking the blame for public apathy to politics. But, nevertheless, the story of Sarvagnanagar was more or less repeated across Bengaluru. Out of the 9.11 million people eligible to vote from five parts of Bengaluru, only 4.99 million cast their vote, according to Election Commission data.
“We are doing our best," said a member of Whitefield Rising, a collective of resident associations, who were actively campaigning to increase the turnout for months. On Saturday, they were offering even incentives to go out and vote, such as home-baked cookies, cupcakes, and so on. In Whitefield’s Prestige Shantiniketan, a large residential gated community, the group even managed to enrol about 2,000 people in the voter’s list and ferry them to the polling booths in mini-buses.
Meanwhile, in Sarvagnanagar, a 23-year-old man just stepped out of bed and is out to buy groceries. He laid out a long list of institutional and personal barriers lined up against casting his vote: “I don’t have a Voter ID. I tried applying for one once. But then they asked me to go to this office and that office, bring this paper and that paper... It was really difficult."
Sharan Poovanna contributed to this story.