Pressure from real estate has led to massive displacement in the last decade, newcomers are yet to grow roots

It took close to an hour to find a resident who could identify this constituency, let alone name a candidate. Such is their detachment from electoral democracy that many of the ‘modern’ and ‘educated’ residents here did not even know that the Assembly elections are a fortnight away.

Gainers and losers

The nine Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) wards that form the Bommanahalli Assembly constituency are populated conspicuously by those who have just moved in; those whose roots are yet to grow. In the so-called development that this outer fringe of Bangalore has witnessed in the last decade, thousands have lost their lands to large apartment complexes, residential layouts, shopping districts, software companies and broader roads.

The conflict between those who have managed to hold onto their small patches of land and those who zip by in their high-end cars is simmering just below the surface of these seemingly tranquil neighbourhoods. The contrast of these two existences is best captured by Naveen Kumar G.T. and Ashwin Trivedi.

Under pressure

Hombe Gowda (58) remembers that as recently as 1998 these areas were dominated by farms under five acres which supplied the city with vegetables, fruits and pulses. It was in the late 1990s that industrial estates such as Electronics City put huge pressure on farmlands.

“I sold my two acres of farmland [in Somasundarapalya] for Rs. 2 lakh in 2001. Today, it is worth at least Rs.10 crore. The real estate agent told me that if I didn’t sell, the government would acquire the land for much less,” said Paapi Reddy (63) who has managed to retain his 800 sq ft house where he lives with his sons, their wives and children. His sons are autorickshaw drivers.

As farming bit the dust and land turned to gold, a new class of wheeling-dealing land sharks made crores of rupees. None less than former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa went to jail following allegations that he illegally denotified land in Arakere village.

The players

Incumbent MLA M. Satish Reddy (BJP) worth nearly Rs. 50 crore, the Congress challenger C. Nagabhushana worth nearly Rs. 25 crore and the dark horse from Karnataka Janata Paksha Ramesh Reddy worth Rs. 5 crore are all big players in the area’s real estate business. “They were nobodies until 10 to 15 years ago,” said Hombe Gowda caustically.

Attempting to ‘cleanse’ the constituency of money power and muscle power are two ‘anti-corruption crusaders’, Ashwin Mahesh of the Lok Satta Party and Independent Yogesh Devaraj — both are former employees of technology firms turned political activists. That they chose to fight each other surprised many as they were comrades in the India Against Corruption campaign.

But they are unlikely to dent the fierce, caste and community-based loyalties that some of the other candidates evoke. Their chances of making an impression on this election will depend on how many of the ‘modern’ and ‘educated’ voters turn up to vote.

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