Balakrishnan says he is surprised that caste is a big factor even among the educated class
Walking through the narrow crowded lanes behind Ulsoor bazaar, a largely low-income neighbourhood in the heart of the Bangalore Central parliamentary constituency, the Aam Aadmi Party’s corporate accountant-turned-politician V. Balakrishnan appears to be on a learning curve.
The former Infosys CFO’s supporters, all distinctly middle-class and self-confessed first-timers to “areas like these”, are visibly taken in by what they see — people living next to open drains, children defecating in street corners, large piles of garbage and long queues for water. To most of them, including the Lok Sabha seat aspirant, this picture of abject poverty in the heart of the country’s IT capital comes as a “real eye-opener”. As Mr. Balakrishnan puts it, this is their introduction to the “two worlds within Bangalore”. “This, where the quality of life is incredibly pathetic, and then the malls and the pompous life. It’s most striking,” he says.
The challenges for a crowd like this motley AAP bunch to reach out to such a vast and diverse population, where politics is about much more than the “anti-corruption only” plank they’re standing precariously on, are huge. Perched on an open jeep, Mr. Balakrishnan, dressed in a pink kurta and sporting a dressy garland, smiles and waves vigorously at potential voters. His campaign style is a tad distant; he lets most of his team do the talking, the closer interactions and the speeches. Not once does he take to the microphone, he lets his multi-lingual party mate appeal to the voters in Tamil, Kannada and Hindi. Even that speech seldom strays beyond election rhetoric and sticks to one thing: bringing corruption to a halt.
On foot, Mr. Balakrishnan is relatively more interactive, but doesn’t venture beyond a matter-of-fact handshake and a muted appeal for votes. He leaves the evangelising to his supporters. As the candidate walks on, they enter homes, cajole children to try on the branded white AAP topi (with the broom imprint) and engage in conversations about corruption. All political novices, the supporters are chuffed with what they are doing. At least half a dozen of them point out that the group that day has a renowned cardiac surgeon, an ex-military person and a few engineers to support a man who once sat on the board of Infosys.
Mr. Balakrishnan tells The Hindu that he believes that after New Delhi, it is Bangalore where the AAP has a “strong chance”.
He says that he is not exactly the stranger to politics that he is being made out to be. “I’ve seen politics in close quarters when my father, in the late 1960s, fought a corporation election as a DMK candidate. “There’s a strong undercurrent as people have seen a corrupt BJP in the State, and an equally corrupt UPA government at the Centre.”
So what has been his prime learning over the past few weeks? “Caste,” he says. “I always knew that elections here are fought on money and muscle power. But what struck hard was that caste was such a big factor even among the educated class. I didn’t expect that,” he says.