State of play Comment

Who really controls Bengaluru?

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike head office in Bengaluru.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike head office in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain

Nearly two years have passed since the term of Bengaluru’s civic body, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), ended and bureaucrats took over. But elections are nowhere in sight for the civic body, even as political parties are getting all set for the Assembly polls. A petition by former Congress councillors seeking directions to the State government to hold civic polls is pending before the Supreme Court. Though the ruling BJP claims elections have been delayed only to bring in governance reforms, the BBMP Act, 2020, a dedicated law for the city’s governance, has been criticised for doing “too little”.

There are allegations that the civic polls have been deliberately delayed to further strengthen the MLAs, who, in the absence of an elected civic body, have been calling the shots in Bengaluru. The new Act, for instance, provides for an advisory committee led by MLAs at the Assembly constituency level, which many fear will only institutionalise the control MLAs have over Bengaluru, in contravention to the spirit of the 74th Amendment.

With a population of over 1.35 crore, Bengaluru contributes 12.5% of the seats in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, followed by four tier-two cities with a population of not more than a million. In a State afflicted by a poor geo-spatial distribution of economic centres, the city contributes over 60% of Karnataka’s revenue annually. The fight to control the State capital is fierce.

For nearly a decade, Bengaluru Development, which was carved out of the Urban Development Department, has had a dedicated minister. It is a coveted post that has always been a platform for rivalry. Ever since the BJP came to power in 2019, the contest between city ministers to hold charge of Bengaluru Development has led to so much infighting that two Chief Ministers — B. S. Yediyurappa and the incumbent Basavaraj Bommai — who are not from the city, have held the portfolio themselves. Holding both Finance and Bengaluru Development portfolios, Mr. Bommai has an iron grip over the State’s finances. Despite this, there is constant one-upmanship between two city Ministers and former Deputy Chief Ministers, R. Ashok and Dr. C. N. Ashwath Narayan. Both Vokkaligas, the two have been at loggerheads over Bengaluru and to emerge as the Vokkaliga face of the BJP.

Meanwhile, there are also new voices who say that they can change the tenor of politics in a city which still follows old-style politics, dominated by caste and real estate lobbies. Buoyant from its victory in Punjab, the AAP, which has failed to make any electoral impact, is confident of getting a toe into the BBMP “whenever civic polls are held.” However, there is no indication of when that will happen. While on record, the BJP claims it will be “at the earliest” subject to the Court’s decision, sources say it is unlikely to be held before the Assembly elections. With multiple candidates vying for a ticket in most wards, holding civic polls will antagonise those sidelined, which in turn will threaten the party’s prospects in the elections, sources say. MLAs, too, are lobbying hard to hold the civic polls later. The assumption is that in such a scenario, all aspirants will compete with each other to work for the benefit of the party.

Mr. Bommai has denied that the BJP may want to bring forward the Assembly polls to this year after its poor performance in the urban local body polls, so that they coincide with the Assembly elections in Gujarat. If the elections are held as per schedule, then elections to the local bodies (BBMP and Taluk and Zila Panchayats) are likely to be delayed till at least mid-next year.

Over the last two decades, Bengaluru has been witness to vibrant civic activism with participants demanding the implementation of the 74th Amendment to the Constitution. But their calls for true change have had little impact so far.

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Printable version | Mar 25, 2022 12:24:06 pm |