Hyderabad: In a different year, fighting for a party with a different symbol, in another state, Dr B. Yogesh Babu would have had all our ears, our hearts, our minds. Had he been a candidate for the Aam Aadmi Party in the season of hope in Delhi, the doctoral student who has served the local people in a myriad of capacities, elected and otherwise, we would have cheered for him, prayed for him, and maybe worked for him.
In this year of cynicism, where strongmen have taken over nations the world over, whose ability to beat the truth with falsehoods, fantasies and irrational folklore to stun political pundits and register win after win with mesmerised electorates, Dr Babu, Congress candidate from Bellary, where arguably the “richest” electoral battle in India is being fought, one feels only a shade of sadness, regret, guilt, and lots of doubt and disillusionment.
Dr Babu shot into the limelight when the reinvigorated and buzzy social media handles of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress tweeted about the start of a change that did not set as many ripples of excitement as it unleashed the predictable backlash from the Narendra Modi social army.
A national party setting up an online crowdsourcing of funds to fight an election for a nice, clean candidate hardly caused ripples in the media. Dr Babu’s unverified Twitter account (@DrBYogeshBabu) still remains a near-anonymous affair; he follows 41 accounts, even after RaGa retweeted and tagged him, and has only 109 followers.
The Congress tweet had an inspiring preamble given the opposition Dr Babu has been chosen to take on, saying, “The Reddy brothers of Karnataka believe that no one can challenge their money and muscle power. But a scholar, Dr Yogesh Babu is willing to challenge and defeat them. Join his cause for clean politics by contributing to his campaign, with a link and a hashtag: #CleanPoliticsWithINC.”
Before the campaign ended, it could collect Rs 11,00,310, contributed by 506 supporters, including some prominent Congress leaders, among them Divya Spandana, the social media captain of the party, against a target of Rs 28 lakh.
“I have no money. My rival, B. Sriramulu, BJP MP and a confidante of Reddy brothers, has cases of bribery, attempt to murder, criminal intimidation, rioting amongst other criminal charges, and is the symbol of the mining mafia. I am sure people will support me,” said the 33-year-old Dr Babu speaking to this newspaper between his padayatras on the last day of the campaign.
Mr Gandhi, after hailing the grassroots activist from Molkalmuru, never took his own words seriously enough to campaign on the ground for Dr Babu, “It is a clear fight in Karnataka. Clean politics vs dirty politics. Mafia vs people. With the BJP fielding the corrupt Reddy gang, we are trying a novel approach to fund our candidate. Support our candidate. If you think clean politics must triumph over corrupt politics, join us and be part of this vision.”
Fighting against him in reserved Assembly seat of Molkalmuru, is Mr B. Sriramulu, not only a close aide of the Reddy brothers but a possible Deputy CM candidate as per BJP president Amit Shah. Sriramulu is also contesting from Badami constituency, where he is taking on incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
The BJP led by Mr Modi and Mr Shah must have reasons for their calculations that “clean politics” is not an issue; not any more, or not against the Congress, and most certainly not in Karnataka, especially Bellary. Besides, Mr Sriramulu, it has also given tickets to the elder and younger brothers of Mr Gali Janardhan Reddy — Mr G. Karunakara Reddy and Mr G. Somashekar Reddy — who are contesting from the Harpanahalli and Bellary seats in the infamous mining district. The BJP believes Mr Sriramulu is the face of the Valmiki Nayaka community, one of the largest tribal communities in Karnataka, rather than the face of organised crime or corruption.
The Congress claimed it has cracked down on the ‘mining mafia’ during its UPA regime for the presumed loss of Rs 35,000 crore to the Karnataka exchequer and threw the Reddy brothers in jail, where they faced additional charges of trying to bribe judicial representatives for bail.
Rahul Gandhi’s #CleanPoliticswithINC, promised party spokesperson Sanjay Jha, is here to stay, saying, the Congress would carry out similar crowdfunding exercises in the upcoming elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and next year’s general elections. His words were brave, but sounded hollow and without conviction.
Harnessing online crowdfunding in India, made globally popular by US President Barack Obama in his first campaign, is an art perfected by the Aam Aadmi Party, especially for the Delhi Assembly elections in 2014. Stunt or start, the results would tell; but for those hoping for a larger change beyond parties swapping power, Dr Babu is not the swift that heralds the spring.