A polling station in rural Bengaluru on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
Bengaluru: The people of Bengaluru retained their reputation as reluctant voters on Saturday. Only half of those eligible to vote in the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ stepped out to vote in the Karnataka elections.
At 50%, the latest estimates as of 6 pm, the voter turnout in Bengaluru underscores the abysmally low interest that the city folk have in politics. The polling percentage is marginally lower than Bengaluru’s own previously set standards. The turnout in the capital district in the 2013 Karnataka elections stood at 52.8%.
The Sarvagnanagar constituency, for instance, almost defines what is wrong with Bengaluru when it comes to voting. Saturday could have been a hotbed of political engagements here, but it resembled a sleepy town, keeping up to its last time’s record: out of more than 2.8 lakh people eligible to vote, only about 1.4 lakh people exercised their franchise.
The candidates in the fray from Sarvagnanagar constituency do not inspire much confidence either.
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.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (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, convenor 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.
At noon on Saturday, when this correspondent visited a polling booth of Sarvananagar constituency in a dingy gully (past heaps of garbage, a stinking sewage canal, and lavish places of worship), there were hardly any crowds. A few women were briskly walking in and out of the booth. A group of men stood outside, taking note of the footfall.
“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, averaged the total turnout in two other booths of the constituency to 29.48% and 35%, as per his party’s internal estimates. He 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.
It did not rain. But the story of Sarvagnanagar more or less repeated across Bengaluru. Out of the 91.13 lakh people eligible to vote from five parts of Bengaluru, only 50% cast their vote on Saturday, according to election commission data.
“We are doing our best,” said a member of Whitefield Rising, a collective of resident associations. “The group has been campaigning for high voter turnouts throughout the month and is offering even incentives to go out and vote. Somebody is doing home-baked cookies, cupcakes. It’s sort of fun,” the person said, requesting anonymity.
In Whitefield’s Prestige Shantiniketan, a large residential gated community, the group 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 an 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 the story.