To understand how the city votes, one has to see it as a microcosm separated from the rest of the State

At little more than 12% of the total seats in the Assembly and a sixth of the voters in Karnataka, the dense metropolis of Bengaluru has remained in the driver’s seat during electoral battles.

How important is this chunk of 28 seats? Six out of 13 Congress MLAs elected from the city in the outgoing Assembly were made ministers at some point of time, apart from a city-based MLC. The previous BJP government had the same number of city MLAs and one MLC as ministers. Through a decade, these ministers controlled key sectors, such as transport, law and order, housing and even agriculture, in the entire State.

No appetite for issues

While the low turnout in Bengaluru has been the focus of previous elections, what has also become clear is the city’s indifference towards larger issues and trends that determine electoral fortunes elsewhere.

To understand the city, one has to see it as a microcosm separated from the rest of the State. Issues such as the Lingayat minority religion, Cauvery or Mahadayi disputes, Hindutva or religious rhetoric, agrarian distress, Kannada identity, or even the fallout of the State’s economy may make or break candidates in many parts of Karnataka, but hold little sway in Bengaluru.

Instead, in general, citizens seem to make a decision at the ballot box based on myriad small issues specific not to Bengaluru or their constituency, but to their household or even streets.

“There is no heightened electoral consciousness in the city for larger issues to swing votes drastically. The voting seems to be based on a general sentiment about the MLA, rather than governance or party performance,” says Harish Narasappa, founder of DAKSH that, along with Association for Democratic Reforms, carried out a Karnataka Voter Survey recently.

Outreach over governance

Accessibility of the MLA remains a key to victory, particularly to sway lower-middle and economically backward classes that look at the elected representative to deliver government services, such as water, BBMP permits and others, said Mr. Narasappa.

Many of these MLAs routinely conduct ‘durbars’ where local civic officials are pulled up and petitions of the electorate are accepted. For longevity in the city, public outreach rather than governance takes fore, said Mr. Narasappa.

“There is no one issue in the city. People look for accessibility and how the MLA has responded. In slums and lower-income houses, they look at how the MLA has helped in housing and basic amenities while for those in the apartments, developing parks, playgrounds and maintaining streets become important,” said B. Ramalinga Reddy, Home Minister and 6-time MLA from BTM Layout.

Suresh Kumar, a four-time MLA from Rajajinagar, says seats can swing if the ‘opposition’ can indeed bring out issues of government apathy towards Bengaluru, in terms of sanitary, garbage, traffic and flooding. “Accessibility matters, but so does credibility of the MLA. If an opposition MLA can channel the anger of the electorate to show that the sitting MLA has done little, the result of any seat cannot be taken for granted,” he said.

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