Getting Bangalore to the ballot box, and more

Bangalore, April 1 (IANS) With its large floating population, Bangalore, India’s tech hub, has the dubious distinction of a consistently poor turnout in elections. Now, a group of citizens have joined hands in an attempt to change that record.

Leading entrepreneurs, retired civil servants, artists and sportspersons from the state have set about the daunting task of getting more Bangaloreans to arrive at the polling booths and cast their votes in the May 5 assembly polls that they think are crucial for the city and the state.

Only around 45 percent of Bangaloreans voted in the 2008 assembly polls; about 50 percent voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In the 2010 Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) (urban body) polls, 45 percent of eligible voters cast their vote.

In 2008, the population of the city was estimated at eight million; it was 8.5 million in 2010. The city attracts a large number of people not only from other parts of the state but also from across the country, on account of employment opportunities and educational facilities.

Election authorities say 65 percent of the total population would be eligible to vote, being at least 18 years old.

The city’s population is now estimated to be nine million.

State election authorities say they have been able to register 62 percent of eligible voters, and hope to touch 65 percent by April 7, the last date to update the electoral list. An intensive “coax and cajole” drive, to get all eligible voters to register themselves, is currently on.

The government has also launched the SVEEP programme – Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation.

Realising that the government alone cannot goad all voters into polling booths, a group of concerned Bangaloreans, including Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of leading bio-technology firm Biocon, T.V. Mohandas Pai, formerly director of Infosys and currently active in the education sector, K. Jairaj, retired Karnataka additional chief secretary, athlete Ashwini Nachappa and Bharatnatyam dancer Vani Ganapathi, along with a few others, have taken to encouraging Bangaloreans to cast their vote.

The Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC) was launched recently by these citizens, with support from Infosys founder and emeritus chairperson N.R. Narayana Murthy.

Pai, who serves as BPAC vice-president, said that in partnership with SmartVote, an NGO, the citizens have been running a campaign online, within office premises and college campuses, encouraging those eligible to vote to register themselves and take part in polling.

Pai holds that a new record would be set for the city in the May 5 polls: “It marks a watershed for Bangalore. For the first time, more than 40 percent of eligible voters are the educated middle class. They will determine the fate of candidates only if they get registered as voters by April 7, and go out and vote,” he said.

Bangalore sends 27 representatives to the 225-strong assembly that includes one member nominated by the governor as a representative of the Anglo-Indian community.

BPAC has several initiatives in its Agenda for Bangalore (AfB), of which a prominent one is “efforts to maximize people’s participation in democracy”.

BPAC also intends to engage with the leadership of all political parties to further AfB. It also plans to provide financial and campaign support to candidates contesting for the BBMP, assembly and Lok Sabha seats from Bangalore, if they support the AfB.

Among the proposals BPAC makes are: A “special statute for Bangalore”; earmarking profession tax collected in the city for the city; and providing 50 percent of stamp duties collected on property transactions in BBMP limits and 50 percent of road tax collected from BBMP limits for the city.

(V.S. Karnic can be reached at [email protected])

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