Different strokes for two folks in high-tech Bangalore (Election Special)
In the prestigious contest for the Bangalore South constituency, where Congress' Nandan Nilekani, Infosys co-founder-turned-minister in the UPA government, is pitted against five-time BJP lawmaker and former minister Ananth Kumar for the April 17 Lok Sabha elections, their campaign styles are as distinctly different as chalk from cheese.
Though a new entrant in politics, the 58-year-old Nilekani lost no time in getting into the heat and dust of electioneering, doing leg work daily from dawn to dusk to meet as many people in the high-tech constituency, home to about 600 global IT firms, including Infosys, which he co-founded, and Wipro, as also scores of multi-nationals.
But a visit to his spartan campaign headquarters in the upscale Jayanagar area, near the famous downtown landmark Lalbagh garden, belies what one would expect during election time. There is no sign of campaign, bereft of banners, posters, party flags, workers or even curious onlookers.
As you walk into the old palatial building with red-oxide floor, the sight of young folks in a hall using smart-phones and tablets gives away the high-tech campaign that technocrat Nilekani has unleashed to reach out to the electorate in the real and virtual worlds.
In stark contrast, the 54-year-old Kumar is seen campaigning in style with all the paraphernalia and colour that go into wooing voters in a crowded suburb, just 10-12 km away, giving a feeling that an exciting election is around.
In substance too, the main rivals are poles apart, even as both feel the youth are with them (See Box).
Nilekani attempts to connect with the people harping on infrastructure woes, lack of amenities, woeful public transport, housing shortage and other civic issues that are in the domain of a ward corporator or local legislator.
"As I was born and brought up here, I am able to identify with the people and identify their problems. They are looking for a new MP, who can bring about a change for the better," Nilekani told IANS, taking a break from his hectic campaigning.
"I have been an agent of change, be it at Infosys, BATF or Aadhaar," he said, referring to his company, then the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BAFT), which he chaired when his Congress mentor S.M. Krishna was chief minister from 1999-2004, and more recently as the head of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that was mandated to issue 'Aadhaar' cards to all citizens.
But an unfazed Kumar spoke about changing the national government, defeating the rival party that, according to him, had made life miserable with soaring prices, corruption, scams, jobless growth and poor infrastructure development.
"This is a Lok Sabha election, not for assembly or municipality. People are aware of the issues and know whom to vote. They made a conscious choice in the past, they will make a conscious choice again," Kumar told IANS.
"The people want good governance and a strong leader like (Narendra) Modi to guide the country through challenging times," Kumar added in the midst of some hectic canvassing, sweating profusely under the hot sun.
His allusion was to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat's four-time chief minister (Modi) for the 16th Lok Sabha elections.
As co-founder, Nilekani built Infosys from scratch, created thousands of jobs and put Bangalore on the global IT map. As BATF chair, he guided state-run utilities and local bodies to improve the city's infrastructure during the Congress regime in 1999-2004.
Then again as chairman of the state-run UIDAI, he led the world's largest social scheme (Aadhaar) to give an identity to more than 600 million people across the country thus far.
"I have a clean image. I am committed to deliver whatever I take up. At BATF and UIDAI, I proved to be a problem-solver. Though IT made Bangalore world famous, its infrastructure development did not keep pace with its explosive growth," Nilekani said.
"As a result, the city is a victim of its success. I want to fix its problems, transform it into a world class city and promote it as its global ambassador," Nilekani said, sharing his vision for the tech hub.
On the other, as a seasoned politician, a former federal cabinet minister and his party's national general secretary, Kumar recalled his contribution to the city by getting it the new international airport, metro rail link, Cauvery river water supply and prudent use of funds given to every lawmaker for local area development.
"The fact that I have been winning here since the 1996 elections, despite the Congress fielding a new candidate in every election, proves why the people have been voting for me. This time, a vote for me is a vote to bring us back to power under Modi's leadership," Kumar asserted.
Kumar was union civil aviation and urban development minister in the twin National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee's leadership during 1998-99 and then 1999-2004.
On the charge that he does not talk about his party or the UPA government, which carries the baggage of corruption charges, price rise, non-performance and anti-incumbency, Nilekani said the perception was wrong.
Even the BJP faced similar charges and its government in Karnataka was ousted in the May 2013 assembly elections.
"People know which party I represent, its contribution to the state since its return to power last year. Our leaders, ministers and the entire machinery are campaigning for me. I have no doubts," Nilekani said.
Aware of Nilekani's high-voltage campaign from ground zero to cyberspace through social media like Facebook and Twitter and short messaging service (SMS), Kumar is not taking chances and sweats out to ensure voters remain loyal to him on the D-day.
(Fakir Balaji can be reached at email@example.com. Arvind Padmanabhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 09-04-2014)