Fifty-five-year-old Anthony Joseph and his wife Sadai Mary (53) were rushing their granddaughter to a doctor when tragedy struck in the form of one of the thousands of potholes that mark the roads of the IT capital of the country – Bengaluru. They fell from the scooter they were riding, negotiating a pothole on the Mysore Road in the heart of the city, and were run over by a bus, whose driver was booked for rash and negligent driving.
In the poll-bound Karnataka, this tragedy was immediately sought to be milked for electoral purposes by the political parties – clearly the BJP was on the offensive and the Congress on the backfoot with elections around the corner.
Doubtless, it degenerated into a blame game with the Congress blaming the mess left behind by the BJP that ran Bengaluru municipal corporation till two years ago and the opposition BJP going all guns blazing at the utter neglect of the city and the state by the Siddharamaiah government.
Now at a rough estimate, the corporation – BBMP – itself has identified over 6,000 potholes in the city that need urgent repairs, but its spokesperson admitted that due to the persistent rain they were unable to repair all of them. “But we intend to repair all the potholes and ensure that another tragedy does not take place,” its spokesperson told at a media briefing, responding to a barrage of questions by media persons.
While S Harishkumar, former Bengaluru mayor, launched into a series of allegations of neglect and corruption against the Congress that took over the municipal corporation two years ago and the state government for the overall mess and blamed the ruling party for ignoring the growing needs of the city, that has found a place on the international IT map.
MG Suresh, a local Congress leader, promptly blames the BJP. “It has left behind such a mess that we are trying to repair.”
“It is sad that the political parties engage in a “tu, tu, mai, mai” diatribe when the crying need is urgent attention to the city that is the pride of India,” said Ganapati Ramachandran, a top IT entrepreneur with offices in three continents. There is no running away from the fact that the infrastructure in Bengaluru, the crown of Karnataka, has crumbled and the pressure of growing population due to migration – from other parts of the country and the state.
In the poll-bound KarnataKa, thIs tragedy was ImmedIately sought to be mIlKed for electoral purposes by the polItIcal partIes
Pothole deaths, highly tragic, is just one manifestation of the impact of the city bursting at its seams.
“Undoubtedly, Bengaluru has the worst traffic in the entire country– roads are congested and it is absolutely difficult to drive from point A to point B. If one must take a flight, sometimes even leaving three hours before the scheduled time may not be sufficient,” said Rahul Khanna, an IT professional in Electronic City.
Koramangala, one of the poshest residential colonies in Bengaluru that developed over the years after the IT boom embraced the City of Gardens, today presents a horrific picture in the rainy season. Severe waterlogging, with water entering homes is a regular feature that its residents have been facing for a long time. “There is some noise made by residents, pictures published in newspapers, and officials make a drama of doing something and then everyone forgets the problem,” said Megha Goel, a young advertising executive living in the colony. “I will move out, as I live on rent, but think of all those people who cannot move as they own the houses,” she said.
If one talks to the man on the street in Bengaluru, a cosmopolitan city with people from all over the country making it their home, one can detect a sense of despair and helplessness. “We will teach them a lesson,” said a garage owner on Hosur Road, meaning the Congress.
Karnataka goes to the polls in a few months and Bengaluru’s crumbling infrastructure is not a terribly good advertisement for the ruling Siddharamaiah government, said Balamurali Krishna, an independent brand consultant. But will it harm the Congress and how much, would depend on a variety of factors.
Said a political analyst who preferred to remain anonymous, “Ideally the BJP should have been in the driver’s seat, but since there is severe infighting going on in the party, it may find the going tough.”
This brings us to the question if the BJP, which has its relentless election machine, can pounce on the ruling Congress and pick up the state that seems ripe for a ‘Congress-mukt Karnataka’?
The BJP leaders believe so and are sure that Karnataka is ready for a change.
“People are ready to throw the corrupt Congress government out lock, stock, and barrel,” said Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar, party in-charge for Karnataka, at a recent meeting of party leaders in the city.
“This is easier said than done, as Siddharamaiah is not really saddled with any major corruption scandal and he is generally perceived to have done well. And if BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) slug it out, it can work to the advantage of the Congress,” the political analyst said.
The April 9 byelections to Nanjungud and Gundlupet in southern Karnataka is something that the BJP should not forget. All its tall claims of beating the Congress and that the people were ready for a change were smashed on the ground. In both the constituencies the ruling Congress won by a decisive margin of over 10,000 votes.
More important, for the BJP and its chief ministerial face in former chief minister BS Yeddiyurappa, it was a personal loss of face as he had camped in the region for three weeks, drumming up a stringent anti-Congress, anti-Siddharamaiah campaign. Clearly the outcome shows that the people did not buy it. But with Janata Dal (Secular) not fielding a candidate in both the constituencies, in a straight fight, the Congress romped home with ease.
It is still early days as there is speculation of electoral alliances in the works to consolidate anti-Congress votes into one entity with the BJP leading such a coalition of forces. Analysts point out that if the JD(S) and the BJP were to come to an understanding, then it would be curtains for Siddharamaiah and the Congress.
Also, for the Congress it is not certain that the most recent trend witnessed in the two byelections in southern Karnataka will hold true for the assembly polls too. But this victory has strengthened chief minister Siddharamaiah and his say in election-related decisions would be more assertive.
Brajesh Kallappa, senior Congress leader from the state, is sure that “we are working as one unit and you will see we will come back with ease. If there is infighting and division in ranks, it is in the BJP where many of its leaders have not yet forgiven Yeddiyurappa for defeating the party by floating his own party against the BJP.”
This contention is strongly refuted by BJP leaders, who say that the Congress was spreading misinformation and that BJP was moving ahead with its Mission 150 as declared by party president Amit Shah.
In fact, last year the BJP won two out of the three assembly byelections, indicating that its support was growing. But it has a lot of catching up to do.
The BJP, that had won 110 seats in the 2008 elections and formed its first government in South India, was reduced to a mere 40 following acrimonious tenure with leadership changes due to corruption and infighting. Towards the end of the government’s tenure, Yeddiyurappa was so miffed with the party affairs that he quit and floated own party killing its chances of re-election.
state goes to the polls In a few months and bengaluru’s crumblIng Infrastructure Is not a good advertIsement for the rulIng party
“Although assembly elections are fought on local issues, the BJP will also have to answer for its non-performance at the Center, falling GDP, loss of jobs and price rise. All these will be issues that will form part of talking points in the campaign speeches of the leaders as elections approach,” said another Congress leader.