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Bengaluru Voters’ Apathy Raises Concern: Which Party Faces the Heat?

Bengaluru South Lok Sabha MP Tejasvi Surya claimed he was eating chaat at a roadside stall in 2019, when he came to know that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had picked him to contest from the high-profile constituency following the demise of senior party MP H.N. Ananth Kumar in November 2018. A political greenhorn in electoral politics, Surya won the Lok Sabha polls with ease in 2019.

Cut to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. A desperate Surya took to micro-blogging handle X in the afternoon of April 26, the polling day to exhort voters to come out and vote. “I want to tell the BJP supporters and voters that we are 80%, but on the polling day we come out and vote 20%, whereas the Congress supporters are 20% and they come out and vote 80%. Each BJP voter must come out and vote because our vote matters. No matter the heat, or the rain, it is your vote which will decide the future of the nation for the next five years…….’’

At the end of the day, figures released by the Election Commission revealed that Surya’s Bengaluru South constituency stood last in terms of voting with just 53.17% among the 14 constituencies that went to polls. Along with Bengaluru South, two other adjoining constituencies Bengaluru Central and Bengaluru North also trailed with a poor turnout of 54.06% and 54.45% respectively.

READ MORE| BJP MP Tejasvi Surya’s Total Assets Surge to ₹4 Crore from ₹13 Lakh Since 2019 Says, Report

Reasons for these three constituencies reporting a poor turnout: Prof Muzaffar H. Assadi, political analyst and former Political Scientist & Dean Faculty of Arts, Mysore University, attributed the cold-shouldering towards elections as a tussle between the urban voters and the elected representatives. “For the urban voters, infrastructure facilities such as supply of water, waste management etc are the prime issues and when these are not delivered, disappointment and disillusionment set in. The political system comes across to them as corrupt,’’ he maintained.

In contrast, for the rural electorate irrigation facilities, supply of fertilisers, and a good network of roads are among the issues which matter, Assadi said. “When these are not delivered they resort to en masse boycott of elections as polls are the only opportunity when they can stand up and face the feudal lords,’’ he added.

Assadi pointed out that when elections were held in India for the first time in 1952, democracy was a misnomer to many. India was an agrarian country at that point in time, but the voter turnout was immense. From 1952 to 2024 the transition was a matter of identity for the rural, poor voter, while for the urban electorate, the BJP entered by selling dreams.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls all three constituencies registered an overall 55% voting while the state’s average was 65%. The voting figures for the city’s three constituencies in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls were Bengaluru Central 54.32%, Bengaluru South 53.70% and Bengaluru North 54.66%. Similarly, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls Bengaluru Central registered 55.75% voter turnout, Bengaluru North 56.53% and Bengaluru South 55.75%. In the 2023 Assembly polls, overall voting in Bengaluru was 52%.

In the mid `90s extending to early 2000, the general reason for the poor show in Bengaluru was attributed to names missing in the electoral rolls or being deleted. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike over the years has managed to minimise these complaints, but the turnout has failed to touch 60%. Fervent appeals by social influencers such as Rajya Sabha MP Sudha Murty, her husband and founder of Infosys Narayana Murthy and Biocon executive chairperson and founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw to show up in large numbers and increase the voter turnout in Bengaluru seemed not to have made an impact.

Another trend discovered by poll analysers is that women voters in the three urban constituencies have displayed the same apathy compared to their counterparts across the remaining 11 constituencies. Political analyst and senior journalist N K Mohan Ram said in Udupi-Chikkamagaluru (77.15%), Dakshina Kannada (77.56%), Hassan (77.68%), Mandya (81.67%) and Mysuru (70.62%), which recorded a good polling, women contributed to the numbers. He attributes it to the five Congress guarantees, of which three are women-centric.

India Today-Axis My India’s pre-poll survey done during the 2023 Assembly polls said 44% of women (vote share) supported the Congress and 33% the BJP. In other words, there was a lead of 11% for the Congress (as against the BJP) amongst female voters, which gave it roughly a 5.5% vote share advantage.

“Constituencies which recorded a good turnout of women are all volatile constituencies being contested by key leaders of different political parties. For a woman voter in a rural area, the guarantees matter a lot in the running of the household. For her the image of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as the saviour continues, while in urban areas men and women are on equal footing and the apathy touches both,’’ Ram said.

What does the low turnout in Bengaluru indicate? Both Assadi and Ram are of the view that the BJP represents the urban face of voters and the Congress in rural areas. “A poor turnout in urban constituencies is bad news for the BJP,’’ they added.

Ram said one reason being mentioned for Bengaluru South’s dismal performance is the Guru Raghavendra Cooperative Bank financial fiasco, which falls in Surya’s constituency. He was heckled by irate depositors of the bank during one of his election meetings for purportedly having failed to redress their grievances and many affected depositors, who happen to be senior citizens having invested their lifetime savings are said to have stayed away from voting.

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