Can independent candidates win in this city election?

Finally, elections to the Bengaluru council are to be announced soon. Roughly half the city’s 198 wards have been reserved (for BC, SC, ST and women). The state election commission is expected to announce the dates by next week.

Soon, and with a ‘municipal’ intensity, the usual election campaigning will begin  — party ticket quarrels, rebels turning independents, the race to nominations, disclosure affidavits and the blaring of loudspeakers in our streets as campaigning culminates.

For local elections, turnout has historically been around 50 per cent, and it’s usually the urban poor who have gone out to vote. The middle and upper income groups have largely kept away. Mainstream political parties — Congress, BJP and JD(S) in Karnataka – have mastered the art of cobbling together victories with the usual methods of courting slum-dwellers.

So what could be different this time? One key fact: the margin of many victories in the last council polls were wafer thin — single-digits in some wards. This, coupled with smaller more compact ward sizes this time led to the belief that an independent candidate who can cobble together a few thousand votes can win, even though historically, on the day of the election, party candidates have always pulled through.

Enter the new Bengaluru. Groups such as the Citizens Action Forum (known for leading the city’s revolt 2008 against the Akrama-Sakrama law of the then JD(S) government) have staked their claim to represent increasingly vocal resident welfare associations (RWAs) across the city.

At the other end of the spectrum are NGOs who say they are networking with construction, domestic and other workers unions in the city’s slums to float independent candidates from amongst the urban poor itself, in 10-15 wards, particularly the reserved ones.

Here are the challenges: RWA bases are typically filled with upper caste citizens. But even in unreserved wards, where the RWA movement sees its best chance, the proportion of urban poor voters and their turnout is usually high. Successful candidates will not only have to get those votes, they will also have to convince thousands of better-off voters to actually turnout on election day. This is no easy task.

For campaigners hoping that urban poor will soon be able to float winnable candidates in reserved wards, the challenge is different: breaking the hold parties have always had on the poor. On election day, even poor voters have been seen to vote for a mainline party candidate (for a variety of reasons). A credible and clean independent from their lot still stands a hard chance.

Both sides (RWA federation leaders and urban poor leaders) have not yet had major talks with each other to see if they can join hands, but that may change in a matter of weeks.  ⊕

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