Bengaluru Civic Polls Should Not Be Reduced To Political Sparring
People push a bus through a flooded road in Bengaluru, October 24, 2005. (Photo: Reuters)
People push a bus through a flooded road in Bengaluru, October 24, 2005. (Photo: Reuters)

Bengaluru Civic Polls Should Not Be Reduced To Political Sparring

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Bengaluru’s Civic Polls

  • Civic polls in Bengaluru expected to be a tough fight between the BJP and Congress with JD(S) being reduced to a marginal player
  • City unable to cope up with the pressure of fast paced urbanisation, manifesting itself in the form of traffic congestions, sewerage problems, etc
  • Pressure mounts on the state congress with many cabinet ministers likely to be fielded out in case of an electoral loss
  • Civic problems of the city unlikely to be resolved without reforming its governance model

As Bengaluru gears up for its civic polls, the city has become a political battlefield. Elections to the city’s municipal corporation- the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) – is scheduled to be held on August 22 and the results of the same would be declared on August 25.

The election is slated to be a tough fight between the Congress and the BJP, with JD(S) being a marginal player.

While the Congress is in power in the state, the BJP controlled the BBMP in its last term. This had made it convenient for both parties to blame each other for the civic mess in Bengaluru.

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From A City To A Megalopolis

The city has been growing both demographically and spatially over the last decade. The territory of the city corporation increased from 226 sq.km to over 700 sq.km in 2007 and the population grew by 44.6% between 2001 and 2011.

With rapid growth, the city corporation has been finding it difficult to meet the increasing infrastructural demands. The issues facing the city are multiple- traffic congestion, absence of water and electricity in many parts of the city, incomplete drainage and sewerage networks, the degradation of lakes and difficulties in garbage disposal.

However, in what came as a surprise to most citizens of Bengaluru, the city was adjudged the cleanest state capital in India in the Swachh Bharat rankings carried out by the Union Urban Development Ministry. This was somewhat ironical since the piling up of garbage on the streets has often been a major crisis afflicting Bengaluru over the last few years.

With the release of the rankings, both Congress and BJP have been trying to claim victory. The BJP declared in its manifesto that the rankings are a vindication of the efforts put in by the BJP-controlled BBMP to address the garbage crisis.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Political Stakes

The BBMP election is most momentous for one person- Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. The political future of the Chief Minister and other prominent leaders from the state hangs in balance.

Rahul Gandhi had remarked that key ministers in the present Karnataka government would be axed if the party fails to come to power in the city. Over the last few months, the CM has been more proactive and has been seen on the streets of Bengaluru trying to understand the issues faced by the citizens. Though he expressed confidence in winning the elections, the CM stated that the BBMP elections cannot be seen as a referendum of his government.

Still, a loss in the BBMP election would be a huge setback for Siddaramaiah and the Congress. As a general trend, local elections are usually won by the party in power in the state. However, while the Congress gained majority in state assembly election in 2013, the BJP won the majority of seats in the Parliament elections in 2014. Hence, both parties are under immense pressure to deliver.

Congress, BJP Battle it Out

The Congress government has also faced widespread criticism for delaying the elections to the BBMP. Citing irregularities and mismanagement of the corporation, the government had dissolved the elected council of BBMP in mid-April, a week before the 5 year term of the council was to end. Since then, the council-less BBMP has been run by the state government through an administrator.

The congress government has been trying to demonstrate over the last few months that it can do a better job than BJP in administering the city. Meanwhile, the BJP has accused the government of delaying the BBMP elections since the Congress is afraid of losing it.

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Finding Solutions

While the election campaign has gained much momentum in the city, it has not been focused on finding solutions to key issues. The major civic issues of Bengaluru cannot be solved without reforming the manner in which governance of the city is organised.

A crucial issue in local governance is that key municipal functions like urban planning and water supply and sewage are not performed by the city corporation but parastatal agencies which are not accountable at the local level. Hence, governance reforms which empower the city government to perform civic functions is needed.

Also, to make governance accountable and participative, Ward Committees need to be made functional. However, neither the BJP nor the Congress has given much attention to these concerns in this election.

Future of BBMP

Interestingly, the future of BBMP itself is uncertain. The state government is keen on disbanding the BBMP and replacing it with multiple municipal corporations.  An expert committee constituted to consider how the BBMP can be restructured recommended that the city be split into five corporations under a three-tier governance model.

The Karnataka Legislature, amidst vociferous protests from BJP, passed a bill that allows the government to divide the BBMP into multiple corporations. The bill has been referred by the Governor to the President and if the he signs the bill, the BBMP itself would cease to exist. Hence, the victors of the BBMP elections may not have the last word on the future of the city.

(The writer works as a research associate at Azim Premji University, Bangalore)

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