In his kurta and jeans, the Aam Aadmi Party cap slightly askew on his head, former Infosys CFO and candidate from Bangalore Central Lok Sabha constituency V Balakrishnan wades through the chaos of Russell Market, an 80-year-old building in Shivajinagar in the heart of the city that was gutted in a fire two years ago. In the afternoon heat, swarms of flies hover over meat, fish and rotting piles of refuse.
A vegetarian and a former corporate board member accustomed to an air-conditioned office, Bala, as he is known to his friends and followers, is out of his element here. “Do you know how I convinced my wife and my family, who are entrenched in middle-class values, to let me join politics? I said, if nothing else, I will at least lose 10 kg,” jokes the 49-year-old, halfway through a day-long padayatra. To win in this particularly tricky constituency where minorities account for over 20 per cent of the voter base, the AAP broom must dust away at its deepest, darkest corners.
“What has the sitting MP been doing? Corruption hai yahan?” Bala gingerly asks the fruit and flower sellers who rebuilt Russell Market all on their own. His small, high-energy campaign team does the rest of the proselytising. A silver-haired AAP supporter from the Muslim traders’ community reminds his friends that offering or accepting a bribe is haraam under Islam. Bala’s campaign manager Aditi Mohan, a former Army Major, talks in a measured voice about how the candidate had sacrificed his high-paying job at Infosys to “work for you”. People readily put on Aam Aadmi caps and murmur vows of support.
Mohammad Idrees Choudhury, a dry-fruit seller and general secretary of the Russell Market Traders’ Association, says all 2,000 traders here, and their families, will vote for AAP. “We are sick of corruption and inaction,” he says.
Elsewhere, young professionals walk up to Bala on the streets asking how they can volunteer and auto drivers tell him they are huge fans of Arvind Kejriwal. But it’s a battle fraught with tension here in Bangalore Central, where he is pitted against the sitting BJP MP PC Mohan, state Youth Congress president Rizwan Arshad, and the as-yet-unannounced JD(S) candidate. Mohan won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections — the first since the constituency was carved out of Bangalore North and Bangalore South six years ago — consequent to a split in the minority