In Bengaluru seat where slums meet pubs, Cong keeps a tight hold

Skyhigh apartment blocks at UB City, plush homes on Lavelle Road, pubs along MG Road and Brigade Road, middle-class residential colonies in Wilson Garden and slums in Viveknagar — the haves and the have-nots of Bengaluru live side by side in Shantinagar constituency.

For voters, their three-time MLA N A Haris of the Congress is largely synonymous with the development that has happened over the last 15 years. With government schools and degree colleges, housing facilities and sporting opportunities, Haris boasts of having given Shantinagar a vibrant leadership on social and economic parameters.

However, the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party are seeking to counter this by highlighting the constituency’s “poor infrastructure”, “unemployment” and “high crime rate”.

Over a lakh of the constituency’s 2.2 lakh voters are Tamil speakers, followed by Muslims (43,000) and Christians (19,899). While Haris has been popular among all these communities, the BJP hopes to dent this with its candidate K Shivakumar, a two-time corporator and grassroots BJP leader.

In 2018 and 2013, Haris had defeated Shivakumar’s brother Vasudevamurthy from the seat. However, what the BJP perhaps considers significant is that his vote share saw a drop in 2018, if marginally, from 52% in both 2008 and 2013, to 49% in 2018.

Shivakumar, who has been a corporator in Vannarpet and Shanthala Nagar wards, is hoping to get the Christian vote as he is seen as having been instrumental in clearing the mess and constructing a pathway to make Infant Jesus Church located in Viveknagar more accessible.

BJP leaders accuse Haris of using strong-arm tactics to maintain his hold, especially in the nearly 20 slums in the seat. A local BJP leader, Ganesh Krishnamurthy, the party’s constituency in-charge, says, “BJP candidates are blocked from entering Shantinagar slums. Crime and drug abuse are rampant, and anti-social elements are thriving in these slums because of Haris’s backing.”

But the BJP believes it has an ace up its sleeve this time, in its Tamil Nadu BJP chief and former IPS officer Annamalai and Tamil star-turned-politician Khushbu Sundar who, it hopes, can draw the Tamil-majority speakers in the slums.

Annamalai is expected to hold four roadshows in the slums of Neelasandra and Vannarpet. “Haris and his son Nalpad’s rowdyism is well-known to Shantinagar. The voters here are yearning for a change. People have not got the promised title deeds, the education infrastructure is poor, leading to illiteracy and unemployment among youngsters,” a BJP leader says.

But the AAP – which realistically can make any sort of impression in Karnataka only in Bengaluru – is also talking up its chances. Its candidate is former bureaucrat Mathai K, who is targeting both the BJP and Congress over “corruption”, apart from “lack of development” and “high crime rate”.

Mathai, who had a notable career as an official, has made headlines in the past for exposing “corrupt practices” in the administration. An IAF officer, he was part of Operation Blue Star in Punjab in 1984. In 1999, he sought voluntary retirement from the IAF and cleared the state civil services exam. During his 10-year stint as civil servant that followed, he was transferred 28 times – he claims over his actions highlighting “misappropriations” and “corruption”.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Mathai says, “Haris’s popularity is waning. People are looking for a change, and the AAP has been able to capitalise on the development gap in Shantinagar with an assurance to deliver good hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure to the people. We have extensively exposed Haris’s claims of development in our campaigns, including closure of schools and hospitals, as well as the poor drainage system.”

In 2018, the AAP’s candidate, another former bureaucrat, ex-IAS officer Renuka Vishwanathan, had drawn just over 2,000 votes from Shantinagar. But Mathai is not letting that daunt him. “In 2018, the AAP was still in its infancy in Karnataka… This year, we are in the fight.”

Naveen Raj, a resident of Wilson Garden, is apprehensive about “money power” and “freebies” deciding the outcome. “A lot of households have received tokens from Haris as a confirmation that Rs 2,000 would be deposited to their bank accounts under the Lakshmi Yojana (a Congress electoral promise) if the Congress comes to power.”

Saravanan, a resident of Gowthamapuram, which has a community of football fans, attributes Haris’s popularity in the area to him being president of the Karnataka State Football Association. “Football is very close to the people of Gowthamapuram… Haris has supported many youngsters here pursue the game,” Saravanan says.

Haris says he remains confident. “For 15 years, I have nourished this constituency. We have built over 10,000 houses for the poor. The slums, which once consisted of hutments, have been converted into brick-and-mortar houses. Neither the BJP MLA candidate (Shivakumar), nor his brother have made any contributions to Shantinagar. We have built TenderSURE roads (a Smart City Project initiative) and the first women’s degree college,” Haris lists his “achievements”, speaking to The Indian Express.

On BJP allegations of high crime rate in the constituency, Haris says: “Earlier, any crime was connected to the people of Shantinagar. That’s not the case today. The crime rate has dropped. The biggest issue we are facing now is drugs, and the government and police are not doing enough… I have raised concerns over this repeatedly. Once the Congress comes to power, I’ll push for serious action against drugs.”


  • Adam Gray

    Adam Gray is an experienced journalist with a passion for breaking news and delivering it to the masses. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has covered everything from local stories to national events, earning a reputation for his accuracy, reliability, and attention to detail. As a reporter, Adam is always on the lookout for the next big story, and his dedication to uncovering the truth has earned him the respect of his peers and readers alike. When he's not chasing down leads, Adam can be found poring over the latest headlines, always on the lookout for the next big scoop. Contact [email protected]

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