India polls: IT gurus run for change

Former Infosys head Nandan Nilekani and CFO V Balakrishnan go up against veterans in country’s tech capital Bangalore.

Balakrishnan, (centre in orange), a former IT executive, is running on an AAP ticket [Lavanya Singhal/ Al Jazeera]

Bangalore, India – Voters in Bangalore, India’s software capital, will have an interesting choice of candidates who are symbols of the city’s success story; Nandan Nilekani and V Balakrishnan, former executives at information technology-outsourcing giant Infosys.

With a personal fortune of about $1.2bn, Nilekani is the former CEO of Infosys and the richest candidate in India’s nine-phase and ongoing parliamentary elections.

He earlier headed the federal government project to design a unique identification system for a country of 1.2 billion.

“The transition has not been difficult….I want to make a difference and the roles that I take on help me achieve that,” Nilekani, who founded the Infosys in 1981, told Al Jazeera.

Nilekani, 58, is challenging Ananth Kumar from Bangalore South constituency on the ruling Congress party ticket. Bangalore, or Bengaluru, and other constituencies in the southern state of Karnataka goes to the polls on Thursday.

Interactive: Candidates and party profiles

Kumar, a five-time member of parliament from the constituency, belongs to India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been leading the parliamentary polls.

Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of Infosys and Congress candidate for Bangalore South [AP]

Nilekani had to brush up his Kannada language skills to interact with the locals as he speaks English.

His colleague for 22 years at Infosys, V Balakrishnan, too chose politics over corporate life.

Balakrishnan, 50, is contesting from Bangalore Central constituency on Aam Aadmi Party or Common Man Party (AAP) ticket, a party founded nearly two years ago on anti-corruption plank.

Balakrishnan told Al Jazeera that his experience with process-driven working style will help him solve the problems of Bangalore, known as India’s Silicon Valley.

Nilekani and Balakrishnan stand for good governance, accountability and zero tolerance for corruption, but have set out on different paths and ideologies.

“Corporate life was very different from the political life. There are only a few stakeholders in the corporate world, here the complexities are larger,” Balakrishnan said.

“But our experience in the corporate world will help us solve problems better. And I am enjoying every bit of this.”

‘Years of misrule’

Bangalore has been a bastion of the BJP in the past decade, but the corporate gurus are no easy challengers. Having lost to the Congress in the assembly polls last year, the BJP has a lot at stake.

“The voters experienced years of misrule in the state under the BJP. As a result, I have noticed that voters here are very supportive of the Congress party,” Nilekani said.

BJP candidate Ananth Kumar campaigning in Bangalore
[Lavanya Singhal/Al Jazeera]

The city of 10 million has been facing infrastructure problems and its traffic remains a headache despite metro trains lifting some of the burden off the roads.

“I feel a city like Bangalore needs more educated people like Nandan Nilekani and V Balakrishnan. After all, qualified people like us cannot be ruled by illiterates,” Rohan Shetty, a voter, said while standing outside the Infosys campus.

Many IT professionals claim to have gone door-to-door campaigning for their seniors, but a major chunk of them who come from across the country cannot vote. 

Local issues

A number of locals say that while there is ease of doing business in the city, but operational issues like power cuts and lack of effective public transportation troubles them.

“Whoever comes to power should ensure that there are no power cuts. Not at least during the day when we have work to do,” Gautam Gowda, a camera-rental company owner, said.

The city houses the offices of global software giants that have attracted talent from across the country.

Pubs, bars and shopping malls now dot the city space, a development that is resented by many residents who lament the change to Bangalore and its famous gardens.

“Extending the deadline for nightclubs is no solution to the real problems of Bangalore. This is not what Bangalore was,” Anna, an elderly gentleman, said.

“With so many migrants coming in, there is tremendous strain on the resources of the city. The gardens are vanishing, the lakes are evaporating, the culture is fading.” he said.

More than 100 million first time voters across the country will go the polls in an election being fought on issues of corruption and job creation. 

The presence of candidates from the corporate world with a high net worth is raising many questions in a country where the per capita income is low and inflation stubbornly high.

“I heard Nandan Nilekani and V Balakrishnan are very rich candidates. But I don’t know if they can do anything for me, I earn only $100 a month (Rs 6000),” a young gardener, who did not want to named, said.

While Nilekani has emphasised on the fact that he rose from a middle class background, Balakrishnan rides in a humble autorickshaw during his canvassing.

“The city has given me a career and life, now it is my turn,” said Balakrishnan, whose party leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has been accused of running away from responsibilities after he resigned as the chief minister of New Delhi in January.

“People should vote for honest candidates. The entire nation has become so cynical, that needs to change….. I am associating myself with a party that has clean records,” he said.

But will the voter go with the new breed of politicians who are promising a break from the past?

“We are in this together, and the results will affect all of us. Make your voice is heard…we all have a stake in this great democracy and its outcome,” Nilekani said.

Source: Al Jazeera

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