If an idea is good, it will attract talent, like at Infosys: V Balakrishnan

Written by V Shoba | Bangalore | Updated: Mar 24 2014, 18:11pm hrs
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. Balas 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 its 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 votes between the Congress and the JD(S). But barely a fortnight after deciding to join politics, Balakrishnan isnt ready to let opinion polls blunt his ambition. The political game has changed. Religion and caste dont matter anymore. There is big anger about mis-governance and corruption and opinion polls are not capturing the voice of the people on the ground, he says. I think the polls in Bangalore are going to be a big surprise.

At his new, yet-to-be-furnished campaign office on Hosur Road incidentally, it connects the city to the Infosys campus the backend technology team is excited about the projections they have extrapolated from the Delhi assembly elections. Using statistical models, we compared wards in Delhi where the party did well to wards with similar demographics in Bangalore and the outlook looks good, says Shailesh, the campaign technology manager who worked under Balakrishnan at Infosys.

Having just launched a website, aapkabala.com, and a social media campaign, the 15 to 20 core campaign team members are applying finishing touches to volunteer-developed IT systems that are already in use for managing the day-to-day campaign, the pool of volunteers and the flow of donations. Several web apps, payment gateway integration, jingles and ads will soon be added to the digital infrastructure that has been developed by supporters across the world, including from Silicon Valley.

Bala makes it clear that his campaign will not involve bombarding people with too many ads on social media a veiled reference to his former colleague Nandan Nilekanis high-profile campaign in Bangalore South on a Congress ticket. As long as you say the right things, people will be glued to you.

Like Nilekani, Balakrishnan is obviously more at ease conversing in English and connecting with the urban middle class rather than a plebeian Bangalore. People have told me I dont look like a politician. I am a normal person, we all are, he says.

Born in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, to a local DMK politician and corporator, he went to college in Chennai and eventually moved to Bangalore in 1985. A meeting with Arvind Kejriwal inspired him to plunge into politics, he says.

Bala is a quick decision maker, and a very organised person, says Aditi Mohan, the lone woman driving the campaign who was herself a contender for the AAP ticket from Bangalore Central. She compares it to the time during the Kargil war when she led a convoy loaded with ammunition in the dead of night. I was the only woman. And everyone trusted me with their lives. I get the same feeling now, she says.

Sure enough, Bala hangs on to her every word. At dusk, she calls for a break and he gratefully rests his legs. If an idea is good, it will attract all the young, good talent there is. Just like at Infosys, he says, with a knowing smile.