Out of corner offices, onto Bangalores campaign streets

Written by Ajay Sukumaran | P P Thimmaya | Bangalore | Updated: Mar 17 2014, 06:52am hrs
VV Balakrishnan, who is fighting the election from Bangalore Central, is not alone in a political baptism. PTI
THREE months after leaving the organised corporate world, V Balakrishnan, former Infosys board member and chief financial officer, stepped onto a makeshift stage on a narrow, congested lane in central Bangalore to enter the unstructured world of election campaigning. A few passers-by stopped to listen to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate make his first election speech on Friday evening while some residents watched from their doorsteps. The next day, Balakrishnan rode in an open-top jeep with party leader Arvind Kejriwal, waving to a larger crowd and stopping now and again to shake hands with people.

The 49-year-old, who is fighting the election from Bangalore Central, is not alone in a political baptism. At the other end of the political spectrum, his former Infosys colleague and friend for over two decades Nandan Nilekani was on his first padyatra, addressing the multiple stakeholders of the adjoining Bangalore South constituency from where he is contesting on a Congress ticket.

The common theme for both the candidates has been quite straightforward. They come with squeaky clean reputations and have demonstrated considerable achievements in the corporate world. It is a different kind of role. Everybody has got an urge to do public service. I thought it would be better if I join and cleanse the system, said Balakrishnan, after his first public speech. Middle-class people dont like politics. Even in my home, there was a lot of resistance when I said I was going to join AAP.

It is not very different for Nilekani, 58, the son of a mill manager at Bangalores Minerva Mills, who had to go live with an uncle in Dharwad at age 12 when his father lost his job, and studied from borrowed textbooks to get into IIT Bombay.

Im very fortunate, he said. Its very easy to stay away from this. But unless people like me and others come into politics, unless you bring in reforms, we are not serving the country well.

However, the contrasts between the two candidates are also stark. Nilekani will have to ensure that the rank and file of the Congress rallies behind him while also having to answer some uncomfortable questions about the partys tenure at the Centre for the last 10 years.

Nilekani has begun on a strong footing in the online space supported by a core team that includes corporate executives who have taken a sabbatical from companies such as Google and McKinsey. At his war-room in the citys Jayanagar locality, theres a steady stream of visitors. As he gets into an intensive campaign on the ground, Nilekani is reaching out to the organised machinery of the Congress party which he needs to fight HN Ananth Kumar, BJP national general secretary and five-time MP from Bangalore South.

Balakrishnan, meanwhile, is taking on the might of larger parties with AAP's volunteer teams armed with their trademark caps and the party symbol, a broom. I do not have any legacy to defend, like the 2G scam or coal scam. We come with a clean slate and an open mind, said Balakrishnan. I have considerable experience from working in the corporate world and have a lot of innovative ideas. Probably, that will be more useful than any person who is rooted in the system and does not want to change. As the campaign momentum builds up the coming weeks, he will use social media besides meeting people and holding 'jan sabhas' at street corners to reach out to voters.

Balakrishnan signed up as member of AAP a day after he quit Infosys on December 31, 2013, while Nilekani had spent five years in government steering the Unique Identification Authority of India before he formally joined the Congress party last week. For both, waving at crowds and wading through them is a new experience. Asked last week at a press interaction on whether he had the skills to manage the rough-and-tumble world of politics, Nilekani said: Today, there's a change taking place in politics with people coming in from other walks of life. I will show you a new style of politics.