Bengaluru, April 6: In Bengaluru, there exists a mini-India, it is called Shantinagar. There is a reason behind calling Shantinagar a microcosm of modern India as poverty and wealth, knowledge and ignorance, honesty and corruption...every slice of life unveils in this part of the city.
Shantinagar is also known as Bengaluru's "heart", geographically, as it is located in the centre of the city. Spread across a radius of seven-eight kilometers, Shantinagar, one of the 28 Assembly constituencies in the city, is the home to some of the poshest localities to filthiest slums. In the language of a foodie, Shantinagar can be called 'chutney'--an amalgamation of various classes, cultures and religions--which in a way defines what today's Bengaluru is all about.
The diversity of Shantinagar can be gauged by pockets like Cantonment area, built by the British Raj, and which still retains some of the heritage buildings and green cover, and popular shopping and pubbing destinations MG Road and Brigade Road thronged mostly by the young and hip crowd.
The good, bad and ugly sides of Shantinagar
Amid all these charm and energy, Shantinagar constituency, which has seven municipal wards, also hosts seven slums. Believe it or not, the slums of Shantinagar, dens of poverty, crime and drugs, are a total antithesis of the pubs and malls dotting the entire constituency.
The flourishing Central Business District (CBD), from where the state earns a huge amount of revenue, also suffers from various civic issues including severe drinking water scarcity, narrow and pot-holed roads and lack of proper drainage facilities, to name a few.
When it comes to education and health, Shantinagar's 15 government-run schools are on the verge of closure and primary health centres are almost non-existent forcing residents to travel several kilometers to either Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital in Shivajinagar or Victoria Hospital in KR Road--two main government-run hospitals. Unemployment and rise in crime rate are the two main concerns of the youths, which form a huge chunk of the voting population.
Netas eye Shantinagar
More than a month before the Karnataka Assembly elections, scheduled on May 12, voters in Shantinagar on Thursday told OneIndia that they want a "change". When asked specifically, if they are upset with the incumbent Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) NA Harris, who was recently in news after his son Mohammed Nalapad Harris was booked for attempt to murder for allegedly assaulting a man in a pub in February, activist Abdul Khadar said the constituency is suffering due to the misrule of the Congress leader.
"This time voters will vote for change. All want better roads, regular water supply, end of crimes and good schools and hospitals for poor," said Khadar, who runs an NGO, JK Women's Welfare Trust.
While the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) are yet to announce their candidates for the constituency, it is only the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which has declared its candidate for Shantinagar.
Former bureaucrat-turned-politician, Renuka Viswanathan, who is contesting the election as an AAP candidate from Shantinagar, told OneIndia that she and her party members have been campaigning for the last three months now. "We believe in direct conversation with the voters. We are mostly relying on door-to-door campaigning."
A Congress leader said that Harris, the two-time Shantinagar MLA, is once again likely to get the Congress' ticket to contest the election from his "home turf". Disagreeing with his colleague, another Congress leader (both did not wish to be named) said that many within the party were not in favour of Harris contesting the election, especially after his son's scandal.
The BJP too is still undecided about its Shantinagar candidate. Sources say five BJP leaders are vying for the party ticket to contest poll from the high profile constituency. "K Vasudeva Murthy, who was earlier with the JD(S), might be the BJP's man in Shantinagar," said a BJP leader. The JD(S), on its part, is unlikely to field any candidate from the constituency.
Like the politicians, the voters' profile in this part of the city is equally intriguing. Out of the total 2,18,735 voters, around 27,000 live in slums like ISRO colony, LR Nagar and Maya Bazar. A total of 16,000 new voters have registered their names in the voting list, this time. Thus both the slum population and first-time voters are going to play a crucial role in the elections. While 1,11,960 voters are men, 1,06,734 are women in the entire constituency.
The Tamil population of around 40,000 people, out of which 30,000 belongs to the Dalit community, too will be a deciding factor in the elections. Around 80,000 Christian and Muslim voters too can make or break a candidate's future in electoral politics.
Shantinagar wards are as colourful as the constituency itself
It is interesting to note that out of the seven wards--four are ruled by the BJP, two by the Congress and one by an independent.
While Jogupalya, Shanthalanagar, Agaram and Vanarpete are ruled by the BJP, Neelasandra and Shanthinagar are ruled by the Congress. The Domlur ward was won by an independent candidate.
How leaders fared earlier
In the 2013 Assembly elections, Harris won by bagging 54,342 votes and his nearest rival, the then JD(S) candidate Murthy, got 34,137 votes. In the 2008 polls, Harris emerged triumphant by bagging 42,423 votes and DU Mallikarjuna of the BJP came second with 28,626 votes.
Vikram Singh, who stays in an apartment near Victoria Layout and works in a law firm, said that this election, the people of the constituency can bring the much-needed change by making an informed choice.
Until then, like the rest of Karnataka, it is all about dirty bylanes and equally dirty politics in Shantinagar.