On or around 11 am on the morning of 19th May, 2018 a terrific noise was heard across the nation. Investigations are still on, but preliminary reports suggest it was the result of all the executives of Colors Infinity screaming in frustration at discovering that the Harry - Meghan Markle wedding they planned to air live that afternoon was going to clash with the live feed of the Karnataka Assembly floor vote, thanks to the Supreme Court of India.
This story may or may not be true, but one thing is undeniable: India’s democracy throws up more political drama around election time than an infinite number of script-writers could ever hope to create in a (Colors) infinity of bashing keyboards.
If you’re from Bengaluru, you may find yourself feeling a little jaded about the drama that enthralled the rest of the state and nation this weekend. There’s both some history and some arithmetic behind this, which bpb asked me to break down for you.
So: this election would’ve been many different kinds of deja vu at the same time. The Bharatiya Janata Party was the single largest party, but the Indian National Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) pulled off a post poll alliance? It’s happened before, twice, in the 2004 assembly elections and in 2015 in the BBMP elections. Both in 2015 and in this election, the Prime Minister delivered well-crafted and perfectly timed hilarity by tweeting congratulations to celebrating BJP workers before realizing that there’s many a slip between the chai-cup and lip.
BS Yeddyurappa sworn in as CM but resigning before a trust vote? Yup. That happened in 2008. MLAs being herded to a resort to avoid “poaching”? That happened in 2006 (among other instances). A Governor indulging in unconstitutional shenanigans at the behest of the Centre? Oh boy. Let’s just say that just listing out the years in which this has happened would take up the rest of Tuesday.
Murmurs arose on Twitter about Bengaluru having the lowest turnout in Karnataka (as before), and re-electing a much greater percentage of incumbent MLAs than the rest of Karnataka (as before). Even the party-wise seat break-up of seats in 2018 is almost the exactly same as it was in 2013: 13-12-3 (INC-BJP-JDS) has become 12-12-2. This, in a state where no party has managed a majority two Assembly elections in a row in three decades, and where incumbent MLAs are more often not than booted out seems, er, odd.
What’s up, Bengaluru voters?
The Twitter explanation: urban voter apathy and incorrect electoral rolls. But perhaps there’s something else we’re all missing out. Shuffling around the election commission’s voter data for the Karnataka elections, I came across something interesting. The average assembly constituency in Bengaluru has 1.5 times more voters than the average constituency in the rest of Karnataka. Which means a vote in Bengaluru arguably has two-thirds the impact on outcome as a vote elsewhere in the state.
More, the constituency sizes range from the Shivajinagar constituency, which has fewer than 2 lakh voters, to the Bangalore South constituency which has more than 6 lakh voters (and is therefore the largest constituency in the whole state of Karnataka). While most other constituencies in Karnataka range in size between 1.7 lakhs to 2.5 lakhs or so, Bangalore’s constituencies seem to have a huge variation in size. This means, even within the city, your vote could count for even less, depending on where you vote.
One possible reason for this is that Bengaluru’s constituencies have somehow been “gerrymandered” to suit all political parties in the race. This, as far as I know, was first argued by writer Karthik Shashidhar. Take a look at the shapes and sizes of Bengaluru’s constituencies and you’ll see why his argument makes sense - or doesn’t, since constituency boundaries in Bengaluru could well make for the world’s most frustratingly confusing jigsaw puzzle.
But, like, #WhoDidThis? Unlike in primitive democratic systems like the United States, where the ruling party can gerrymander constituency boundaries, in India our constitution prescribes a non-partisan delimitation commission, which is supposed to draw up constituency boundaries in a neutral and impartial manner. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Does this explain the consistently low turnout? That if you know, in advance, who your MLA is going to be, irrespective of the wider political trends in the state, your vote, and the MLA’s actual performance on the ground, maybe you don’t bother to go out and vote. It’s all very well to “do your civic duty”, but if your vote seems entirely meaningless, will you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile? After the dust from the hijinks and the drama in these Assembly elections settles down, perhaps you, Bengaluru voter, might want to reflect whether this “mandate” that every party claims to have gotten from you is really true.
Alok Prasanna Kumar is a lawyer based in Bengaluru. He tweets at @alokpi.
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