Nandan Nilekani Photo: reuters
If India's tech guru and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani (58) makes up his mind to contest the Lok Sabha polls from the Bangalore South seat, and if the Congress decides he is the best bet under the circumstances and gives him the ticket, a victory for Nilekani may be difficult, but not impossible.
The Congress dreads the Bangalore South seat, which has always sent a non-Congress - either a Janata Party or the BJP - member to the Lok Sabha, with the sole exception of former Congress chief minister, the late R.Gundu Rao who won it in 1989. Even in the general elections that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, the constituency withered the formidable pro-Congress wave, and voted for a Janata Party nominee. Thus the Congress has always written off this seat and never seriously built its base here. Every Lok Sabha elections, it has been experimenting with a new candidate, who has always lost, instead of allowing anyone to nurture the constituency and get close to the voters.
In contrast, the BJP MP currently holding the seat is a heavyweight. H.N. Ananth Kumar (54), will be contesting in 2014 for the sixth time. He was also a union minister under NDA rule. However, there could also be voter fatigue working against Kumar. But he may benefit from the disappointment with the UPA regime's poor performance. He also has former Chief Minister B.S.Yeddyurappa's new political outfit - the Karnataka Janata Party - backing the BJP, as it has thrown its weight behind the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Political parties have always regarded the Bangalore South as a constituency of educated voters. It comprises eight Assembly segments, four each of which are held by the Congress and four by the BJP. Except in 1991 when a member from the dominant Vokkaliga community won, this seat has always sent a Brahmin to the Lok Sabha. Given the low proportion of Brahmins, it goes to show that voting here is not caste-based, voters look at the party the candidate represents. This is one of the many factors on Nilekani's side. He may be new to the constituency, but not to Karnataka. He is a Konkani-speaking Kannadiga, born very much in Karnataka.
So what are the factors in favour of Nilekani? Chief among them is that a large number of techies live in the Bangalore South constituency, which is also close to the Electronic City - the address for many top-notch IT companies, including Infosys of which Nilekani was a founder-member. Though a good number of techies do not belong to Karnataka, they may register themselves as voters in Bangalore, and decide to throw their weight behind Nilekani. In the recent Assembly elections, the Congress polled 55,000 votes more than the BJP from all eight Assembly segments of Bangalore South put together. As a senior BJP leader admits, voters will also recognize Nilekani as the man who gave them the Aadhaar card, apart from being a co-founder of Infosys, something they may not connect too closely with.
The current Congress government in Karnataka, unlike the previous BJP government, has a scandal-free record so far. The very fact that the Congress is in power in the state may also help. In the past, Congress nominees could get only the traditional Congress votes, but Nilekani would be able to get some non-Congress ones too, and even the votes of cynics who usually stay away from the polling booth.
The Infosys co-founder's chances will, however, depend when he decides to formally enter the poll contest. If, like Congress nominees of the past, he takes the plunge only a couple of months ahead of the polls, he may not get the time to build a base. He needs to connect with the constituency's voters early.
"In his first career, as an IT entrepreneur, Nilekani put Bangalore on the global map," says Congress spokesperson and IIM-Bangalore teacher M.V.Rajeev Gowda. "In his second career, he focused on eliminating corruption in the delivery of public services." Gowda's own name is also being heard of a possible nominee for the Bangalore North Lok Sabha seat.
Some bureaucrats who have observed Nilekani over the years wonder whether contesting an election is worth the trouble for him. Would it not be better to go through the Rajya Sabha if he is indeed keen to enter Parliament, they ask. Nor is there any certainty, they note, that Nilekani will get a deserving portfolio in the ministry even if he contests and wins, and the Congress forms the next government.
Overall, in the circumstances, it is the Congress which needs Nilekani more than the other way round. Earlier, the Congress, more often than not, gave up the Bangalore South seat even before the elections. Nilekani has nothing to lose in life, except perhaps, the elections.