Bangalore has played a critical role in establishing India’s prowess globally in information technology and biotechnology. The phrase “Bangalored,” which signifies getting laid off due to outsourcing, has even become part of the lexicon. Now, a group of prominent citizens of the tech savvy, forward thinking city, have kicked off a new initiative, one that they hope will serve as a model for the rest of the country.
Called the Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), this initiative is led by Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder, chairman and managing director of Biocon, India’s largest biotechnology company; T. V. Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Global Education Service and a former board member, CFO and head of human resources at IT firm Infosys, and K. Jairaj, who recently retired as additional chief secretary to the state government of Karnataka.
B.PAC has a clear focus — to connect the urban educated elite with the political process. “The educated class has distanced itself from the political process. But if we have to bridge the governance deficit, we need to engage with the political class. We are an apolitical body, but our focus is engagement in the political area,” says Pai, who is the vice-president of B.PAC. Mazumdar-Shaw, managing trustee and president of B.PAC, adds: “Bangalore took the lead in e-governance, but has failed to deliver in terms of accountability, transparency, good governance and efficiency. B.PAC wants to be a ‘rating agency’ on governance that will help to build administrative excellence within the government. Starting from Bangalore, we want to hold a candle to the rest of the country.”
The key goals identified by B.PAC are promoting good governance practices, integrity and transparency in all arms of the government; supporting good political candidates, and improving the quality of infrastructure in the city. The organization has a core committee of around 20 prominent citizens from different walks of life, including sports and the performing arts. It plans to form a network of citizens and work in partnership with other groups engaged in reforms. According to Mazumdar-Shaw, B.PAC will start with focusing on voter registration, voter education and supporting strong candidates for public office.
While the founding members have committed to personally funding the operating expenses of the organization — Pai estimates this to be around Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 50 lakh (about $50,000 to $100,000) annually — for the next five years, they plan to create separate funds for supporting political candidates who meet their criteria. These campaign funds will be open to everyone for contributions. “We will also create a corps of volunteers to campaign for the candidates we endorse. We believe this will be a force multiplier,” notes Pai.
M.V. Rajeev Gowda, professor of economics and social sciences at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, says that initiatives like B.PAC will give “more structure and bring more resources to systematically draw the hitherto excluded urban, educated middle and upper classes toward political participation.” Democracy requires a lot of investment of resources in terms of time, energy and money, Gowda adds, “Most people who have benefitted from India’s democracy and flourishing economy have not given back either in the form of engagement with politics or contribution by way of money to the political system. This is in stark contrast to the U.S.”
According to Gowda, what sets B.PAC apart is its willingness to embrace the political process and support good candidates, though remaining apolitical. “This is indicative,” he suggests, “of a maturing urban educated class which is willing to engage with politics without feeling tainted, and one that is also willing to back it with resources.”
Can B.PAC serve as a model other cities? Yes, according to Gowda. “In most other states and other industries, people have made money by corrupting the system. But people who have made money in Bangalore — in IT and biotechnology — are unique in that they have made ‘clean’ money. So it doesn’t look like they are trying to hijack the system for their own end.”
N. R. Narayana Murthy, founder and chairman-emeritus of Infosys, notes that one of the important roles that B.PAC will need to play is that of “a friendly and gentle persuader of existing political parties.” At the launch of B.PAC’s charter and agenda, Murthy points out that while new initiatives are very important, there is also an urgent need to transform the current institutions. “Unless we can bring a transformation in the well-entrenched political party system, the effectiveness of B.PAC may not be as much as what [we] would aspire to,” said Murthy.