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Breaking: Bangalore’s Tech Community will Supports Aam Aadmi Party
While India’s titans of industry are generous donors to established political parties, the country’s tech entrepreneurs are opening their wallets for upstarts such as Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party.
Mr. Kejriwal, who stepped down as Delhi’s chief minister after his anti corruption law was blocked by political rivals, asserts that corruption is at the heart of India’s ills. That claim resonates with the usually apolitical techie crowd in Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley. Small business and startup owners are on the frontlines of the battle with Indian bureaucratic red tape and petty corruption, said V. Balakrishnan, a former chief financial officer of Infosys Ltd., India’s second largest software exporter.
“Corruption is the biggest tax on Indian businesses today,” Mr. Balakrishnan said. He quit the company last December and joined Aam Aadmi Party.
Doing business in India, especially with the government, is extremely difficult if you don’t have the clout of the country’s largest businesses. Mr. Balakrishnan, who also headed the India business for the company, said small businesses are often forced to pay bribes to get even paperwork processed.
He believes the Aam Aadmi Party offers a solution to all these problems. It stands for providing “transparent, corruption-free governance,” Mr. Balakrishnan said. “AAP is pro-business, with lesser government interference.”
That the Aam Aadmi Party reacted to support from the tech community with a shrug has not deterred Mr. Balakrishnan. He is certainly not alone in his support. When the party held a recent membership drive in Bangalore, more than 100,000 people enrolled–most were tech professionals, said Rohit Ranjan, a local spokesman for the Aam Aadmi Party.
Some are putting work aside to help the party win in the upcoming national elections. Anand Janakiraman, vice president for software at a startup, took a year off work to volunteer for the party.
“I think of it as something that people should do for the country,” he said.
Others are less militant, choosing to show their support over lunch by discussing the normally taboo topic of politics in office cafeterias. Politics was almost never discussed at work, and when it was “it was always in derogatory terms,” said Amber Nilabh, a Bangalore-based software professional. But, now people are very enthusiastic to talk about it, “there is [a] lot more involvement.”
They are also opening up their wallets. Mr. Nilabh donates 1,000 rupees ($16) a month to the party. Thus far he has donated 20,000 rupees, a far cry from the millions donated every year to the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Aam Aadmi Party was the first political party Mr. Nilabh ever supported.
Vijayvithal S. Jahagirdar, a software engineer in Bangalore, was driven to support the party after Mr. Kejriwal’s mentor, Anna Hazare was arrested while on a hunger strike to protest a string of corruption scandals.
“As an Indian, if an ordinary citizen does not have a right to protest then there is something seriously wrong with (Indian) democracy,” Mr. Jahagirdar said.
“I thought if this is the direction in which the country is going, then I can no longer sit on the sidelines and comment on it. It’s time for me to get involved.”