Bengaluru emerges as a hub for political entrepreneurship

By Nistula Hebbar, ET Bureau | 9 Mar, 2015
BENGALURU: Throughout the tumultuous time that was General Elections 2014, the salubrious city of Bengaluru was, surprisingly, ground zero for many ideological and campaign interventions, not through party structures but via unique experiments in political entrepreneurship.

Outfits such as NitiCentral, FourthLion, IndiaFacts and the newly launched Swarajya magazine all found a home in Bengaluru, skirting political parties, but articulating ideology. Across social and other media, they have been influencers, as well facilitators, in ways that non-Delhi cities haven’t quite been in the past.

Shashi Shekhar, chief digital officer of NitiDigital (the re-invented NitiCentral), threw up a perfectly good job at InfosysBSE -1.24 % to help set up the outfit along with Rajesh Jain, a key figure in what turned out to be a ground-breaking campaign for Narendra Modi.

“Since the 2009 defeat of the BJP, Rajesh and I had been mulling with the idea of a multi-digital platform to correct what we perceived as a Left-Centre bias in the media,” he told ET. They launched NitiCentral in August 2012 and in 2013, after Modi became the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the party looked to engage voters from outside the political system. This digital platform was expanded to Mission272+, a very successful digital campaign for volunteers. “Bengaluru works for all this because, as management guru Ram Charan says, the future of business is algorithms,” says Shekhar. Increasingly, for politics, too.

Sandeep Balakrishna, who founded IndiaFacts, and Prasanna Vishwanathan, digital head of Swarajya magazine, are cohorts of these entrepreneurial ventures, Centre-Right and bursting onto the scene just before the General Elections. Balakrishna, who also translated SL Bhyrappa’s ‘Aavarana: The Veil’ from Kannada into English, runs a website called IndiaFacts which seeks to preserve Hindu civilisational assertions. He claims that Bengaluru’s reformist history, coupled with a high degree of education, has meant that it is neither a “brickand-mortar city” like Mumbai engaged only in livelihood issues or Delhi “which practices pure political skullduggery” and that here, debate is the only recourse.

Viral Shah, one of the founders of FourthLion, an applications-based political service provider, along with Naman Pugalia and Shankar Maruwada, worked on Infosys cofounder Nandan Nilekani and former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan’s campaigns. He says his loyalty is to “good people” , never mind if both clients were Congressmen. He describes the city’s role in the development of his business, which included an app called HawkEye that provides live insights about municipal wards, and an electoral list checker called Voter LookUp, somewhat differently.

“Today, Bangalore has the highest number of PhDs in India, the highest number of startups, the highest number of VCs, and the highest number of Indians returning back to the country. Naturally, it has emerged as the entrepreneurial hub. All businesses – taxis, music, movies, retail, hotels, and banking – are being eaten by software and reinvented by technologists, as Marc Andreessen famously said a few years ago. Politics and government are the last bastion.

Where else in India but Bangalore will we find the talent and entrepreneurship for software to eat politics and government?” Where else indeed?


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