On 1 February, N A Haris took charge as the chairman of the BDA, the Bangalore Development Authority. A four-time MLA of the Congress from a constituency in central Bengaluru, Haris was joined by the Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka, D K Shivakumar, on the occasion.
Currently, Shivakumar holds the portfolio of Bengaluru development in the Karnataka cabinet.
The BDA is the main planning authority for the city and thus in the centre of all real estate activity.
Haris, a Malayali by descent, is himself said to have diverse business interests in the city.
So how did a Malayali manage to acquire the central position in the real estate sector of Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka?
From Kasaragod To Shivamogga To Bengaluru
Bengaluru has welcomed migrants from all over the country. When Karnataka was carved out of the four presidencies — Madras, Mysore, Hyderabad and Bombay — it ended up uniting Konkanis, Tuluvas, Telugus, Tamils and Kannadigas.
After a brief struggle to 'adjust', migrant population from other parts of Karnataka (and India) arrived in Bengaluru to transform it forever.
The city witnessed three waves of migration — first, when the British set up their cantonment in central Bengaluru, second, when Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) were set up in the city owing to its strategic location and workforce, and third, after the information technology (IT) boom.
Today, Bengaluru's migrants are more in number than the natives. Over some time, the people who found home in Bengaluru also began to have a say in electoral politics. They wanted to be represented by leaders from their communities.
Kerala Or Karnataka, Ambitions Do Not Differ
Haris' father, N A Mohammed, moved to the city during the 1960s to set up a metal scrapping shop. In 1960, he is said to have moved from Kerala's Kasaragod to Bhadravati in Shivamogga where he set up a scrap metal shop. But Mohammed did not want to settle for less. Soon, he moved to Bengaluru's Vijayanagara, hoping to make it big in life.
After briefly making some profit by selling buttermilk near the Cantonment area, he won a tender for the construction of Phase I of the Upper Krishna Project. With money to spare, he set up Hotel Bangalore International, a three-star hotel at Shivananda Circle, in the centre of the city.
Haris started getting involved in his family business when he was around 30 and sought to expand it.
And he did.
From having a declared net worth of Rs 86 crore in 2008, when he first stood for election, it went up to Rs 439 crore in 2023. Haris' family runs several business ventures ranging from construction and real estate to educational institutions and restaurants.
Before Haris took the political plunge, his father had tried contesting in Kasaragod during the 2004 Lok Sabha election as an INC candidate but lost to CPI(M)'s P Karunakaran.
By then, the political networks the father-son duo had cultivated helped Haris navigate himself towards prominence in the political space. He became a confidant of Karnataka Congress leader K J George and had the eyes and ears of former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy as well. George would go on to help Haris secure a ticket in 2008 in the Karnataka assembly elections, when he first contested from Shantinagar, in Bengaluru.
'Power Is A Lot Like Real Estate', Literally
Like Haris, K J George and U T Khader are Malayalis who have made it big in Karnataka politics. Since 2013, George has been elected thrice from Sarvagnanagar in Bengaluru and has held important portfolios in the Siddaramaiah-led Congress governments.
George is a multi-millionaire who has business interests in mining, real estate and aviation. Like Haris' father, George moved to Karnataka's Kodagu district in the 1960s from Kottayam in Kerala. It is said that it was K J George who recommended Bangarappa's name for the CM's post, when former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi removed the sitting CM Veerendra Patil for insubordination. Poor health was the excuse, but history knows better.
Back to Haris. At 41, he became an MLA from the Shantinagar assembly constituency and gained substantial influence within a short period.
Shantinagar — a constituency in Central Bengaluru, has posh localities like Lavelle Road, Brigade Road, and Mahatma Gandhi Road, and houses some of the most important commercial and residential establishments in the city.
A significant part of the Central Business District (CBD) falls under the constituency. Central Bangalore was also the place where the British set up their cantonment in the city.
Haris’ Real Estate Interests
Even as he assumes the position of the chairman of the BDA, Haris, being the Managing Director of Nalapad Group of Companies, has active interests in construction and real estate, including in Bengaluru.
His 2018 affidavit, filed before contesting the polls, has declared properties in Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra. This includes properties in Bengaluru’s HAL, Begur, Nagasandra, and Challaghatta. He also owns flats in Bengaluru’s Brigade-Gateway, Brigade Metropolis, Prestige Notting Hill and one more in Mumbai’s Andheri.
In Kerala, he has properties in Kasargod, and Thalassery.
In 2012, he accused the state government (then of BJP) of being the ‘biggest encroacher’ of Waqf Board properties, when he faced allegations against him for acquiring properties belonging to the Board. Back then, Karnataka State Minorities Commission Chairman Anwar Manipaddy released a report stating that properties worth four lakh crore rupees were encroached upon illegally. Haris had sued the commission chairman for dragging him and his family members into unwarranted controversy.
In 2014, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) accused Haris of grabbing land in the Miller Tank area in the city. The civic body’s revenue department said that a survey carried out by them revealed Haris to be among 44 ‘illegal occupants’ of prime land near the Cantonment railway station. Haris went to the court once again.
In 2018, a Deccan Herald report stated that Haris Junior, along with 17 others, were accused of encroaching 3 acres and 29 guntas of land in Vasanth Nagar, near the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) office. A first information report (FIR) was filed against the legislator’s son by the Bengaluru Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF), based on a complaint by the BBMP. This was around the same time when Haris faced allegations of extorting money from local pub owners and restaurateurs in high-end areas like Brigade Road and M G Road. The BBMP subsequently lost the case but announced its intentions to appeal to a higher court.
As recently as 2022, the BBMP also accused Haris’ school of encroaching a rajakaluve and ten guntas of land, when it undertook a demolition drive in Bengaluru’s Mahadevapura.
Ducking A Backlash
Generally known to be soft-spoken and diplomatic, Haris felt public pressure for the first time in his political career when his son Mohammed Nalapad, assaulted a man at a Cafe in UB City, Bengaluru in early 2018. The CCTV footage confirmed that the attack was unprovoked.
Beer bottles were used as weapons by Nalapad and his aides. The victim suffered fractured ribs, and his face was disfigured. He had to be moved to Singapore for special treatment. Haris attempted to defend the assault initially by posting the victim's medical records on Twitter (now X).
This landed him in another controversy, as it was considered irresponsible to do so. Allegedly, Nalapad also threatened the victim not to file a police complaint when he was at a hospital nearby.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was reportedly furious and had even tweeted against Nalapad. Haris' son was subsequently booked for attempt to murder, and was denied bail several times.
Insiders even suggest Siddaramaiah being sceptical of offering Haris a Congress ticket to contest the election. Eventually though, Haris secured a ticket and returned as the Shantinagar MLA.
At The Centre Of Bengaluru 'Development'
Haris has a track record of being a punctual politician and is known for being accessible to the public. His cordial relations with NGOs, the media and businessmen are also said to work in his favour.
As he assumes the position of Chairman of the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), it must be noted that he also served as the chairman of the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) in the past. Both the bodies are considered to be among the fiscally healthiest, and very powerful ones.
A close aide of D K Shivakumar, Haris given the charge of BDA may come as a relief to Shivakumar since both are said to share a cordial relation.
Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.
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