Karnataka election: voters to choose between tainted leadership and clean governance
Interacting with media during a tour of Lingayat and Dalit mutts in central Karnataka, Amit Shah, the national President of BJP began making allegations against the current Siddaramaiah government. “ Recently, a Supreme Court judge said if ever there was a competition for the most corrupt government, then Yeddyurappa government will get number one..” shocking Yedurappa who was seated near him. It may have been a faux pas by Mr. Shah who immediately tried to control the damage. Congress Party wasted no time in seizing the original quote and expressing their total agreement.
A few weeks later, Karnataka has witnessed the tainted Reddy brothers sharing a dais with Yeddyurappa and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan at a rally in Molakalmur. It appears that Mr. Janardhana Reddy who came out of jail on bail from the noxious mining scam is back along with the Bellary gang asking people to vote for BJP. The party has also given tickets to his two brothers Somashekhara Reddy and Karunakara Reddy despite the statement by Mr. Shah that BJP has no links with Reddy brothers.
In 2012, India’s Supreme Court ordered the CBI to probe charges of corruption against B S Yeddyurappa. That order followed a court-appointed committee’s suggestion that Mr. Yeddyurappa be investigated for alleged abuse of power. The anti-corruption report had indicted him in a mining scandal that cost the exchequer more than 3 Billion dollars. He also holds the distinction of being the first sitting Chief Minister of a State to spend time in jail.
All the BJP talk about corruption in the opposition camps seem to fly in the face of what has happened under BJP rule in Karnataka. With openly courting the Bellary gang, Yedurappa is once again signaling to the Karnataka voters that nothing has been changed regarding their attitude towards corruption or abuse of power. Mr. Shivraj Chouhan, whose administration was embroiled in the VYPAM scandal in Madhya Pradesh, sharing the dais with Yeddyurappa and Janardhana Reddy may only reinforce the notion that corruption is endemic in the system and across the country and BJP pays merely lip service in countering it.
Rahul Gandhi, President of the All India Congress Committee, tweeted the following in response to the latest developments: “When in power, Yedurappa and Reddy Brothers looted Karnataka. Our government brought them to justice. Now Modi is trying to take 8 of them from jail, into the Vidhan Sabha. This is an insult to every honest citizen, to Karnataka and to the spirit of Basavanna.”
Congress High Command appears to be following a ‘Captain Model,’ strategy in Karnataka giving Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, enormous latitude in decision making as in regards the running of the election campaign. The decision may be based on the premise that strong regional and local leadership is critical in winning elections as in Punjab where Captain Amarinder Singh wrested away the power from Akali Dal in the last election where his charisma, leadership and independent decision making were all at full display.
In contrast to the BJP rule, the Congress Party under the leadership of Siddaramaih has fulfilled many of the promises that were made to the people of Karnataka. Key among them is the government’s social welfare policy. Within an hour of oath-taking as Chief Minister, he has implemented the food subsidy scheme to give 30kg rice per month at Re 1 per kg to 10.2 million families below poverty line across the State with a plan outlay of Rs.4300 crore. The State later on added Wheat, Ragi, and Jowar to the scheme. The State also started distributing 150ml milk thrice a week to 6.5 million children studying in state-run and aided schools across the state to check malnutrition and prevent dropouts.
Under the Bhagyalakshmi and Kuteer Jyoti schemes, the state government waived off Rs.268 crore arrears due from two million energy consumers in the rural areas. It also waived off Rs. 1340 crore loans with interest borrowed by a million SCs, STs and OBCs and minorities for various economic activities and increased the housing subsidized loan to economically weaker sections to Rs. 120,000 per unit from Rs. 75,000 under the Rajiv Gandhi Housing Corporation.
Programs and projects like the opening of the Indira Canteens, the introduction of the new economic policy that focused on Industries, construction of Medakettu Dam, Introduction of Bike Ambulance and the Scheme for Organ Donation etc. have shown the people of Karnataka that a government committed to the service of its people could still deliver results. Most importantly, there have been no significant financial scandals during its tenure that stands in stark contrast to the Yedurappa rule.
Siddaramaiah in his tweet recently challenged Prime Minister Modi to walk the talk when it comes to dealing with corruption. He called on Modi to “appoint Lok Pal, investigate Judge Loya’s death, investigate the astronomical rise of Jay Shah, and appoint an untainted person as your CM candidate.”
The fate of Karnataka is said to be hanging on the swing voters who are actively weighing in on the promises made on the campaign trail. Janata Dal (S), the third party in the puzzle may yet to play a critical role if there is a hung Assembly. For the Congress Party, stakes are very high in Karnataka. A win by the party in Karnataka will provide a huge momentum towards the upcoming elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh and eventually towards the 2019 general election. However, the party may require a better post-election strategy to prevent a repeat of what has been transpired in Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya!
(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer at the United Nations and Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)