S. Sreesanth has only just gotten out of the clutches of Delhi’s hyper-efficient police for using a hand-towel tucked into his pyjama as a sign to his bookmaker friends that he will bowl a few bad ones, and….
And former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda brazenly flaunts a towel on his shoulder as he takes guard at a cricket match organised by journalists in his home-district, Hassan, on Sunday.
What qualifications must an elected MLA possess to become a minister? Whose prerogative is it to nominate a minister? Who decides what portfolio a minister must be allotted? Should ministers of certain specific portfolios possess some certain attributes? And should external inputs be given consideration at all in the ministry-making process?
These are evergreen questions and they gain currency in the light of the decision of the new Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah to name S.R. Patil as the State’s information technology minister—and the quite extraordinary intervention of former Infosys man T.V. Mohandas Pai and Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.
# “Surprised at choice of minister for IT/BT. Need a person who can work with global companies and a lot younger. Sad day for us,” tweeted Pai.
# “CM can’t afford to be seen to be viewing IT/BT lightly — these are priority sectors for Karnataka,” said Shaw on her micro-blog account.
“Pai and Mazumdar-Shaw were only echoing the widespread feeling in the industry — though no one else said it openly and even these two later backpedalled — that a suave, urban-educated, technology-savvy minister would have better suited.
“The industry was backing choices such as Krishna Byre Gowda and Dinesh Gundu Rao — both dynamic, articulate legislators in their forties. Patil, from backward Bagalkot district, is a lawyer by training with a background in the co-operative movement and is not exactly known for his tech-savvy.”
“I thought either Krishna Byre Gowda (son of former minister C. Byre Gowda) or Dinesh Gundu Rao (son of former chief minister R. Gundu Rao) would get the IT/BT portfolio,” said a Congress lawmaker.
“Rahul Karuna, crisis manager with a BPO, said the IT/BT ministry deserved a heavyweight. ‘We were expecting a big name or a young minister. It’s not about the age or looks of the man; it’s that this portfolio deserves a more powerful politician.’”
Obviously, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but implicit in these statements are stereotypes that boggle the mind and should shame the likes of “suave, urban-educated and tech-savvy” Pai and Shaw. That a 65-year-old man from Bagalkot (still very much a part of Karnataka) is not cut out for the likes of them in Bangalore. That his age, language and tech skills, and mofussil background are all against him in the slick world.
But above all, the arrogant assumption that the IT/BT industry shall decide the choice of IT minister, not the chief minister. If the children and women of Karnataka (whose number vastly outdoes the number of IT/BT professionals) cannot decide who the next women and child welfare minister will be, what right does the IT/BT industry have?
Yes, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna did wonders for the industry. But do M/s Pai & Shaw know if he knew how to switch on a computer via UPS, send an email or write a blog before he took over as chief minister? And didn’t he come from Somanahalli in Maddur taluk of Mandya district? And where specifically have the dynamism of Dinesh Gundu Rao and Krishna Byre Gowda been displayed for the industry to be batting for their case?
Question: is the pampered IT/BT industry batting out of its crease?
For non-Kannadigas who snigger when when they see the red-and-yellow Kannada “flag”, there’s another red rag on the way, a Kannada “anthem”.
Like Mile sur mera tumhara, Kannada Jeevaswara, an “anthem” dedicated to the state of Karnataka and its people, has just been released. Its aim: creating a sense of belonging to this enchanting land and appreciation of the cultural heritage of Karnataka.
Credits: Concept Maya Chandra, lyrics Jayanth Kaikini, music Abhijith Shylanath, editor Rahul Dev Rajan, cinematography V.K.Subash, director Ajay Kumar.
The multilingual actor Sumalatha (third from left, front row) sits in the visitors’ gallery at the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore on Wednesday, as the first session of a new assembly begins, with her husband, the actor and former MP, Ambareesh, in the revenue benches as a debutant minister.
The ascension of K. Siddaramaiah, the agnostic-socialist who visits not temples and mutts upon becoming the chief minister of Karnataka but writers and intellectuals, as seen through the words and eyes of S.R. Ramakrishna and Satish Acharya of Bangalore’s Talk magazine.
“Back in November 2010 I had gone to Siddaramaiah‘s Mysore house with Mysooru Mithra editor M. Govinde Gowda to invite him personally for my second son’s wedding.
“As expected, the house was full of people spilling over to the road with many vehicles parked around. His aide took us to the dining hall where he was sitting at the head of the table alone, probably for our meeting.
“After the initial courtesies and platitudes I gave him the invitation and requested him to bless the groom in a customary way. As is his wont, he was expressionless and silent for a while and said that he would come.
“I did not believe him.
“I asked him about the political mess the BJP was in at that time and he mumbled something that I don’t remember now. However, I told him that it was good that he joined Congress and Congress never disappoints its loyal members in the matter of rewarding them suitably.
“He lifted his inclined head in slow-motion, looked at me and smiled. Who would not like to hear a positive prognosis of oneself?
“I continued. I said in Karnataka, in the past many years of Congress rule, I had seen that senior Congress members who were ministers and aspired to become chief ministers had realised their aspirations even if it was only for two or three years, and gave the recent examples of Bangarappa, Veerappa Moily and S.M. Krishna (who was deputy chief minister like Siddharamaiah).
“Therefore, you too will become the Chief Minister,” I told Siddaramaiah.
“Now I could see his lips turn elastic revealing his teeth from right molar to left molar with a twitch of his snubby nose. Eyes too twinkled for a fleeting second.
“I am happy to tell my readers, Siddaramaiah indeed kept his words and attended my son’s wedding held at Mysore Race Club premises.”
Photograph: Siddaramaiah gestures to the crowd after being elected as the leader of the Congress legislative party, at the KPCC Office in Bangalore on Friday (Karnataka Photo News)
Now that Congress has accomplished the easy part, it has to brace itself for the difficult part: choosing the next chief minister of the State.
Will the newly elected Congress MLAs really have a say, as they should, in choosing the leader of the legislature party? If so who will they opt for? Or will the high command impose its leader, who will be proposed and seconded, in true Congress style, by the other contenders? In either case, who is it likely to be?
Will Union labour minister Mallikarjuna Kharge get the green signal for his rock-like loyalty to the party? Or, will a younger aspirant like former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah get the OK? or will his late entry into the party and the party’s less-than-impressive showing in the Old Mysore region prove a deterrent?
Does the state Congress president G. Parameshwar stand a chance at all after failing to hold on to his seat in Koratagere, which he unbelievably first won by nearly 90,000 votes? Or will the high command fall back on dark horse, like former chief ministers S.M. Krishna and Veerappa Moily, to tide over potential dissent?
Will the next five years see just one CM or will the Congress change horses mid-stream?
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Tomorrow, May 8, is results day for the Karnataka assembly elections. Since I am not going to be in front of a camera, here are five talking points I bet you won’t hear on your favourite news channel, but five points I sincerely wish TV anchors and analysts would use.
First, despite what everyone has said in the last month, there hasn’t been any discernible change in the fundamental poll dynamic since the elections were announced. What this means is that despite the month-long campaign and all that comes along with it (read money and other gifts to the voters), nothing much changed that actually altered the political climate.
What are the fundamentals that I refer to here?
The anti-incumbency of a largely ineffectual, scandal and dissension-ridden BJP government had created a small undercurrent of support for Congress. However, that advantage has been difficult to quantify and that’s because politics these days, especially at the state level, is local and very competitive. Further, political advantage doesn’t mean a wave in favor of a political party.
I am tempted to say the era of waves is over.
Congress stuck to its strategy, didn’t recruit too many outsiders (especially those who had ties with BJP), and focused mostly on consolidating its base.
True, its ticket distribution strategy seemed chaotic and the party took too much time to complete the process. There seemed to be much dissension, with ticket aspirants and activists demonstrating regularly in front of the party office. But much of this is media-driven to make the elections more interesting, and generate some stories.
BJP somehow managed to stop its bleeding just in time when its leaders managed to convince the four Lingayat ministers (Umesh Katti, Basavaraj Bommai, Murugesh Nirani and V. Somanna) not to leave the party.
This action enabled the state BJP leadership to save some credibility with its national leaders but more significantly increased its competitiveness in 12-15 constituencies and dealt a crushing blow to Yediyurappa’s dreams of consolidating his hold over Lingayats in north Karnataka.
Second, I want to submit that all the predictions, including the exit poll based ones, are bunkum.
I haven’t looked at the methodology and sample size closely. Yet, I suspect that extrapolating results from voting percentages is not accurate. The Janata Dal (Secular) and BJP are not strong in the same areas, which means that there are fewer triangular fights.
Hence, if Congress is competing strongly everywhere, even if its vote share goes up, it may not win a commensurate number of assembly segments.
This complementary nature of JD (S) and BJP’s support base introduces an element of uncertainty and I don’t know enough about our pollsters to believe they take into account all these variables.
My scepticism about predictions leads me to my third point: that the political culture in Karnataka (in fact, this is also a broader argument that could be made nationally too) has changed dramatically. Hence, history is not a good guide not only to make predictions but more importantly to assess political strategies.
What has changed in the last decade?
In a nutshell, Karnataka has seen a new breed of politician, who has had substantial business interests and is willing to plough back huge amounts of money back into electoral politics. This new politician is in politics to manipulate public policy, further his business interests and secure maximum profits.
He doesn’t have any ideological commitments or a substantial notion of public good.
His political strategy revolves around using his personal fortune (often ill-gotten from real estate, mining or some such natural resource owned by the state) to secure the loyalty of his constituents to himself and this has been the basis for a new form of populism in Karnataka.
There have been many consequences but let me list here only two.
First, the political space available for other kinds of politics, especially the ones inspired by ideology, socio-political movements and a substantial notion of public good, is entirely absent. Be surprised if any candidate who has spent less than five crores actually wins.
Second, even old-school politicians have reinvented themselves along the same lines. In order to understand the truth of this, you only have to look at Yediyurappa and the Deve Gowda family.
In this new political culture, we need a different theory of political strategies, especially in the electoral realm. But we haven’t even had a decent explanation until now about BJP’s own electoral success in 2008. So, I am not very hopeful that we will get a good theory in tomorrow’s shows when Ramachandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav hold forth on our TV screens.
There is much to say on this topic but in brief what we need to recognize is that BJP and JD(S) have recognized the changing tides very quickly and hence have been very nimble in making their strategies.
On the other hand, Congress is burdened by its past and seems like an elephant in its efforts to maneuver around the more nimble, more tiger like opponents. It still has to accommodate all the social classes and its base is largely made up of old time loyalists. The party continues to look to its high command for guidance.
Thus Congress continues to rely on its 20th century political culture/strategizing in what has been a dramatically different 21st century political reality. Most of the stories about Congress bungling (especially this OPED piece by James Manor in the Indian Express) its poll strategy do not recognize this simple fact: it couldn’t have avoided these pitfalls and the magical wand called leadership doesn’t exist.
So, if any analyst tells you that Congress lost because S.M. Krishna was ignored, consider that a load of bull crap. Active participation by Krishna wouldn’t have increased Congress’s total vote tally in the state by 100,000 votes. His counsel wouldn’t have made ticket distribution any more efficient.
If anyone says wrong ticket selection contributed to Congress losing, take that with some skepticism.
For example, at a constituency level there might have been mistakes but Congress had a larger goal. For example, giving tickets to C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson in Hebbal and Shamanuru Shivashankarappa in Davanagere might have been problematic but if the goal is also to send a message to specific communities, then Congress will have succeeded.
This is where BJP, KJP and JD (S) are more nimble in picking candidates and they can afford to make tactical decisions in each constituency.
For example, former minister A.Krishnappa was fielded by JD (S) in Hiriyur after Congress refused to give him ticket in K.R. Puram. Krishnappa, a Golla (cowherd), is likely to win this constituency where his community is in large numbers and who along with Vokkaligas form a potent combintion. His opponent, D. Sudhakar, former minister who joined Congress just before the elections, was seen as a sure shot winner in this contest when elections began.
Here is the takeaway. Politics is extremely competitive and resourceful newcomers are ready to enter the electoral arena. They are trolling different parties in search of opportunities. Nobody can take elections easily these days.
If Siddaramaiah has sleepless nights caused by a political nobody, whose sole claim to fame is that he was Yediyurappa’s former aide and his sole strategy to secure political loyalty is to distribute large sums of money to all comers, then no leader is safe.
Fourth, I really, really wish our analysts would display a better understanding of the caste-politics equation. We really don’t have a good 21st century theory of caste loyalties inspire electoral politics. It is grating to see Yediyurappa described as the “sole leader” of Lingayats and Deve Gowda characterized as the Vokkaliga “strong man”.
Please internalize this: caste support to political parties and leaders is tactical and local; it is not strategic and translocal. I know this claim demands a research paper and not simply an assertion.
However here is the simple takeaway: Subcaste and matha-influence is more important than the kind of translocal caste loyalties that I referred to.
In Hiriyur, Kunchatiga vokkaligas are in large number but they are not strong supporters of the Gangadakara-dominated JD(S). If they vote for JD (S), it is not because of some caste loyalty to Deve Gowda. In fact, if you do a survey of Vokkaligas, most actually very strongly dislike the Gowda family, even if they vote for JD (S) most of the time.
In the same way, Lingayat solidarity across the state is a myth.
Surely, it is possible to secure broad based support from the community in favor of a party like BJP if someone like Yediyurappa is at the helm. But such a strategy would be predicated on finding the right sub caste candidate in each constituency.
Picking a Jangama candidate in a Sada or Panchamasali dominant area will result in huge electoral backlash.
Similarly, backward castes are also not a uniform entity. Siddaramaiah is a backward caste leader but unlike the 1970s and 80s when one could claim that mantle fairly easily these days all the backward castes have become highly politicized and do no want to be represented by someone from outside.
So, Siddharamaiah found himself challenged frequently by backward caste opponents, especially Nayakas, who are a large backward caste community spread across the state, just like the kuruba community to which Siddaramaiah belongs.
So, dear analyst, please do not speak use caste as an analytical category if you don’t understand the local dynamic. You will only sound like a fool.
Fifth, Karnataka saw the emergence of some new political outfits. B. PAC or the Bangalore Political Action Committee represented an alliance of new age entrepreneurs who wanted to influence electoral politics and public policy. This seemed to be inspired by American PACs, which play an enormous role in electoral politics.
Then there was Loksatta, which fielded several naïve, well meaning but political neophytes in urban areas.
All these efforts to build an alternative politics appeared half-assed, pretentious and frankly, quite insulting to the voter. It is not enough to claim that the political class is corrupt and inefficient. It is not enough to claim their own personal cleanliness, educational qualifications or industry experience.
What they lacked is a substantial movement or a public project that they could claim ownership over. Or if any of the candidates had even been a bureaucrat, something that would have brought them in contact with the public, where their conduct would have been monitored by people, such a person would have some claim to seek public trust.
A politician once told me: “What matters is not incorruptibility when you don’t have an opportunity to take a bribe. If you are incorruptible when you actually hold a public office and then work for public good, then you have a claim over public trust.”
The new, middle-class political aspirants seem to miss that simple truth.
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: No longer are elections spectacles.
For the uninitiated, everyday life in Karnataka appears to be no different except for two things. First, Bangalore’s notorious traffic is manageable these days, as the political types have been camping in their constituencies.
Second, police chowkis along the highways, especially closer to towns and cities where all the private vehicles are checked for cash and gifts for the voters. According to the most recent estimate, the money confiscated across Karnataka is more than Rs 16 crore.
So, there is this reality constructed and maintained by the Election Commission.
Its rules have taken the pageantry out of elections. No longer nominees can take out a procession to file nominations or strut around with thousands of followers or hundreds of vehicles. In fact, any vehicle used for campaigning will have to be registered.
It’s simple these days: there are severe restrictions on visible campaigning.
Missing are the auto-rickshaw mounted loudspeakers. The norm today appears to be occasional rallies featuring star campaigners especially national leaders, and more frequently, road shows featuring state leaders and cinema stars in open vehicles.
More significantly, each candidate is restricted to spending only Rs 16 lakh.
Perhaps, there isn’t a single constituency wherein a candidate will have a reasonable chance of competing and retaining his deposit if he were to stay within this farcical limit.
However, that doesn’t stop any candidate from officially submitting accounts, which will be far less than sixteen lakhs. The average spending by each winning candidate across Karnataka will be at least one hundred times more.
So, that creates an alternative, parallel reality, the one political parties, candidates, and indeed, even the voting public inhabit. Here notionally the EC’s authority is recognized but the only way to earn the trust of the electorate is to blatantly violate most of EC regulations.
Professional politicians will not complain against each other for obvious reasons. They are all playing the same game.
The smaller players say the leftist groups or the anti-corruption warriors like the Loksatta don’t have the capacity or perhaps even the commitment to document violations and lodge complaints with the EC.
Consider this second reality for a moment.
For the past month, newspapers have been reporting on all the freebies distributed surreptitiously by every politician.
Money is the obvious good and we all know that large sums will have to be spent to pay for campaigners, voters and everybody in between.
Since 2008, politicians have had to be very creative in transporting cash. So, there are numerous stories about motorbike riders carrying money or professional donkey/ black sheep herd owners being couriers transporting cash from one place to the next.
Then there are services and goods that are offered and accepted.
# Tankers carrying water.
# JCBs and tractors to do any kind of earth work in your field, either freely or at heavily subsidized rates.
# Borewell rigs to dig borewells.
# Books for students.
# Access to government welfare programs and services – from old age pension to various subsidies that the state government offers; from subscription to Yashasvini medical insurance scheme to free ration from government ration shops.
# Pressure cookers.
# Set-top boxes for televisions.
# Pilgrimages and trips to constituents.
All kinds of groups and associations too are rewarded liberally.
# Temples are built and renovated during elections if only because all the candidates will make contributions.
# Travel across the state and you will find hoardings for sports tournaments sponsored by politicians. We estimated that the budget for some of these events could run into tens of lakhs since the top prize in a cricket tournament in Shimoga was Rs. 75,000.
Obviously our list isn’t complete and the reader can add more.
However, here is the important point to note. Election results are determined in this second reality. The Election Commission has little sway over this reality and one could even argue that an efficient money spending operation precedes everything else.
The presence of star campaigners – be it Rahul Gandhi or Advani or Narendra Modi – does very little to actually sway the electorate. At best, these stars rouse the party base and raise the enthusiasm of the party cadre.
Politics has changed in this regard in the last two decades. Without this efficient ground level operation that distributes gifts, makes compelling local arguments and mobilizes voters, no candidate shall win.
And that’s true for a political party winning elections as well.
In another significant respect, a politician shows his prowess during the elections. His ability to break rules and distribute as much during the elections is actually an indicator of his ability to manipulate rules and government machinery once he is in power.
While we don’t want to sound cynical, the voting public actually considers that quality an essential trait for a leader.
The Election Commission can’t do much about the second reality. It has never had much control on that reality anyway.
Security personnel on election duty search a car at a check post on Hospet road in Bellary on Thursday, even as a new pre-poll survey suggests that the Congress, despite all its troubles, continues to maintain a healthy lead over the BJP in the assembly elections due in the “gateway to the south” next week.
Former chief minsiter H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) is the most preferred CM candidate, with 18 per cent people voting in favour of him. Ex-BJP strongman B.S. Yediyurappa is the second choice for CM (10%), followed by Congress leader Siddaramaiah (9%), S.M. Krishna (8%), and Jagadish Shettar (6%).
THE POLLS SO FAR
CSDS-CNN-IBN, The Week (April): Congress 117-129, BJP 39-49, JD(S) 33-44
Suvarna News-Cfore (April): Congress 105-122 out of 224; BJP 55-70; JD(S) 30-45
ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: A week is a long time in politics; it’s even longer in the film industry, where reputations are made and marred over a weekend. But in Boxoffice Bharat, the fortunes of politicians and filmstars happily and conveniently comingle and collide at the turnstile, come election time.
And so it is in Karnataka, in the year of the bhagwantha, 2013.
As Ambarish, the Vokkaliga leader, contests the elections in Mandya on a Congress ticket, Darshan, his supposed “successor”, is at hand, lending his voice to Sumalatha‘s. And this one picture conveys all there is to be said of the “forgiving nature” of our largely illiterate, star-struck electorate, which can barely make out the difference between art and life and probably doesn’t care.
Meanwhile, Nikita Thukral provides the opium to the unwashed masses on “Bigg Boss“.
When the Union minister for minority affairs, K. Rehman Khan, announced last November a move to set up five central universities across the country where 50% of the seats would be reserved for the minorities, it quickly became an inter-communal debate, with various BJP functionaries in Karnataka joining the fray.
Ahead of assembly elections in Karnataka, the move also served to add to the stereotype.
“Some people of Mysore, under the influence of vested interests, have demanded a separate university for the community and that it has to be named ‘Tipu University’. The very idea of a separate university for Muslims is not acceptable because Muslims do not have any separate identity in this country.
“All Indians, whether you are a Muslim or a Christian, belong to the one and the same common identity and heritage. Foreign religions have been accepted and respected in this country because of the secular and broadminded attitude of the Hindu majority.
“In one way all Indians are Hindus because Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life.
“Different cultures and ceremonies certainly add colour and vibrancy to our social fabric but the over-emphasis of the diversity is useful only from a tourist point of view. The more diversity we can boast of, the more tourists we can attract. Apart from these utilitarian points of view, the religious sentiments of the people of any nation has to be accommodated in the broader interests of national unity and national identity.
“We do not run separate trains for Muslims and Christians because the function of a train is to transport people and not to express religious identities. Similarly a university is a place to receive education and to conduct research and it is not a forum for expressing religious views. We do not have a separate physics teacher for Muslims because the learning of physics follows only one method of science as followed all over the world by the scientific community.
“It is high time we kept our religious sentiments away from the mainstream of the civil society. “
Opinion polls are crawling out of the woodwork in Karnataka. While most previous surveys have predicted a BJP downfall, a new one by the little-known Prabodhan Research Group, published by The Pioneer, Delhi, suggests it is going to be a hung assembly in the State: Congress 95 , BJP 81, JD(S) 27, KJP and independents eight each, BSR-Congress five.
Narendar Pani of the national institute of advanced studies (NIAS), in Mail Today:
“There are also signs of aggressive Hindutva being a vote loser. Long before the BJP came to power in Karnataka it had a strong cadre-based stronghold in coastal Karnataka.
“When it came to power this area became the laboratory for its strong Hindutva methods. Churches were targeted, young couples of mixed religions were attacked, and moral policing took on a new momentum. But far from attracting fresh support, the BJP appears to have lost ground in this region.
“In the recent elections to urban local bodies in this region the BJP lost several ULBs, including one that it had not lost for 40 years.
“If Narendra Modi were to step in now and deliver Karnataka to the BJP he would be able to present himself to the nation as the political superhero India was waiting for. And within the BJP all challenges to his leadership will fall by the wayside.
“Which makes it all the more interesting that Narendra Modi has not shown any inclination to take over the leadership of the Karnataka battle. He was not among the national leaders who launched the party’s campaign in the state. Is it that the situation of the BJP in Karnataka is too adverse for even the Gujarat strongman?”
THE POLLS SO FAR
Suvarna News-Cfore (April): Congress 115-127 out of 224; BJP 50-60; JD(S) 25-35
On the pages of Talk magazine, S.R. Ramakrishna and Satish Acharya look at the great Indian poll waltz in Karnataka where a 29-year-old sitting Congress MLA has happily declared assets of Rs 910 crore, up from Rs 768 crore four years ago, as it heads into dance of democracy called elections.
E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: At a time when Hockey India (HI) and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) are at each other’s throats and dragging Indian hockey down the drain by filing cases against each other, in an idyllic part of the world 225 hockey-mad families are participating in the biggest tournament of its kind.
The idyll is Coorg.
In the cradle of Karnataka hockey nay Indian hockey, the 17th edition of the inter-family hockey tournament, which has entered the record book, quietly got underway near Virajpet on Sunday. And, despite IPL being on everybody’s lips, the passion for hockey remains high.
Some of the most popular names of Indian hockey, M.P. Ganesh, B.P. Govinda, M.M. Somaiya, Poonacha and Arjun Halappa have come from the hilly, coffee-country. If hockey has to have resurgence, is it time hockey is moved to Kodagu than be a part of Delhi where they play hooky with hockey and are mostly busy with court cases?
Photograph: Members of a visiting Punjab team in a duel with a local Kodava team at the inter-family hockey tournament at Balugodu Kodava cultural centre, near Virajpet in Kodagu district on Sunday (Karnataka Photo News)
Naveen Soorinje, the Kannada news television reporter who spent four months in jail for capturing on camera the moral policing of a homestay in Mangalore by a Hindu fundamentalist group, has given an interview to Geeta Seshu, who hosts the free speech centre at the media blog, The Hoot:
# Media support for the vigilantism was, barring a few exceptions, absolute. The media played a major role in the growth of communal elements in coastal Karnataka. Very clearly, it took the side of the perpetuators and gave all acts of the vigilante groups a religious colour.
“The moral high ground sought to be occupied and evangelistic notions of saviours of virtue and tradition of these vigilante groups was mirrored by media reports of their attacks.
# Headlines in newspapers routinely referred to ‘dharmadetu’ and said those attacked should be happy they were getting ‘free’ education into religious principles and values!
In another instance, when a raid by the local wings of the Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal (Hindu fundamentalist organisations for women and men respectively) took place in a pub where some girls were found smoking, the headline and copy stressed that the smokers were ‘rescued’.
# The media’s role is deeply disturbing and attempts to discuss biased media coverage with colleagues have been completely futile, with sharp divides between journalists who aligned with one religious group or the other. Moreover, with the spread of the Hindutva agenda into villages and rural areas, it became even more difficult.
Muslim or Christian groups did try to counter the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and there were some attempts to bring in their own brand of fundamentalism, but these efforts were negligible and largely ineffectual.
# I wouldn’t go so far as to say the media was using communalism to sell. The media support for communal elements was not linked to TRPs or the selling of dramatic attacks of one community over the other. The media’s ideological support for the perpetuators of such attacks was very strong and most disturbing.
During the Church attacks of 2008, a photographer of a leading newspaper, actually snatched a lathi from a policeman present and began beating up the nuns present…
Arrested in November 2012, Soorinje was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including “rioting with deadly weapons”, “unlawful assembly”, “criminal conspiracy”, “using criminal force on a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty”, “dacoity” and Section 2 (a) of the Karnataka Prevention of Destruction and Loss of Property Act 1981, and Sections 3 and 4 of The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986.
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The pre-monsoon showers are bringing relief from the summer heat but the escalating political heat is showing no signs of abating in Karnataka.
A month is left in the poll calendar for the completion of voting. It was only yesterday that the major parties, Congress, BJP and JD (S) released their first list of candidates. But that hasn’t stopped the media from already getting into the prediction business.
Consider this. While we know that BJP’s path to reelection is filled with obstacles and the election fundamentals appear to favour the Congress at the moment, we do not know much about the micro factors and other such variables, which determine election results.
# We do not know the full slate of candidates in each constituency.
# We do not know the caste calculations particularly how a specific candidate might take away votes from others.
# We do not know the expenditure threshold (the upper limit of money to be spent) of a given candidate.
# We do not know about variables such as migrant workers who are away in cities seeking work because of drought.
So, what determines the elections then is who has a better ground game, as the American psephologists say.
For example, consider the case of migrant workers who have gone to Bangalore, Mysore, Poona or any one of the cities seeking employment.
We are already hearing reports of agents who will verify the voters list, compile the names and mobile numbers of those who are away for employment, contact them, provide them with the right incentives and bring them back to their native place the before the elections and get them to vote.
All this for a fee. This is an election management issue and the ones who have actually booked the most efficient agents will have an edge in a massively competitive election.
To be sure, if you ask any competent follower of Karnataka politics, he will quite possibly reach the same conclusions as both these polls. Thus Congress will probably secure 100-125 seats, whereas BJP might win in 55-70 constituencies, with JD (S) coming third, winning 30-45 seats. Others might get 20-30 seats.
So what’s the value of these polls? You tell us.
If you want to get fairly reliable election prediction, ask the bookies who run betting syndicates. But as the early reports indicate even there betting seems to be focusing more on who actually might get tickets and so on.
That should tell us elections are far off. And the factors that determine the elections aren’t set yet.
The summer is about to get hotter despite the occasional showers.
THE POLLS SO FAR
Suvarna News-Cfore (April): Congress 115-127 out of 224; BJP 50-60; JD(S) 25-35
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: IPL is here but the most competitive activity in Karnataka is getting a ticket. Not a railway ticket, as the summer travel season approaches, but a party ticket to contest in the Assembly or a B Form as it is technically referred to.
To make a mark, the least one could do is to get a B form from some party. Any party. The aspiring politician has arrived if he or she can get a ticket and fight the honorable fight. Because that ensures relevance and longevity in public life. Not to speak of the ability to get things done in government offices.
So we read stories on aspiring candidates and supporters threatening to commit suicide unless their wishes are met. Or protesting in front of party offices. Women politicians of Congress have asked to consider their application for tickets as their resignation letters if the party isn’t issuing them the B forms.
Then there is private lobbying, from which even sitting central ministers, who are seeking tickets for their kids, aren’t immune. Private or public, the lobbying for tickets has no logic other than the self-aggrandizement of the ticket-seeker. In Mandya for instance, an unknown demands that he be given ticket over a stalwart like Ambarish.
SINGAPORE GOVINDU: Vijaya Karnataka reported on an unusual ticket seeker earlier this week.
In his most recent Delhi Diary column, D. Umapathy writes on the quixotic quest by Pamula Govindu alias Singapore Govindu, who belongs to the Hakkipikka or Kurrumama caste, a wandering (alemari) caste of fortune-tellers.
Govindu himself is an accomplished fortune-teller in many languages, including English; in his youth, a woman from Singapore was attracted by his fortune telling skills and took him with her. He has traveled extensively, has bought land and isn’t the destitute that many in his community still continue to be. He has been a member of the KPCC (Karnataka Province Congress Committee) and this election cycle is the seventh time he has applied for a Congress ticket.
No political party has given its ticket to someone from the Hakkipikka community thus far. Not only does Govindu wants to change that by seeking a ticket from the Mulabagilu constituency in Kolar, note that he is up against the daughter of Union Minister K.H. Muniyappa’s daughter, Roopakala.
Not flustered by this, Govindu wants to show to his people what it means to be an MLA.
There have been others from a humble origin (including from politically suppressed backward castes) who have had meteoric rises in the past decade but their success has been facilitated largely by either real estate or mining.
Reading about Govindu, my thoughts turned to Devaraj Urs, the former Chief Minister and the architect of backward caste politics in Karnataka. There is significant anecdotal evidence to show how Urs would often pick someone like Govindu and promote him politically.
For Urs, the fact that Govindu comes from a caste which has never had any political representation despite being a significant numerically would have been an important factor. Despite his numerous political compromises, such political sensitivity made Urs perhaps the most significant politician in post-independence Karnataka.
Urs thrived in an era when electoral politics was less intense and less competitive; when political consciousness of other backward castes was rather dormant. Moreover, he himself was a charismatic mass leader and possessed the political backing of an unparalleled vote-gatherer in Indira Gandhi.
In today’s political environment, perhaps even he would have struggled.
Case in point. Consider the allegations made yesterday against Siddaramaiah, who is quite progressive and perhaps the tallest backward caste leader in Karnataka today. His opponent in Varuna constituency and JD (S) candidate, Cheluvaraj accused Siddharamaiah of being opposed to Nayakas, a sentiment reiterated by his supporters.
If Siddaramaiah can be turned into the leader of a caste (a Kuruba leader in other words), then his commitment towards and appeal to other castes can be minimized.
Don’t see this simply as a political strategy. Rather this is also a product of the deepening of democracy, as part of which each caste seeks representation in its own name. More on this new caste and politics dynamic some other time.
VOTER ALERT: Until the elections, we will ask churumuri readers to share their knowledge when we come across incredulous claims made by politicians. Here is the first installment.
A. Ramdas, the medical education minister, who represents the Krishnaraja constituency, claimed yesterday that he has never distributed a bottle of liquor (henda is the term he used) to sway voters in his constituency. Appealing to the youth of his constituency to not consider money or caste and religion as considerations while voting, he said: “If I give a bottle of alcohol during the elections, then I turn a voter into an alcoholic for five years”
So, churumuri readers especially from the Krishnaraja constituency: Is this true? Will you share what you know in the comments section?
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: “Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi“: It makes for a sexy headline. And for an audience drawing shouting match on television. But as an analytical frame to understand the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, it just doesn’t make any sense.
Let me explain.
Neither Modi nor Rahul is on the ballot in Karnataka. They aren’t likely to lead the government if their parties are voted into office. Nor will they be difference making vote gatherers, and to say otherwise is to misread democratic politics.
Narendra Modi’s spectacular success in Gujarat is neither unique nor is it solely based on claims of good governance and absence of corruption allegations. In fact, Shivraj Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Naveen Patnaik of Orissa too claim similar track record of both electoral success as well as efficient administration.
If anything, all four of them (Modi, Singh, Kumar and Patnaik) may have in common is the social alliance they have managed to create in their states, which has enabled them to triumph in the electoral arena. Sure good governance and a clean image always help.
But elections are fought and won based on caste equations, finding the right candidate and moving the right pawns. Modi has done exceptionally well in building that combination, in addition to economic development of Gujarat.
Astute political observers have always pointed out that the secret of Modi’s success in Gujarat is not that he is a practitioner of Hindutva politics; but he has rebuilt the old social alliance (of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim known popularly as KHAM) Congress relied on for electoral success until the 1980s.
Admittedly, Muslims aren’t a key element of Modi’s social coalition but there is evidence to suggest that he has secured significant Muslim support in the last few years.
Yet the point is Modi has turned out to be an exceptional political strategist within Gujarat, and his administrative acumen has only helped in consolidating these political gains.
Does that make him a star campaigner outside Gujarat, especially among people who haven’t benefited from good governance? No one is suggesting that BJP invite Shivraj Singh or Nitish Kumar to campaign in Karnataka!
This is where Rahul Gandhi may start out with a small advantage, which accrues to any Gandhi-Nehru dynast, and that gets him the initial name recognition nationally as well as some loyalty of Congressmen. That may have been enough in the past even until the 1980s when his father entered politics. But Indian democracy has changed and has become more competitive since then.
Political loyalties are only skin-deep these days even in a High Command centric party like Congress.
Rahul gives the impression of being a reluctant politician, who given a choice would do something else. He hasn’t shown the commitment or stamina of a professional politician who will breathe politics every waking moment.
Can he be the adept strategist and star campaigner that Congress party, and indeed even the media expect him to be?
I remain skeptical. The voter has gotten better at seeing through masks and evaluates his self interests in ways that media or political scientists do not recognize.
What Rahul and Modi will accomplish, if they campaign vigorously in Karnataka, is bridge and/or raise the enthusiasm gap for their parties. That is their appeal will be limited to committed supporters of Congress and BJP respectively, who will be energized to vote for their candidates instead of staying home.
A recent survey by Suvarna News and Cfore media bears this out: more than two thirds of likely BJP voters admit that Modi’s support will make them vote for BJP.
What neither will be able to do is to convert the undecided voter or the opponent. Hence their impact will be limited and marginal at best.
Is it because the media is lazy and cannot come up with better explanations?
IAS – KAS conflict: Are only direct IAS recruits efficient and capable of running fair and impartial elections?
The Karnataka Election Commission seems to think so and has replaced twelve deputy commissioners, who are IAS officers but promoted from Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS). Sashidhar Nandikal reports in Vijaya Karnataka on April 1 that this has created a rift among direct recruits and promotee IAS officers.
Majority of the direct recruits into IAS are non-Kannadigas and therefore lack deep roots in local caste politics or personal / family connections to leading politicians. That’s the not case with KAS recruits, whose initial selection will largely be because of their powerful connections.
Still, we must file this question among the inexplicable mysteries!
On Actresses and Politics: Recently, I was asked to explain why actresses are getting into politics in Karnataka. While the elders in the business, like Umashri, Tara and Jayamala relied on MLC nominations or an Academy chairmanship to launch their political career, the younger lot like Rakshita and Pooja Gandhi is sweating it out, traveling across the state and taking part in party conventions.
Lest the reader mistake their political activism to the tireless campaigning of a Mamata Banerjee or a Mayawati, I hasten to add that these actresses haven’t offered a compelling reason for entering politics. In fact, we don’t hear much about their political commitments or track of social service.
The talk in Bangalore revolves around the money they are being paid. Pooja Gandhi is supposed to have received Rs 2 crore for joining BSR Congress and when asked by Vijaya Karnataka, she strongly denied that rumour. Yet in a political career spanning a little over a year, she has been a member of JD (S) and KJP.
To my questioner, a journalist-friend, I suggested that for someone like Pooja Gandhi a political party is no different than a product or a business she endorses. I suspect she looks at herself as a brand ambassador for a party, and taking a fee for that work isn’t the worst thing in the world.
VISHWAS KRISHNA writes: If you are in Mysore, or closely following the developments of Mysore, it is unlikely you would have missed the issue of the theatre repertory Rangayana. The organization which should have been concentrating on creative pursuits is now embroiled in a maze of bureaucratic problems.
Nataka Karnataka Rangayana, to give its full name, is a state government-funded repertory started under the tutelage of the theatre maestro, B.V. Karanth, almost 25 years ago. Most of the initial years were spent in training artistes in the production and enactment of plays. Public shows started only after a few years.
It took enormous effort, mainly by Karanth and later on by others, to build the team and for Rangayana to attain the reputation it now enjoys.
It was when Prasanna became the director that Rangayana started the practice of weekend shows. And that practice is in place till date. If you visit Rangayana on a Sunday, you can be rest assured of a play being performed at 6.30 pm (usually by Rangayana or by other teams when they are on a tour).
Being in Mysore, we get to watch other amateur team’s productions too. And as part of theatre festivals like Bahuroopi (organised by Rangayana) we get to watch performances by some of the most renowned theatre groups across the country.
But, having watched the productions of Rangayana, it is difficult to be easily impressed by any other performance. That is the standard which Rangayana has created and we Mysoreans are lucky to have such a repertory here.
After watching so many plays and shows of Rangayana repertory, unknown to them, we, the audience, have developed a kind of rapport with the actors and the team.
But now, the government, on the idiotic advice of Ranga Samaja, wants to split the team and transfer the artists and artistes, whom we have watched all these years as part of Rangayana. The issue of transfer started during the controversial tenure of B.Jayashree in 2009-10.
Imagine: artists, artistes, actors in a transferable job!
This is a very foolish step from the governing body, supported by the Government. It is very difficult to believe that the governing body is acting without any mala fide intention, but even if one gives them the benefit of doubt, one fails to see the logic behind this act.
Ranga Samaja is being lazy in not trying to search for new actors and instead trying to depute the actors here at Rangayana as trainers at the new branches. These people are trained to be actors and not trainers.
Moreover, the team which has been producing plays since 25 years would have developed a comfort zone with each other and it reflects in their plays too.
We Mysoreans are used to watching the plays of the same team since so many years and now, all of a sudden, if 12 actors of the team are sent away, who will act in the productions of Rangayana? Not to be disrespectful to the others, but the 12 actors who are transferred are among the best actors of the team, at least for me, personally.
If they are not part of the team, there is no way I or many other regular Rangayana audiences would watch the plays. It also means that the repeat shows of the old productions, of which, these 12 actors are part of would not be performed or would be performed by the new actors who are not as experienced as the present team.
There is no way the quality of the productions will remain the same. The highest standards of acting which we have come to expect from Rangayana would be lost forever.
Ranga Samaja and also, the government, have to remember that Rangayana Mysore was started with 25 fresh faces. It is difficult to guess as to what is stopping them from doing the same at the other two newly established Rangayanas.
The actors are now fighting for cancellation of the transfer order and exploring many ways to solve this problem. And the director of Rangayana, B.V. Rajaram, who also supported the actors in their protest against the transfer order, was immediately sacked.
Curiously, the director was not taken into confidence before the transfer orders were issued to the actors. The incident only shows the dictatorial attitude of the outgoing BJP government towards one of the most prominent cultural institutions of Karnataka.
This is something the actors of Rangayana should have realised long back, but at least now, hopefully, after this issue gets solved, they should realise that the more quicker they come out of the clutches of Ranga Samaja and the bureaucracy, the better it is.
We, the audience, do not know who are the members of the governing body and how are they elected and for how long they remain elected. But we are now aware that such a thing exists and we want the old Rangayana back, free of its clutches from the unknown and faceless Ranga Samaja and the non-empathetic bureaucracy.
For an “infuriatingly good” wordsmith whose 21 works fetched him the Saraswati Samman and Sahitya Akademi awards, it is an odd twist of fate that, at 81, the Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa finds himself reduced to a Hindutva mascot, who supports bans on conversion and cow slaughter, and thinks “Tipu Sultan is a religious fanatic rather than a national hero”.
The turning point, suggests the Booker Prize-winning writer Aravind Adiga, in an article in Outlook* magazine, was Aavarana.
“For decades, Bhyrappa had said that an artist ought not to preach. In 2007, he broke his own rule. Aavarana (The Concealing), though technically his 20th novel, is a polemic—a list of all the sins that Muslims have allegedly wreaked on Hindus and their culture for generations. U.R. Anantha Murthy criticised the novel, and Bhyrappa entered into a rancorous public debate with him (the two men have a long history of attacking each other). A bestseller in Karnataka, Aavarana earned the aging Bhyrappa a cult following of young, rabidly right-wing readers.
“Anantha Murthy and Bhyrappa are the opposite poles of the modern Kannada novel. If one is its Flaubert—the author of a compact, exquisite body of work, left-liberal in its sympathies—the other is its Balzac—prolific, unruly, and right-wing in his politics. If India can absorb an Islamocentric poet like Iqbal, it can accommodate S.L. Bhyrappa. Anantha Murthy may be the better writer, but Bhyrappa evokes more affection in those who speak Kannada.
“More than twenty years ago, as a student in Sydney, Australia, I met one of that city’s richest doctors, a man from coastal Karnataka. When he compared the state of Australia with that of India, the doctor felt depressed; at such moments he flicked through an old copy of Parva that he had brought to Sydney. Seeing how Bhyrappa had modernized the Mahabharatha gave the doctor hope that India, too, could become a prosperous country—without losing its culture. For nearly five decades, S.L. Bhyrappa’s richly imagined and deeply felt novels have helped his readers tide over difficult moments in their lives.
“Now it is time for them to return the favour and rescue this great Indian writer’s legacy from the biggest threat it faces: Bhyrappa himself.”
The residence and offices of Karnataka BJP leader K.S. Eshwarappa were raided by the Lok Ayukta recently, acting on a complaint of “assets disproporation to the known sources of income”. Besides obnoxious amounts of gold and silver that is the new-normal, among the items seized was a currency note counting machine which he claimed was being used as a “toy” by children in the house.
A currency machine now appears to be a badge of honour amongst the corrupt across India.
Madhu Koda, the former chief minister from Jharkhand who became notorious for his money-laundering scam, was discovered to be a millionaire with business interests in far-flung countries like Liberia and Laos. In the stash discovered in Koda’s home were five currency counting machines.
Such machines were reportedly found in the home of Ashok Jadeja, Ahmedabad-based conman and fake guru who defrauded thousands in a money-multiplier scheme. A Madhya Pradesh doctor couple in government service was found with huge amounts of unaccounted cash and a currency counting machine a few months ago.
Possessing a currency counting machine is not illegal in India. But the recent discoveries suggest that illegal cash transactions are so massive that physical counting is impractical and machines are being brought in. These days corruption cases anyway involve tens of crores of rupees, if not hundreds.
It is becoming routine for corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to have a currency counting machine besides documents, cash and jewelry, said Justice Santosh Hegde, former Karnataka Lokayukta and an anti-corruption crusader.
“Bribes are mostly received in cash and this indicates the volume of unaccounted money sloshing about in the financial system,” said Justice Hegde.
There are many ways to guess if an election is round the corner, but a sureshot signal is when our politicians gird up their loins, slap their thighs and fan the flames of communalism.
So, therefore, Andhra Pradesh is abuzz with the arrest of the hate speech delivered by Akbaruddin Owaisi, an MLA of the Majlis party which has a long track record of nuisance making in Hyderabad. So, people are dying in Maharashtra’s Dhule district because of an altercation that broke out on the streetside.
And so, the row over the proposed Tipu Sultan University in Srirangapatna.
In November last year, the Union minister for minority affairs, K. Rehman Khan, said the Moulana Azad education foundation, under his Ministry, was setting up five central universities across the country where 50% of the seats would be reserved for the minorities.
One of those five would come up in the temple-town and island-kingdom of Srirangpatnam, 18 km from Mysore, which was home to the 18th century ruler.
“There is no patriot like Tipu. There are instances where kings sacrificed kingdom for the sake of state but Tipu sacrificed his sons. He was the first person to coin the word Karnataka,” he said, according to an UNI report.