From a Karnataka perspective, the 2014 Lok Sabha election has been a roller-coaster ride.
After the Congress’s thumping return to power in the 2013 assembly elections, the party believed it would repeat its showing in the general elections, thus making up for what is certain to be a serious rout in the Seemandhra region, following the noisy creation of the Telengana state.
The populist decisions undertaken by the Siddaramaiah government was also supposed to help to add to the Congress tally in Karnataka (Congress bagged 8 of the 28 seats, against the BJP’s 18 and the JDS’s two).
But the return of B.S. Yediyurappa to the BJP, and the re-inclusion of B. Sreeramulu, has altered the conventional wisdom on top of the headwind that Narendra Modi brings to his high-voltage campaign. The opinion polls are divided in what is in store in the state, except to suggest that the Congress might not get as high as it thought it would and the BJP as low as many thought it would.
During his recent whistle-stop tour of Kerala, Rahul Gandhi jumped out of his security cocoon and clambered on top of a police vehicle. But it is not just the Congress vice-president who feels compelled to do these “mass” numbers on the eve of an election.
Exhibit A is former Union minister H.N. Ananth Kumar of the BJP and Exhibit B is the former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular). The former taking part in an event to promote use of bicycles in Bangalore; the latter flagging off a party rally.
Counting the chickens before they are hatched, is a familiar human frailty. And, as elections draw near with intimations of the mortality of the Congress-led UPA, there are many who are rehearsing their speeches from “the ramparts of the Red Fort” in the not unreasonable expectation that dame luck may not just smile but wink at them at the polling booths thanks to a lame duck government.
The Usain Bolt of them is, of course, you-know-who, who shall not be named. But a not quite unlikely silhouette is emerging from the shadows: Jayalalitha Jayaram.
With poll after opinion poll predicting that virtually 250 of the 543 seats in the next Lok Sabha may be occupied by non-Congress, non-BJP parties—with Tamil Nadu having 40 of them—the straws are somewhat leaning towards the Mysore-born AIADMK supremo who is now that State’s chief minister for a second term.
“An inner voice tells me that Indian polity is going through a sea change, and as a believer in the Hindu dharma, let me tell you that someone from the south is going to become the Prime Minister,” said Gowda, a frequent visitor to the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, which also happens to be Jayalalithaa’s assembly constituency. “I wholeheartedly support the candidature of Jayalalitha for the Prime Minister’s post provided such a favorable political mobilization takes place.”
Now, the AIADMK general council has echoed Gowda’s sentiments:
“All the members of AIADMK want Jayalalitha to become prime minister this time and we have been working in this direction for the last three-four months. The federal structure of the country should give a chance to political leaders of other states to lead the country,” said M. Thambi Durai, an AIADMK leader in the Lok Sabha.
At a function held in Madras last year, Cho Ramaswamy of Tughlaq magazine said that Jayalalitha stood a good chance if Narendra Modi became unacceptable to NDA allies.
Obviously, this is speculation predicated on the assumption that neither BJP nor the Congress will be in a position to form a government on their own or with the support of their allies. But the fact that Jayalalitha has not met the BJP “prime ministerial candidate” Narendra Modi on three occasions, nor have her representatives been present at Modi’s rallies in Tamil Nadu, suggests that the flame of hope burns bright in more than just one Gujarati’s heart.
Questions: Does Jayalalitha, with her food schemes, her grasp of English and slightly understated demeanour in her latest term, stand a chance if AIADMK wins, say, 32-35 of the 40 seats? Is she a more accetpable bet than Narendra Modi? Will she be acceptable to other parties like Biju Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress, which are also likely to score heavily in Orissa and West Bengal? Will her proximity to the left parties (the CPI’s D. Raja won with AIADMK support) make her more amenable to Mulayam Singh Yadav‘s Samajwadi Party, just to spite Mayawati?
Is it time a Mysorean became prime minister? (Just kidding.)
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.
Whether it was his power-is-poison speech at the Congress chintan shivir in Jaipur earlier this year, where he was elevated to the post of vice-president, or at the CII meet in New Delhi two weeks ago, where he used the beehive analogy to describe India, Rahul Gandhi has shown a very sophomoric, spreadsheet understanding of realpolitik.
He makes all the right NGO-style noises about cutting out power brokers, of rewarding talent, of creating new leaders, about database management, about empowering the grassroots in ticket distribution, etc. But are they really workable in the Indian context, especially in the Congress context?
The elections to the Karnataka assembly, shortly after his elevation, have provided an opportunity to test how ready his party is, and how insistent he is that his writ runs. In the Hindustan Times, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi shows the yawning gap between precept and practice, between Rahul rhetoric and Congress reality:
1.Rahul theory: “Leaders from other parties parachute in just before the elections and fly away after getting defeated.”
Congress in Karnataka: Party has given tickets to those who came from the Janata Dal (Secular). Shivaraj Tangadgi, who was till recently a minister in the BJP government, has been given the ticket from Kanakagiri reserved constituency.
2.Rahul theory: “No person with a criminal background should be given party ticket.”
Congress in Karnataka: Candidates facing criminal cases such as D.K. Shiva Kumar, M. Krishnappa and Satish Jarkiholi have been accommodated.
3.Rahul theory: “Party will not not field candidates who have lost two previous elections with a margin of 15,000 votes and above.”
Congress in Karnataka: Basavaraja Rayaraddi, Kumar Bangarappa and Siddu Nyamagouda, whose defeat margin was much higher than 15,000, have been considered.
4.Rahul theory: “The kin of of senior leaders should be given the go-by.”
Congress in Karnataka: Former chief minister Dharam Singh’s son Ajay Singh, union minister Mallikarjun M. Kharge’s son Priyank M. Kharge, former minister C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson Abdul Rahman Sharief and son-in-law Syed Yasin, Shamanur Shivashankarappa and his S.S. Mallikarjun, M. Krishnappa and his son Priya Krishna have all been given tickets.
5.Rahul theory: “Youth Congress should to get its desired share of candidates.”
Congress in Karnataka: Of the list of 20 names forwarded, only a few have got in. Even state Youth Congress president Rizwan Arshad has been denied a ticket, prompting him to offer his resignation from the post.
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?
Like a bad penny, the Cauvery “dispute” returns to the national discourse every few years with both the “riparian” States involved the story, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, making the same noises—the former of everlasting injury and the latter of arrogance, with the Centre acting like a traffic policeman with his hands tied.
Every time the dispute flares up, and that is usually when there is scanty rainfall, the same revanchist forces of linguistic chauvinism and parochialism dust themselves and utter the same threatening cliches.
The world’s topmost water resources experts—the moviestars of Gandhinagar—descend on the streets. Bandhs are called, roads are blocked, resignations are offered, the ruling party flexes its muscle, all-party delegations meet the PM, and the media beats the familiar wardrum that sends shivers down the spines of those who can remember 1991-92.
Lost in the melee is sense and common sense. A dispute involving a couple of districts in the deep south holds the rest of the State and its relationship with a neighbour hostage. Karnataka’s fair name as a law-abiding State and the reputation of Kannadigas as a decent, civilised lot is muddied in the eyes of the nation and the courts.
Here, a lawyer conversant with the intricacies of the dispute lists eight reasons why Karnataka is once again barking up the wrong tree in circa 2012.
1. When the agreement of 1924 was signed between the Maharaja of Mysore and Madras, the former diwan of Mysore, Sir M. Visvesvaraya, supported it unequivocally. The said agreement gave 80% of all the water to Madras, which is equal to 360 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) at the Border.
2. The Cauvery Tribunal, reduced the quantity from 360 TMC as provided by the agreement of 1924 to 205 TMC in its interim Order, or 192 TMC in its final Order, which is a reduction of about 50%. During the years of drought, the shortfalls are to be shared equitably by riparian states. How is this distress to be shared?
3. According to Tamil Nadu, if the shortfall in the flows is 40%, its share ought to stand reduced by 40%. On applying this simple mathematical reduction formula of pro-rata, the shortfall in the flows given to Tamil Nadu comes to 40 TMC as on 19 September 2012.
4. However, the Prime Minister rightly ignored the pro-rata formula when he passed the Order on 19 September 2012 directing Karnataka to ensure 9000 Cusecs till 15 October 2012 equivalent to only 20 TMC. This 20 TMC not only includes the arrears but also the monthly quota. Therefore, in real terms, the Prime Minister has only given 10 TMC towards arrears as against 40 TMC which ought to have been due to Tamil Nadu under the pro-rata formula.
5. Present storages is about 65 TMC. Even in the worst year of 2003-2004, 30 TMC flowed into the Karnataka reservoirs till December. So, in this year too, a similar quantum of water can be expected.
6. Cauvery is a political issue for the Vokkaligas. Historically, none from the Vokkaliga belt in Mandya and Mysore ever raised a word of opposition in 1924. Even after independence in 1947 or the re-organisation of States in 1956, none from Mandya or Mysore sought revision of the agreement of 1924. It is only after 1974, that the Opposition to the 1924. After 1974, the opposition in the Vokkaliga belt started but it is selective, targeting Non-Vokkaliga Government.
7. Mandya Vokkaligas opposed the Varuna Canal because it benefitted the Lingayats and Backward Classes in Mysore District. Mandya Vokkaligas do not bother when water is released from Kabini to fulfil the Order because Kabini caters to Lingayats, SC, ST and OBCs.
8. The ones who should really be complaining are Coorgis, since Coorg does not have drinking water though more than half the Cauvery water comes from there.
Photograph: Kannada movie stars (from left) Pooja Gandhi, Prameela Joshai, Shruti, Tara and Sudharani emerge out of the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Saturday after submitting a memorandum to Governor H.R. Bhardwaj on Cauvery issue (Karnataka Photo News)
MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The defeat in the Udupi-Chikamagalur by-election to the Lok Sabha is the price the BJP has paid—at last—for making a mockery of the mandate it had received from voters in Karnataka voters and reiterated in the string of by-elections held of the assembly in the interregnum.
The subtle changes witnessed in the voting pattern in the by-poll can be ignored only at their peril by the BJP’s strategists. In a way the voting pattern is indicative of the mood of the people that their patience over the power tantrums of BJP may be running out.
The BJP’s fast rise in Karnataka, especially in the past decade, is mainly attributed to newly enrolled voters voting en masse in its favour to the total exclusion of the two other contenders, Congress and JD S . As a consequence, in the 2008 assembly election, it could displace the Congress as the party with the biggest share of votes.
This vital trend has been reversed this time.
In Udupi-Chikamagalur, an additional 24,000 voters had been freshly enrolled. Not a single vote has gone to the BJP this time in a constituency which all along was considered as one of its bastions in Karnataka.
To make the matters worse, the BJP could not even retain the vote base.
It has suffered erosion to the tune of over 48,000 votes between the 2009 when the parliament elections were held and in the by-election held now. In 2009 itself, the erosion in the vote base was marginal to the extent of little more than 9,000 over the 2008 assembly polls in the concerned segments.
Between 2008 and 2012, the party has lost more than 57,000 voters.
The only redeeming factor, however, is that of the more than 400,000 voters who had reposed confidence in the party in 2009, only ten percent chose to change their political loyalty, while the bulk of the voters chose to remain steady with the party, despite the plethora of scams and scandals that have plagued the party and the deep rooted schism among its top leaders that is now out in the open.
This may be a comforting thought for BJP leaders but one of them, B.S. Yediyurappa who is going all out to rehabilitate himself, is certainly not going to be happy. This is one election, where Yediyurappa openly said that he would not campaign for the party. While the party was battling here, Yediyurappa was on a temple sojourn seeking divine intervention to realise his ambition.
If Yediyurappa’s absence can be one of the contributing factors for the loss of 40,000 votes, then his image as the main vote catcher for the party and his status as the mass leader of the BJP in Karnataka gets a serious dent.
This was one election, which nobody seriously expected Congress to win. But it did not on its own volition but by default as it appears. For the BJP’s loss of votes in the by-election, has not been a gain for the Congress.
Congress, as the poll figures reveal, could only rake up an additional 24,000 votes to its 2009 tally, which it had lost by a margin of 27,000 votes. The biggest gainer however for the record sake happens to be JDS, which could get more than 72,000 votes this time, while it had left the seat uncontested last time
Another interesting feature is that the poll turnout in the 2009 general election and the present byelection, was almost been identical – a little more than 68%. And the only change in the scenario has been that over 28,000 new voters were added to the electoral list. And the increase in the poll turn out has been around 18,000.
While all the new voters are expected not to miss the maiden opportunity to cast vote, obviously around 10,000 established voters who had voted last time obviously stayed way. And this scenario offered an ideal setting for discerning the response of the voters to the ugly happenings in BJP in general and to the internecine quarrels in particular.
Ultimately it so happened that while the Congress could increase its vote share by little more than 18,000 votes, the BJP had lost to the tune of 48,000 votes, and the JDS which had stayed away from contest three years ago, raked up support of whopping 72,000 votes.
There has been a considerable decline in the number of apolitical voters, who would prefer voting “others” to any of the established parties. The number of such voters which was around 55,000 last time had got reduced to little more than 28,000. The bulk of them appeared to have supported JDS.
The moot question is why did the JDS, which had skipped contesting in 2009 choose to be in the arena this time, where it had not got a ghost of chance of winning. And who was the ultimate beneficiary?
The Congress spokesmen had gone on record to say that move was to keep the secular votes in the constituency (a euphemism for the votes polled by the CPI last time) from going to Congress. Did the presence of the JDS help Congress to win or prevented BJP from winning?
Power minister Shobha Karandlaje arrives at the Sri Jayadeva institute of cardiovascular sciences & research in Bangalore on Sunday, to visit former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who was rushed there after he complained of chest pain following his arrest and incarceration in the denotification scam on Saturday night. KPN photo.
E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji was watching the TV intently.
“KonegooYediyurappanna arrest maadidrallo!”
“He went where no chief minister from our State had ever gone before, even if it was for a few hours. As an inmate of the special VIP cell he himself had okayed in an act of great perspicacity, he is sure to have inspected the quality of work first hand.”
“That’s right, Ajji.”
“Is it putra vyamoha which helped him turn a blind eye while his children were amassing wealth even while he was visiting temples day and night, spouting devara naama and vachana saahitya? I wish he had followed whatever he had said while visiting the mutts and temples. It’s sad.”
“It looks like he didn’t mean whatever he said. He is the first former CM in Karnataka to be sent to jail for alleged corruption.”
“Chief minister ninda thief minister aago haage aaythallo.”
“Yes. Advani’s yatra against corruption has become a joke now, with a BJP leader in the “gateway to the south” now in a jail called hospital. Advaniji should have started his yatra in Karnataka, ajji.”
“Ayyo! Had he done that it would have got stuck for days and months in Bellary and Vidhana Soudha. They would have had to do paada pooje every few yards in the name of some jailed minister, MLA or the other.”
“What else? The party which came to power saying it would be different, really showed how different it was. Scam after scam whether it is land or kabbinada aduru. Aduru konegoo sarkaarana ‘adursu’ bidthoo nodu.”
“Yes. It’s the mining which brought his government down and land scam which sent him to jail. It also brought in so much money to buy MLAs and start Operation Kamala and Vimala and all that to distort democracy.”
“Naachikkegedu. When he walked to the governor’s office to give his resignation letter, his daughter had said it reminded her of Gandhiji’s Dandi march! The gall.”
“Walking between policemen holding sticks this is a danda march in a way. Adirli,KrishniahShettru was also sent to jail. Isn’t he the one who brought trainloads of Ganga jala and distributed to all temples in the State during Shivarathri?”
“I also heard that the Lok Ayukta police raided ‘hosa Gowdru’ Balakrishna Gowda?”
“Yes, Ajji. On charges of accumulating more than Rs 500 crore of property and wealth, many many times more than his salary as a KAS officer.”
“Ayyo Devre! Isn’t he poor Gowda’s son, our farmer prime minister?”
“Yes. Farmer former prime minister’s son, Ajji.”
“Karnatakaana devare kaapadbeku. Only God should save Karnataka.”
“Devaralla, Ajji. MuncheDeve Gowdru kaapadidru. Aa mele Yeddyurappa navaru kaapadtha bandru.”
“Saakappa saaku! Because of their rule even God cannot save us from total ruin!”
MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The BJP in Karnataka finds itself in an unusual fix. It is not in a position to openly savour the victory in the just concluded by-election to the Karnataka legislative assembly from Koppal in north Karnataka.
It is not that it was an unexpected victory.
A victory was well and truly on the cards when the ruling BJP led by B.S. Yediyurappa, the then chief minister, enticed Karadi Sanganna, the sitting JDS legislator, to join the BJP, as a part of Operation Kamala, the infamous game plan devised by Yediyurappa and the BJP to achieve their objective of mustering a majority in the House without attracting the provisions of the anti-defection law.
The haddi in the victorious kabab is that, in the interim, Yediyurappa has lost his stewardship of the State in the light of indictment made by the Karnataka Lok Ayukta in the illegal mining scam which has thrived under the BJP dispensation in Karnataka.
As a result, the by-election was fought with new chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda at the helm of affairs, albeit with Yediyurappa having a dominant voice and role.
Yediyurappa, as is his wont, went gung-ho in the campaign to prove inter alia that he is still the real boss of the BJP in Karnataka.
Result: there are already clear signs of the break-out of an internecine quarrel between the pro- and anti-Yediyurappa factions in the BJP on who should get the credit for the Koppal by-election victory, the first one to be held after Yediyurappa demitted office.
Even as the reports of the party’s success in Koppal reached Bangalore, the party president K.S. Eshwarappa, fired the first salvo saying that that credit should go to the “collective leadership”, a phrase which has come into vogue in the post-Yediyurappa period.
This was endorsed by Dharmendra Pradhan, the national party secretary, who is in charge of Karnataka. But equally quick with his reaction was M.P. Renukacharya, a minister of the BJP government and a maverick crony of Yediyurappa, who insisted and reiterated that the credit should indeed go to his mentor, Yediyurappa.
Truth to tell, ever since he was forced to quit, Yediyurappa has been in a petulant mood. He reportedly gave went to his anger at a party conclave over the manner in which he was eased out by the party leadership.
It is also clear that he is in the political dog house with the BJP leadership frowing upon his move to take out a state wide yatra. Earlier, it had scotched his move to join the anti corruption demonstration in Karnataka in the wake of Anna Hazare‘s crusade against corruption.
Both the central and party leadership of the BJP at the moment are not prepared to give the credit for the victory to the Yediyurappa for quite obvious reasons.
First, it would mean acknowledging the primacy of Yediyurappa in Karnataka, which the national party in the present mood is not prepared to concede because it would present the new chief minister and others in a poor light.
Second, it would also be interpreted as the endorsement of a regime, which had become a byword for corruption, scams and nepotism, which the BJP at this juncture, with assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the possibility of the early polls to Parliament due, cannot afford.
But Yediyurappa does not like any move to deny him with the credit. He may use this as a plank to pressure the central party leadership to restore his lost position in the Karnataka government, which he has said he will regain in six months’ time. The national leadership at the moment appears to be hell bent on keeping him away from the hotseat.
The fact of the matter is that the credit for the success in Koppal goes neither to Yediyurappa nor to the BJP as a party but to the person concerned, namely the victorious candidate Karadi Sanganna.
He is a locally popular figure and has figured in all the five elections held since 1994 including the present one and has been successful in four under different a political label each time.
Sanganna won his first election in 1994 as an independent candidate, the second one as a United Janata Dal candidate in 1999, the third as a Janata Dal (S) candidate in 2008 and the present one on the BJP ticket.
He contested the 2004 election on BJP ticket and lost narrowly.
It is Karadi Sanganna who has served the cause of the BJP rather than the latter doing him any favour. Yet, in the wonderland that is the BJP, the quarrel is over who should get the honours for the victory, in which neither the party nor its former figurehead had any major role to play.
Photograph: BJP candidate Karadi Sanganna (second from left), who won the Koppal bypoll, in a jubilant mood with ministers Basavaraj Bommai (right) and Laxman Savadi, in Koppal on Thursday (Karnataka Photo News)
One of India’s most progressive States. The cradle of reforms. “Rama Rajya” in the eyes of the Mahatma. The homeground of sage-administrators like Sir MV. The capital of information technology. Etcetera, etcetera.
The adjectives trip off the tongues when the poets start waxing eloquent on Karnataka.
But a cartoonist doesn’t need a word to describe the state of the State today where one former chief minister after another walks into the witness box on the way to you know where.
Which begs the question: among all the firsts, will Karnataka also become the first State in the Union to send two former real estate agents to jail in the same quarter of the same financial year?
In theory, some Lucknow maulvi has issued a fatwa against “politically motivated” iftars. In practice, that is an edict that is meant to be violated flagrantly; the breaking of the fast at the end of the day during the holy month of Ramzan providing secular lubrication for the social intercourse that is so palpably lacking.
From the president to the prime minister, from Congress to the JDS, iftar parties are on in full swing across the country.
The former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and his brother, H.D. Revanna, and their JDS colleague, P.G. R. Sindhia, do the honours at an iftar in Shivajinagar in Bangalore on Friday. The gentleman in the middle is the former Union civil aviation minister, the vachana-spouting C.M. Ibrahim.
PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: The protracted and acrimonious power tussle in Bangalore, quite reminiscent of several episodes in recent years, demolishes Bharatiya Janata Party’s claim to be a party with a difference.
In fact, after taking office 38 months ago, the Yediyurappa government, has hurtled from one crisis to another – be it due to internal dissidence, scandals of abuse of power and corruption involving BJP politicians, repeated episodes of the infamous ‘Operation Kamala’ to bring opposition party MLAs into BJP and the efforts by the opposition parties to destabilize BJP and remove it from power – leaving no time for governing.
Any wonder Yediyurappa famously said any other person in his position would have gone mad?
Political analysts have thus far tended to see this as a failure of leadership and have often blamed B.S. Yediyurappa for his failings. There is some truth to this charge.
While Yediyurappa has been the key figure in BJP’s rise to power, his character flaws have also been obvious.
His street fighter instincts as well as perpetual campaign mode have been advantageous for BJP, the political party, but the same personality appears ill suited to handle the rigors of governance. He is short tempered, doesn’t listen to advice or contrarian perspectives, and is rarely challenged, especially on policy within his party.
Further, he seems to exist within a bubble, believes in his own rhetorical hubris of development and is very intolerant of opposition, which is surprising given that Yediyurappa spent many decades in opposition benches.
By all accounts, he wasn’t detail oriented and didn’t have the stamina or the patience to fulfill the innumerable tall promises he makes to all and sundry, everyday.
His well documented nepotism and authoritarian tendencies have not only alienated his own party men but far more significantly show a lack of understanding of how discretionary power should be used.
Yet, even if he had been a nicer person, more efficient administrator and accommodating leader, Yeddyurappa, and indeed the state of Karnataka, couldn’t have escaped from the current predicament – scandals and abuse of power, the loss to exchequer from mining, and widespread corruption.
Therefore, this personality oriented analysis misses the structural transformations that have taken place in Karnataka politics, leading to a fundamental change in the political culture of the state.
At the heart of this change is the emergence of a new politician – brash and covetous, with no inhibitions on the use of public policy as an instrument of personal profit.
He is rarely guided by any notion of public good – even one based on narrow considerations of religion or caste; rather business interests seem to motivate this politician-entrepreneur.
Despite Yediyurappa’s rhetoric about development, or for that matter the populism of his predecessor H. D. Kumaraswamy state policy has rarely had any notion of public good as its guiding principle in the Oughts.
On the contrary, there has been a substantial convergence of business and politics, a paradigmatic shift that not only explains the birth of this new politician-entrepreneur but also shows corruption to be a new form of activity that resides in his persona.
Note that caste and class backgrounds have been quite remarkably insignificant in his rise.
The principal focus of politician-entrepreneur’s business activity has been mining and real estate, the two land-based business ventures. Note that both require access to political power, in order to change or to seek exemption from or violate regulatory mechanisms.
Bangalore and Bellary have been the epicentres of this process.
As a significant beneficiary of globalization and ever expanding IT industry, Bangalore has grown leading to unreal profits for those engaged in real estate ventures. However, Bellary’s dramatic transformation, economically and ecologically, has made the Bangalore story seem less significant although similar processes are taking place in both places.
Bellary has been the harbinger of change not simply for the exploitation of mineral wealth and destruction of environment but for the new political culture that has taken root in Karnataka. It burst into national consciousness when Sonia Gandhi contested for Loksabha in 1999.
Ironically, it also marked the dramatic rise of Gali Janardhan Reddy, who managed the BJP campaign for Sushma Swaraj, Gandhi’s opponent in that election. Even though he ended up on the losing side, Reddy and his cohort filled the political vacuum in Bellary BJP and effectively challenged the hegemony of Congress.
Reddy took to mining, where the increasing global demand for iron ore, brought in unexpected riches, which were quickly ploughed back into electoral politics. Political analysts attribute BJP’s remarkable electoral success in this region in 2004 elections to outspending opponents by five to as many as ten times.
Four years later, Bellary repeated everywhere.
Janardhan Reddy is the prime example of this new politician-entrepreneur model. We estimate that there are at present at least 22 MLAs with substantial interest in mining related businesses and another 18 MLAs in real estate.
In addition to this, there are at least 40 MLAs with significant investments in real estate, hospitality, healthcare, education and agro-businesses. Thus more than one third of Karnataka Assembly today consists of what I have called here as politician-entrepreneur class.
Beyond the numbers what is significant is how they see themselves.
Consider Janardhan Reddy himself. Proposing a Rs. 30,000 crore project, as he did at the 2010 Global Investors Meet, isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. His proximity to power ensured he received the necessary permissions as well as land and water allotments very quickly.
It is reported that liquidity crunch has forced him to sell his company but the very audacity of such a proposal is striking. The new politician-entrepreneur thinks nothing of the financial requirement, managerial as well as technical skills necessary to run a massive business venture.
More than any other party, BJP has been open to this new politician-entrepreneur.
While a definitive account of BJP’s ascendance to political prominence is yet to be written, it is quite clear that BJP’s rise to power hasn’t come from the use of religion in politics, as pundits had anticipated.
Rather, under Yediyurappa’s leadership, BJP recognized the political zeitgeist (spirit) of the age and succeeded in integrating this new politician-entrepreneur into the structure of the older Sangh parivar activist based party.
Yediyurappa’s singular achievement has been to manage this transition in the short term, despite tremendous upheavals within the party.
He also shrewdly recognized that these new additions substantially expand the social base of the party, as they come from different under represented backward communities, and has created very effective local social (read caste) alliances by combining the traditional supporters of Sangh Parivar with these new comers.
His own Lingayat credentials have been a huge help in this process and perhaps, this is what makes him indispensible for BJP even today.
While the BJP national leadership doesn’t agree with this assessment, Yediyurappa himself relentlessly makes this point and so do his supporters. Even his opponents concede, especially in private, that if elections are held today Yediyurappa will comfortably lead his party back to power.
If my first proposition to explain politics in Karnataka today focused on the convergence of politics and business – and the consequent emergence of the politician-entrepreneur – we also need to recognize that no politician will survive in public life if his sole purpose is private profit.
Therefore, my second proposition notes the rise of a new form of populism as the relationship of the politician with his constituents too changes.
I have closely followed Karnataka politics for nearly three decades now, studying the personalities of politicians, their motivations and aspirations.
What I found surprising about the recent changes is how quickly the politician has become a benevolent royal patron, feeding hundreds – even thousands in some cases – of people everyday, distributing cash to people who need money for hospital expenses, for school fees, or funerals; some legislators have even posted a chart in their houses.
This is the kind of benevolence usually associated with an ideal king and I have noticed politicians frequently using royal metaphors to describe their largesse. While politicians in the past may have helped their constituents in this manner, the scale of this operation and the centrality to politics is new.
Hence at the core of this new populism (and of politician-constituent relationship) is personal loyalty.
What the politician delivers isn’t simply services that the state offers but largesse from personal fortune to meet with the everyday contingencies of his constituent.
Even building a political base is a project in cultivating personal loyalty: it might mean distributing thousands of sewing machines to women or sending thousands on pilgrimages to temples allover South India or distributing money to celebrate the birthdays of Basavanna and Ambedkar.
The constituent too seems to be fine with accepting these gifts, which he sees as redistribution of illegally gotten wealth from real estate and mining. You only have to watch Kannada news television channels for a few hours on any given day to find enough evidence.
Politics has become an expensive proposition and many old timers stay away from their constituencies unable to distribute such largesse.
In noting the transformations, I am not suggesting that the older political projects – to achieve social justice or equitable economic development are completely dead. But the space available for such is collective projects is shrinking and the prospects for building new ones are quite bleak.
Will replacing Yediyurappa or even the fall of BJP government in the forthcoming elections might change this new reality? Will a robust Lok Ayukta (ombudsman) institution or an activist, vigilant Supreme Court make a difference?
While some sources of income, such as illegal mining, can closed, the new political dynamic is fairly well entrenched. Karnataka isn’t unique in this regard and similar trends are seen in other parts of the country as well.
Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising in medieval South India, and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia.
One day he says he will “resign”; the next day his eyeballs glower in defiance. One day he is a “disciplined soldier of the party”; the next day he is a potential rebel. One day he says he built the party over 40 years; the next day he assembles scores of them in an open show of numbers.
And so goes on the disgraceful tragic-comedy of the party with a difference, even as a totally compromised “high command” that willingly turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption, casteism and destruction of the State’s fair name tries to assert its authority (before Parliament opens).
While B.S. Yediyurappa hangs on to his chair like dear life, a piece of furniture outside Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore shows where those who lose it could end up, on the cobbled tiles by the wayside.
While everyone is singing hosannas in praise of the Lok Ayukta, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, for finally bringing Yediyurappa to book, Saritha Rai doffs her hat to an unlikely figure, H.D. Kumaraswamy, in the Indian Express:
“In the noise surrounding the Lok Ayukta mining probe and Yediyurappa’s fall, what is forgotten is that the chief minister was not felled by one report. Rather, his defence was slowly but surely chipped away by a series of scathing attacks — led almost single-handedly by none other than his predecessor and one-time political ally H.D. Kumaraswamy.
“The mining report has singed Kumaraswamy too, but the Janata Dal (Secular) will still be celebrating the end of a successful ouster campaign…. During the course of his political career, Kumaraswamy has become adept at pulling the carpet from under his rivals’ feet; first the Congress and its chief minister Dharam Singh’s, and later the BJP and B.S. Yediyurappa’s….
“A confrontational Kumaraswamy, who only seems to get bolder and more aggressive with time, has relegated the Congress in Karnataka to the background. His father H.D. Deve Gowda may have branded himself “mannina maga” (son of the soil). His rivals may be wily and shrewd. But with his bulldog-like persistence, it is the opportunist Kumaraswamy who has ensured that he will be the reckoning factor in Karnataka politics.”
If a photograph is worth a thousand metaphors, this is it.
On the face of it, the cranes, the excavators and the barricades show the backbending work on the Bangalore Metro project that is going on quietly, relentlessly even while Bangaloreans blissfully whiz past it, unaware of the extent of the sweat and toil.
If you look at this picture differently, the mounds of soil, the deep trenches and the slush show how the mining scam is now at the doorstep of the temple of our democracy, the Vidhana Soudha, even while Kannadigas blissfully ignore its lasting damage.
The rape of the environment in Bellary, the role of the Reddys and other politicians in the loot, a complicit chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa (and a former CM H.D. Kumaraswamy), the shameless bid by BJP leaders such as Dhananjay Kumar to influence the Lok Ayukta to spare the CM, Justice Santosh Hegde‘s phone being tapped, an impotent BJP high command….
Nothing, it seems, shakes or shocks the Kannadiga any more as he sits down to watch his favourite murder-rape-kidnap megaserial after hogging a single idli-vade-sambar at the local darshini.
That is, after visiting his nearest mutt.
Which is why, perhaps, the tower named after a Kannadiga of unquestionable rectitude—Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya—seems to be hiding itself behind a christmas tree in shame and embarrassment, unable to watch what seems to be going on in the name of god’s work.
As two arrogant, power-drunk, mammon-worshippers shamelessly cross the line between “State” and “Church” and put the good lord in an embarrassing position, OB (outside broadcasting) vans of the TV newschannels position themselves outside the Manjunatha temple in Dharmasthala, on Sunday, to capture the moment.
The moment, on Monday, 27 June 2011, when man, correction, when two arrogant, power-drunk, mammon-worshippers shamelessly put ‘god’ to the test.
Neither chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who invited his predecessor to this dharmic duel through a newspaper advertisement while he was getting massaged in Kotakkal, nor H.D. Kumaraswamy have had the contrition to abandon the disgraceful duel despite sage counsel from the only humans they bow before: the mutt heads.
And despite the damage it could do to the State in the eyes of the world.
Now that two power-drunk, sons of the soil lording over the real estate that is Karnataka have decided to subject the presiding deity at Dharmasthala to His biggest test yet—to adjudicate which of the two is being economical with the truth—now is the time for ordinary mortals to step up to the pulpit and help Lord Manjunatha in this dharmic duel slated for 27 June 2011.
What is the one question that the guardian of the temple, D. Veerendra Heggade, should keep in mind while chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and JDS president H.D. Kumaraswamy bow reverentially before Him, to find out which of the two is the bigger liar, which of the two is more corrupt, which of the two has more to hide and, indeed, which of the two is the bigger disgrace to the State.
Keep your queries short, civil and suitably deferential.
Photograph: Youth Congress workers play Goli Aata (marbles) on the street to register their protest at the temple-theatrics of chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and former CM H.D. Kumaraswamy, in Bangalore on Tuesday (Karnataka Photo News)
Long years ago, the American author Kurt Vonnegut wrote that disaster is brought on most frequently, not by sceptics who agree to live under flawed and cumbersome human laws, but by those who cannot be satisfied with anything less than the law of god. If natural law is king, divine law is an ace, Vonnegut said, and dictators have fistfuls of aces and kings to play with.
It is impossible, of course, that Vonnegut had the scum of Karnataka politics in mind, but B.S. Yediyurappa of god’s own party, has set about to prove him right. By inviting his bugbear, H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular, no less), to prove his allegations of corruption not at the court of man-made laws but at the divine court of the Manjunatha temple in Dharmasthala, the scam-tainted Karnataka chief minister has dragged divinity into the nonstop disgrace that has been the hallmark of BJP rule.
The questions are obvious about this dharmic duel: Why bring god into this battle of mortals, when a simple injection of the truth serum at a forensic science laboratory (televised live) would have been enough to ascertain who was being extravagant in their lies? What would a lifeless piece of stone know about human frailty, albeit of the VIP kind? And why just the Manjunatha temple, why not some other temple, church, mosque, gurudwara, stupa or fire temple?
But the even larger question is the nonstop joke that the Hindutva buffoons have reduced the State to, in the eyes of the nation. One of the most progressive regions of the 20th century, is getting submerged in a sea of superstition and obscurantism in the 21st, at the hands of casteist and communal crooks and thugs, whose battle strategy starts at maata-mantra and stops at obscene visits to temples, near and far, with hapless animals being sacrificed at the altar.
The BJP’s decision to nominate the former dancer-actor Hema Malini as the party’s nominee for the Rajya Sabha polls from Karnataka is now a fait accompli. In itself, appointing an “outsider” is neither unprecedented, unconstitutional nor unwelcome. Parties and politicians have their own requirements (seemingly political, but usually financial) and there are other institutional and individual dynamics at play.
Another reason is that many politicians stand no hope in hell of being elected given the role cash, caste, community and other imponderables play in our politics. Prime minister Manmohan Singh represents Assam because South Delhi, a prime beneficiary of his reforms, didn’t think the great reformer was worthy of their vote. The Kannadiga Jairam Ramesh represents Andhra Pradesh; Venkaiah Naidu, a Telugu, represents Karnataka.
However, Hema Malini’s candidature doesn’t sit so easily in such silos. Au contraire, it raises some fundamental questions about the kind of candidates parties push through the back door; about the track record of candidates and their ability or lack thereof to shoulder the expectations of the people they represent; about how the hands of legislators are tied by the whip in what is supposed to be a democratic setup. Etcetera.
It’s easy to blame our woes our legislators, the party whip, and the system, for these infirmities.
Here’s a straightforward, counterfactual question: If you could take part in a Rajya Sabha election, if you weren’t bound by the party whip, would you vote for an outsider, “dud, daddi, buddi illa, inefficient” celebrity like Hema Malini, party affiliation notwithstanding? Or would you back a home-grown intellectual, a drama and theatre expert with his ear to the ground like Dr K. Maralusiddappa, party affiliation notwithstanding?
MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: A protracted legal battle, especially over the issue of the discretionary powers enjoyed by the governor, appears likely to be the most important fallout of the spat between H.R. Bharadwaj and B.S. Yediyurappa, over the sanction of prosecution of the chief minister.
Of secondary importance is the impact of the governor’s action on the political equations in the State in general, and the propriety of the CM continuing in office despite the go-ahead for prosecution in particular.
From all available indications, Yediyurappa is unlikely to oblige his detractors and prefers going down fighting rather than throwing in the towel. As a matter of fact, he finds himself in an advantageous position, much to the chagrin of those who have planned and executed this move.
The discretionary powers enjoyed by the governor is a grey area, which still needs to be fine tuned through judicial interpretation, like Article 356 of the Constitution (on imposing President’s rule) was done by the Supreme Court in the S.R. Bommai case.
Under the present frame of things, the governor enjoys two kinds of discretionary powers, namely the one given by the Constitution under Article 163, and the others given under the relevant statutes including section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (for sanctioning of prosecution).
While the former has been clearly defined, the latter has some areas of doubt on the question of whether the discretionary power enjoyed by the governor is individual, or whether he is bound by the advice of the council of ministers.
There have been three important rulings of the apex court in this connection: a 1974 judgment in the case of dismissal of two judicial officers of the Punjab government; a 1982 case of a special leave petition (SLP) filed in connection with the prosecution of then Maharashtra chief minister A.R. Antulay; and a 2004 case of prosecution of two ministers of the Madhya Pradesh government.
What stands out in the three judicial pronouncements is that the governor has to necessarily act on the advice of the council of ministers.
The question of the governor exercising individual discretion comes only in the rarest of rare cases and in cases involving the choice of the chief minister or the dismissal of a government which refuses to resign after losing majority and the dissolution of the house.
Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, who were members of the seven-judge bench, had something more to add while concurring with the other judges:
“The President, like the King, has not merely been constitutionally romanticised but actually has been given a pervasive and persuasive role. While he plays such a role, he is not a rival centre of power in any sense and must abide by and act on the advice tendered by his ministers except in narrow territory, which is sometimes slippery…[and] should avoid getting involved in politics.”
In the case of Antulay, a two-member SC bench led by Justice Chinnappa Reddy noted that the discretionary powers exercised by the governor (in sanctioning the prosecution of the CM) arose out of the concession made at the high court by the attorney-general, who had appeared for the respondents.
“The governor, while determining whether sanction should be granted or not, as a matter of propriety, necessarily acted on his own discretion and not on the advice of the council of ministers,” said the bench, and expressed its satisfaction that concession given by the attorney-general was to advance the cause of justice. But it made amply clear that this applied to this particular case only.
As for the sanction of prosecution of the Madhya Pradesh ministers, the Supreme Court upheld the governor’s decision in view of the bias, inherent or manifest, in the cabinet decision.
It is this 2004 judgment on which the Karnataka governor has relied while giving permission for the prosecution of the B.S. Yediyurappa.
But there is an essential difference between the Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka situations. In Madhya Pradesh, the matter went to the governor after the cabinet had rejected the permission. And the governor had the benefit of the Lok Ayukta report on the charges made against the two ministers to act upon.
But in Karnataka, the lawyer’s petition seeking the sanction went straight to the governor, and the governor conceded to the request even when the matter was pending investigation with the Lok Ayukta and the judicial commission especially appointed for the purpose.
The Karnataka episode has thrown up another new problem: what validity should the discretion exercised carry when the governor’s action is perceived as biased/ prejudiced/ or one sided?
The BJP has a long list to prove its charge of bias and its spokesmen, including the chief minister, have been harping on this aspect. This may also be put up for judicial scrutiny.
As far as the impact of the current imbroglio on political equations in Karnataka, the answer is simple. Nothing worthwhile is expected to happen. No doubt Yediyurappa and the BJP are terribly embarrassed. But Yediyurappa is a person who will not easily give up office and so won’t his party.
However, it must be said that The problems faced by the BJP are its own creation. It has needlessly provoked the governor.
The BJP should have been careful in its dealings the moment a longtime Congress loyalist like Bharadwaj, who is known to have no scruples in serving party interests in whatever capacity he is holding, was sent as governor.
But it did not so and is now paying the price for its indiscretion and lack of sophistication in dealing with the governor. The relations between the governor and the government have never been on even keel at any time and both have stoked the fire of mutual animosity and acrimony and find themselves caught in a cleft stick.
The governor, in the name of exercising caution, has cornered them.
Going by the names figuring in the complaint, on the basis of which the sanction to prosecute Yediyurappa was given by the governor, it is clear that it is his family members rather than party functionaries or dissidents, who have landed him in trouble.
This was the point which the BJP leader in charge of the State, Arun Jaitley, had reportedly made to upbraid Yediyurappa’s son B.Y. Raghavendra at the height of its last crisis to save the CM’s chair two months ago. The remarks by the BJP president Nitin Gadkari that the actions of Yediyurappa “may be immoral and not illegal” have only added spice to the same.
But with all this, the BJP finds itself in a politically advantageous position. This is because the denouement smacks of political bias. The governor has acted unilaterally in acting on the allegations hurled at the CM repeatedly by the opposition JDS and kowtowed to by the Congress, without giving a hearing to the concerned.
Nothing under the circumstances prevents Yediyurappa from launching a political campaign to proclaim that it is all a pre-planned conspiracy to unseat him. He may stomp round Karnataka narrating the sob story of his continued persecution by his detractors, who are envious of his success and want to undo the mandate given by the people, in the same manner he had when H.D. Kumaraswamy refused to hand over the reins as had been agreed upon.
This has a bright chance of success for two things. Firstly, the corruption has ceased to be an issue influencing the poll, barring the solitary exception of Rajiv Gandhi losing the 1989 general elections in the wake of the campaign against the Bofors payoffs.
Secondly the BJP’s image remains high in the eyes of the people, as has been proved in all the elections for the different fora held ever since BJP came to power in Karnataka more than two years ago. The latest in the series has been its success in the panchayat elections.
The performance of the BJP, which was practically a non-starter in the realm of panchayats, has been much better than its rivals, who have been left far behind, despite a vigorous political campaign.
Moreover, in general parlance, the sanction by the governor to launch the prosecution, hardly means anything. It merely presages the starting point of a legal battle and has so many phases to be covered, for which the party is getting ready. The first step has been taken with a complaint already filed before the Lok Ayukta court.
Yediyurappa is not obliged to resign merely because the governor has sanctioned his prosecution. He is the company of his peers like L.K. Advani, who continued in office despite a chargesheet filed in an Uttar Pradesh court in connection with the demolition of Babri Masjid.
Yediyurappa may have a long legal fight on his hands to clear himself of the charges made but none of this warrants his resignation.
Knowing his nature he is not the one to give up the office that easily. He may refuse to resign and may dare the governor to dismiss him if it comes to that. This would surely enable him to take his fight to the people. In this, he apparently has the full backing of the party at the national level.
BJP has made an opening gambit of taking the issue to the people by calling for a bandh. Efforts are underway to mount pressure for the withdrawal of the governor, which are doomed to fail going by the manner in which the Congress is backing the Governor.
What happens to the common man in the process is not difficult to guess.
(Mathihalli Madan Mohan (in picture, top) is a former special correspondent of The Hindu)
Photograph: Chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose‘s birthday celebrations, in Bangalore on Sunday (Karnataka Photo News)
E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I bumped into yesteryear’s Ace Dramatist (AD) at the Ranga Shankara last night.
AD is an actor, playwright and producer who has seen better days. He even the played the role of a thief—kalla known as chor to Hindi audiences—in Gubbi Veeranna’s classic Sadaarame.
As we ordered coffee in the canteen I asked him how theatre was faring these days.
“Our company could survive talkie cinema, cricket, television, even the internet, but now we are being wiped out by another drama company from our own State.”
AD looked down and out.
“You now face extinction from one of your own? Et tu brute!” I sympathised.
AD continued: “You may say so, Ramanna. Ours is a small group of just 8 to 10 artistes. So we do multiple roles in a play, we squeeze ourselves in a small car and go around playing to small audiences in obscure corners of the State. It is hard life but we were eking out a living somehow. But with the entry of KaraNaama, nobody will call us to stage plays anymore.”
“KaraNaama? What is it? A new drama company?”
“Yes. KaraNaaMa is a short form of Karnataka Naataka Mandali. It’s a government company specialising in ‘theatre of the absurd’.”
“What do they do?”
“They do what their name says, naama haakodu, on the gullible public! They also stage plays.”
“How big is this troupe?”
“KaraNaama has 224 members. They have a loudSpeaker and a speedGovernor, making the total 226.”
“This is the age of liberalisation, you must learn to face competition from market forces, kanaiah.”
“Ayyo, Ramanna, KaraNaama is a huge company with bottomless resources. They have artistes for any role: drunkard, debaucher, broker, agent, killer. If they fall short of cash, they can create fictitious companies and make banks give them crores of rupees. They can play the role of politicians on a padayatra and dance on the street wearing goggles. They can play devout, religous roles. They can play incurable lovers.”
“They move around in A/C Volvo buses which their sponsors have donated for the cause of theatrics in the State. Every now and then they go and stay in exotic resorts for days together and depending on the situation, kidnap their own members, threaten them and sometimes even auction themselves.”
“Don’t they fight when they travel? After all, 224 is a big number?”
“Yes, they do. Some of them even tear their shirts on stage. That’s where the loudSpeaker comes into operation. Through the loudSpeaker comes the voice repeating itself hoarse: ‘I say, keep quiet!’ or ‘Dayamaadi,dayamaadi, koothkoli’.“
“What about the speedGovernor?”
“Avankathe ne bere. The speedGovernor makes sure the bus stays within the prescribed speed limit but sometimes when the bus exceeds the speed limit, passengers and public hear words such as ‘Ulta chhor Kotwal ko daante!’ from the microphone attached to the speedGovernor.”
“The problem is, the troupe members are unable to see who is the Chor and who is the Kotwal. I understand the speedGovernor is gradually getting defective and needs either an overhaul or some tuning.”
“Ha, ha! Where has KaraNaama staged their plays so far?”
“To a wide variety of audiences actually. The bootleggers association of bewdaas. The illegal gold diggers’ association of Bellary. The benaami land holders’ association. When the attention flags, they manage to get the TV stations to simultaneously stage their plays”
“With so many artistes don’t they fight among themselves.”
“Fight? They call each other loafers, liars, landgrabbers, they come to exchanging blows, they kidnap each other, they stand on their seats and tear their shirts etc. But when money is offered in crores they hug each other and declare their undying loyalty. Even the experts at NIMHANS can’t explain their behaviour.”
“That explains everything. Do the artistes have any personal ambition?”
“It seems they all aspire to become MLAs one day.”
“What about the loudSpeaker and the speedGovernor?”
“They are disposables. As the Speaker gets old and cranky, they may sell it off and get a new one; when the speedGovernor loses control and goes crazy, her Boss will throw it and replace the same with a new one,” replied AD.
File photograph: Chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa after inaugurating a forest camp project at Sakrebylu in Shimoga district in July 2010 (Karnataka Photo News)
MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Politics does not always pay. This perhaps is the bitter lesson that the political parties have learnt in the just-concluded panchayat elections.
All three parties have all lost more than gained from the polls. In fact, there is hardly any gain for any of the three.
The BJP, Congress and the JDS were all equally invested in the undue hype raised over the polls.
Though the elections to the second and third tiers of the three-tier panchayat system hardly have any bearing on the continuance or otherwise of the party in power, it was portrayed as if the panchayat poll would be the decider.
It was the Congress and the JDS which set the ball rolling. Both launched a vitriolic campaign baying for the head of the scam-tainted B.S. Yediyurappa government. The voters, they maintained, would “surely teach” a lesson to the BJP government.
On the other hand, Yediyurappa once again exhibited his propensity for breast-beating and asserted that the voters would give a fitting reply to his critics. He staked the performanance of his government for seeking a renewed mandate from the rural voters.
The campaign was shrill to the core.
The Congress, which had got a new state president a couple of months earlier, roped in the high flying national leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. The father and son team of the JDS’ “national” leadership, M/s Deve Gowda and H.D. Kumaraswarmy, bore the brunt for their party.
And for the BJP, the chief minister stomped the districts in a bid to woo the voters. There was nothing unusual in the blandishments offered to the voters, since it has become an integral part of present-day canvassing.
What ultimately happened came as an anticlimax to the hype raised.
There was no improvement at all for the three parties; each of them had their own share of setbacks.
The expectations of the political parties that the voters would either “teach a lesson” or give “suitable reply” was totally belied. The political parties today are happier over the discomfiture of the other parties than about their own share of humiliation.
What happened was that rural voters ignored both and went in their own nonchalant way in expressing their opinion. This was something to what they had done in 2008 election. They preferred BJP but held back their hand to deny the half way mark both in terms of the control of the ZPs and TPs, and also in number of seats won and kept the two others far behind.
Of the 30 zilla panchayats, the BJP gained control of 12, four each went to Congress and handed down fractured verdict in the remaining ten. In the 178 taluk panchayats also, the same trend emerged. Of the 176 taluk panchayats, BJP gained could gain control of 68, Congress 31, the BJP 29; instability stares at 48 remaining taluk panchayats.
BJP as the party in power was expected to put up a good show to obtain control over the majority of the ZPs and TPs, going by the track record of elections held previously.
This did not happen.
It was four short of the halfway mark in the ZPs and 20 short of the half way mark in the TPs. Its only consolation was that as against one ZP it had controlled in 2005, it has captured 12 now. In terms of seats, as against 145 it had bagged last time, its tally has gone up to 441 in the ZPs.
Whatever brave face its leaders may put up, the fact that the party had to huff and puff in the chief minister’s home-district of Shimoga and the Reddy brothers’ bastion of Bellary cannot be hidden at all.
It had also to live with the humiliation of not being able to open the account in two districts of Mandya and Ramnagar.
As far as the Congress is concerned, the elections have shown that the party has been slowly losing its hold in the rural areas. While the BJP has been foraying into the Congress pockets of northern Karnataka, the JDS has been doing the same in the old Mysore areas.
The number of Congress-controlled ZPs has come down from 22 to 4 and the number of seats has come down from 493 to 353. The party has to live with the mortification that in the home district of the state president, G. Parameshwara, it has been drubbed very badly.
While the JDS is happy that it is on a par with the national party like Congress in the number of ZPs won, the fact cannot be hidden that its influence remains confined to a few pockets of the vokkaliga-dominated old Mysore districts including the home district of Deve Gowda, Hassan.
Compared to 2005, the party has suffered erosion of seats, which has come down from 273 to 180. The party has not been able to win a single seat in eight districts.
If the political parties had addressed the core issues bothering the minds of the rural voters, instead of haranguing them about their own plans, they could have better captured the imagination of the rural voters.
The parties went about their political campaign forgetting the fact that the smaller the constitutuencies, the lesser has been the impact of the politics and what matters in these small territorial constituencies is the personal standing of the candidates and the interplay of caste.
As a matter of fact, none of the parties referred to the empowerment of the panchayat raj institutions and how they would improve the delivery system in reaching the benefits to the people or strengthening the financial base of these institutions, which are reeling under the impact of a centralized administrative system in the name of decentralisation.
MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: When politicians as a tribe have failed the state, a quasi-judicial body like the River Water Disputes Tribunal has come as a saviour in safeguarding the interests of Karnataka in the Krishna waters’ dispute.
This in a nutshell sums up the net impact of the verdict given by the second Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT) headed by Justice Brajesh Kumar last week.
Uniformly inept policies pursued by successive governments of all political hues, including the present one, had cumulatively pushed Karnataka to the brink on the utilisation of waters of the Krishna river.
Everything appeared to be lost.
The State had failed to utilise its one-third share of water allocated by the first KWDT, even 10 years after the expiry of the deadline.
If the new tribunal had taken the (under) utilisation as the basis for the fresh allocation, Karnataka faced the prospects of losing around 250 tmcft and whatever extra that might have accrued in the later allocation of surplus water.
As a result, Karnataka would not have got a drop of water extra, which would have been the end of the road for the State as for as the irrigation development is concerned.
On top of this underutilistion, there was an overactive Andhra Pradesh, which had laid its claims for the unutilised water and, in anticipation of the same, had gone ahead with its plans to create permanent infrastructure created with huge investments.
In contrast, Karnataka’s plans to raise the raise the height of the biggest dam across the Krishna in Karnataka at Alamatti had been stymied by the Supreme Court.
It was a self-inflicted problem that Karnataka had invited, thanks to two men in power, H.D. Deve Gowda and J.H. Patel.
In their eagerness to humour the Telugu Desam chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, they had landed Karnataka in the soup. Naidu raised a hue and cry over Karnataka’s move to raise the height of the Alamatti dam to 534 meters.
Gowda, then the Prime Minister of the United Front government, of which Telugu Desam was an important component, referred the matter to the steering committee of the UF, instead of allowing the State government of Patel to handle the same. The steering committee constituted a four-member panel, which in turn constituted an expert committee.
The expert committee was given a red carpet treatment when it visited Karnataka. The plea made by H.K. Patil for boycotting the committee since its interest would be detrimental to the interests of Karnataka fell on deaf ears. The expert committee recommended that the height of the dam should be pegged at 519 meters.
With the fall of the Deve Gowda government, no followup action was taken. But it came in handy when Supreme Court was hearing the case. The apex court adopted the expert panel’s recommendation to bar Karnataka from raising the height of the dam beyond 519 meters.
If this ban on the height were to be continued by the second KWDT, it would have been the end of the road of irrigation development in northern Karnataka since the ban would come in the way of storing the surplus water of Krishna as and when allocated.
Karnataka would have had no place to store water.
But the IInd KWDT has mercifully cleared Karnataka’s case for raising the height of the dam to 524 tmcft, providing Karnataka with the scope for storing surplus water.
The Krishna basin, spanning over more than thirteen districts and bulk of the drought prone areas in northern Karnataka, is the biggest basin in Karnataka, much more than Cauvery.
The basin area has the potential to turn Karnataka into a food granary with the proper exploitation of the irrigation potential of Krishna. But this has not happened due to the totally inept and slipshod handling of the issue by the successive state governments in Karnataka.
Nobody has been an exception to this, be it the Congress governments, the Janata Dal/Janata Dal U or the BJP/JDS coalitions, or the present BJP governments.
Barring a few individual leaders like the late S. Nijalingappa, Deve Gowda, the late H.M. Channabasappa, late H.N. Nanje Gowda and H.K. Patil, none who handled the portfolio had any semblance of understanding of the issue and its potential to change the fortunes of the State.
As a consequence of the follies of its rulers, Karnataka had missed the bus completely and was condemned to suffer and pay a heavy price. It is in this context that verdict of the IInd KWDT has brought cheer on the face of the farmers in Karnataka.
The tribunal has not only protected the allocation Karnataka had got despite its failure to utilise fully, it has not countenanced Andhra Pradesh’s claims for use of the unutilized waters and allocated more water to Karnataka from the surplus arising after the previous allocation.
This has resulted in Karnataka getting an overall allocation of 911 tmcft. The aspirations of the Karnataka farmers get a new lease of life.
Of all the people, it is the tribe of politicians of all hues who are extremely happy over the final allocation of share of Krishna waters. Because it has literally saved them from the consequences of an adverse verdict.
The people indeed are happy. But the happiness over the increased allocation and the removal of the ban on the height of the dam are nothing more than notional.
To use a Kannada adage, it is akin to the treasure visible in the mirror. You can see it, but you can’t touch it.
For the key factor is the expeditious utilisation of the allocated water. It is here that Karnataka has been faltering. It has poor track record of execution of irrigation projects.
The politicians of Karnataka have shown that they lack vision and commitment and are not averse to politicising development issues at the drop of the hat.
After nearly four decades of the award being made by the Tribunal, the Karnataka has been able to impound around 500 tmcft. But not all the water available in the dam has been able to reach the farmers fields even to this day.
In this context, the task of utilising a total of 400 tmcft as a consequence of the judgment of the IInd Tribunal is a tall order by any standard. Very few doubt whether it will be able to utilise the water within the 40-year deadline fixed by the Second Tribunal.
There could yet be a slip between the cup and the lip.
MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: There is an air of unreality even as the three major political parties in the State flex their muscle in the panchayat elections now underway.
Firstly, all the three parties have left no stone unturned to raise the hype over the outcome of the poll and say that the future of the government depends on it.
The reality is that the elections for the taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat elections have no role to play in determining the political fortunes of beleaguered B.S. Yediyurappa.
The verdict will not in any way affect the balance of power in the state assembly, where, at the moment, Yediyurappa appears to be well ensconced.
In the case of the rural voters trusting BJP for running the panchayat institutions, Yediyurappa may well claim that his policies have received a mandate from the people and cock a snook at his detractors who have been baying for his blood for months now.
In the case of an adverse vote against the BJP, the Congress and JDS may go to town claiming that the people have shown their displeasure and may demand that Yediyurappa should demit office.
To no one’s surprise, the CM will reject such a demand by taking the stand that it does not reflect the mood of the people since urban voters were not a part of the election process. And in any case his future has to be decided on the floor of the legislature and not in a panchayat election.
The BJP national president Nitin Gadkari who had said that Yediyurappa had been given a reprieve till the panchayat elections also will not be able to secure the resignation of Yediyurappa because of the likely adverse impact it may have on the only saffron government in the south.
Secondly, all the three parties, have been conveniently ignoring the core issue of the panchayat elections, namely of how efficiently these institutions of democratic decentralization could be run to ensure that the money meant for rural development is spent properly for the benefit and improvement of stake holders and how they can remove the impediments coming in the way.
All the three parties without an exception have been busy beating around the bush on the issue of empowerment of these institutions and talk of rural development programmes as if rural development programmes are synonymous with panchayat empowerment.
None of them, including the ruling BJP, are telling people about their commitment to empower panchayat institutions. Even if they do, whatever they say will have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
It is because all of them have a uniform record of emasculating the panchayats as far as possible and have abetted moves to subtly withdraw the powers given to them by law.
They would have succeeded in their endeavour to turn them into their vassals but for the constitutional safeguards that these institutions enjoy thanks to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments.
There have been occasions when the Congress tried its best to avoid regular elections before the expiry of the term. The BJP too would have tried this time to postpone the poll but went ahead due to sheer political compulsions and prospects of the political advantage it could derive in the process.
This was the direct consequence of the reduction of seats reserved for the OBCs as per the direction of the Supreme Court, and everybody knows that it is a constituency in which BJP is not comfortably placed.
More than the political parties, their MLAs regardless of the political divide are dead opposed to any move to empower the panchayats since they fear that any alternate leadership which may emerge in the rural areas as a consequence may prove to be inimical to their position.
They have not lost a single occasion to put these institutions down, deride them and talk about the rampant corruption in the panchayat institutions, forgetting the fact that they are the fountain heads of corruption and have not lifted a finger to fight corruption.
It is a case of kettle calling the cup black.
The report of the third State Finance Commission headed by A.G. Kodgi, which has recommended a new formula for sharing the resources between the State government and the panchayats has been with the State government for more than a year but neither the ruling party nor the opposition are bothered about the implementation of the report.
The Constitution enjoins that the States appoint the state finance commission to ensure a fair devolution of finances to enable the panchayats to discharge the responsibilities given to them.
The implementation of the recommendations of the previous two finance commissions has been quite tardy and there appears to be no early prospects of the latest one being implemented.
At the end of the day, the point at issue is whom should the rural voters prefer in the ensuing polls to the panchayat elections. One party is as bad as another and all of them are universally untrustworthy. They have no chance but to vote.
And political parties are there to utilise the opportunity for their political aggrandizement and have hardly any time to give any thought for strengthening of the system, whose vitality has been sapped by the subtle moves of the government to keep all these institutions under their bureaucratic thumbs.