Karnataka politics from 2004 – A fascinating tale of betrayal, unholy alliances, scams and bad governance
Karnataka Politics is dominated by three parties: Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (Secular), although for a brief while there was a fourth player in the form of Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP). In all, there are 224 assembly seats in the Legislative Assembly and 28 members get elected to the Lok Sabha in the General Elections.
SM Krishna (from Congress) was the chief minister of the state from 1999 to 2004. His tenure coincided with the beginning of the IT revolution in the country with Bangalore being the IT hub and a leading IT exporter. Krishna was also instrumental in creating power reforms with ESCOMS and digitization of land records (BHOOMI) and many other citizen friendly initiatives. After he completed his term as CM, Karnataka politics has been a fascinating tale of betrayals, unholy alliances, twists, scams and drama that would even put our famed Indian soap operas to shame. The only elements that have been largely missing from the script are good governance and accountability.
Karnataka Politics from 2004 to 2008 – The period of coalitions:
The state elections of 2004 led to a hung assembly with no party having enough seats to form the government. Out of the 224 seats, BJP won 79, Congress 65 and JD (S) 58. The only way a government could be formed was by a coalition between two of the three parties. Obviously, a coalition between BJP and Congress could never happen. So, the JD(S) would definitely have to be a coalition partner and play the role of a king-maker. Also, between BJP and Congress, Congress would be more likely party to be chosen by the JD(S) owing to the pseudo-secular credentials of both. Hence, the Congress and the JD (S) formed a coalition government and kept the BJP out of power, in spite of BJP emerging as the single largest party. N Dharam Singh of the Congress became the Chief Minister and Siddharamaiah, who was then with the JD (S) became the Deputy Chief Minister. This fragile coalition lasted till 2006. Dharam Singh, a staunch Congress loyalist, is an ardent devotee and a regular visitor to various temples. Unfortunately, the temple visits were the only thing that kept him in news. The junior partner JD (S) was the one calling the shots.
The twist in the tale came when JD (S) supremo Deve Gowda’s son HD Kumaraswamy garnered the support of 46 MLAs and withdrew support to the Congress-led coalition. Kumaraswamy struck a deal with the BJP to form an alternate government. This coalition had Kumaraswamy as CM and BS Yeddyurappa of the BJP as deputy CM. Before forming the government, the two parties had entered into an informal power-sharing agreement, whereby each party would have the CM post for half the remaining tenure. Essentially, the agreement was that there would be a CM from JD (S) for 20 months, followed by a BJP CM for the remaining 20 months. Kumaraswamy, after completing 20 months as CM in October 2007, ‘refused’ to let Yeddyurappa take over as CM as per the power sharing agreement. As expected, the coalition collapsed, the state came under Presidents’ rule and fresh elections were called for in 2008.
Karnataka Politics from 2008 to 2013 – A period of scams, in-fighting and a golden opportunity squandered:
The 2008 Assembly elections were held on the backdrop of general public sympathy for BJP’s Yeddyurappa as he had been betrayed by Kumaraswamy. To give credit to Yeddyurappa, he played the victim card to the hilt during the election campaign. The BJP won 110 of the 224 seats, thereby not only emerging as the single largest party but also just 3 seats short of absolute majority. Congress won 80 seats and the JD (S) won a mere 28 seats as they were seen as the primary antagonists in the coalition drama. 6 seats were won by Independents. The BJP, for the first time in South India, formed the government with Yeddyurappa becoming the CM. The expectations were high as BJP had enough seats and there were no coalition compulsions. Sadly, BJP failed miserably in living up to these expectations and a golden opportunity to consolidate its position in South India was squandered.
Yeddyurappa started his tenure as CM on a controversial note on account of the police firing on the farmers of Haveri, a north Karnataka district town, within ten days of assuming office. In mid-2009, Yeddyurappa faced his first real crisis when G Janardhana Reddy, with the support of 60 other BJP MLAs, threatened to bring down the government if Minister for Rural Development and Pachayati Raj (RDPJ) Shobha Karandlaje and chief secretary VP Baligar are not removed. Bowing to pressure from Reddy and in order to save the government, Yeddyurappa was forced to remove Karandlaje, who was one of his most trusted aides and who was lauded for her performance as RDPJ minister. In the process, Janardhana Reddy and his brother Karunakara Reddy, who are mining magnates in the district of Bellary, got ministerial berths for themselves.
While Yeddyurappa tried to consolidate his position with schemes like bicycle for school girls and speeding up infrastructure projects like flyovers, underpasses, TTMC for buses, he faced his next crisis when 11 BJP rebels and 5 independents shot off a letter to Governor HR Bharadwaj withdrawing support. He had to face a floor test twice in a gap of 3 days between October 11 and 14. The Assembly speaker KG Bopaiah disqualified the rebels and Yeddyurappa managed to pass the floor test.
The final nail in the coffin was the multi-crore mining scam involving the Reddy brothers, who were ministers in the Yeddyurappa government. The major irregularities involved mines in Bellary, including those of Obulapuram Mining Company that was owned by the Reddy brothers. With pressure from the rebels to have a change in guard, the BJP high command forced Yeddyurappa to resign from his position as CM. Owing to this ‘ill-treatment’, Yeddyurappa quit the BJP and started his own party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP). KJP would however merge with the BJP at a later point, hence bringing Yeddyurappa back to the BJP fold.
It must be mentioned here that contrary to the popular media promoted theory that Yeddyurappa has been indicted in the Lokayukta (Santosh Hegde) report on illegal mining, the report actually mentions Yeddyurappa’s name only twice when it talks about the 10 crore rupees that was paid by Jindal Group of Companies to Prerna Education Trust, which is owned by Yeddyurappa’s son. The report does not give any proof of Yeddyurappa doing any favors to the Jindal Group of Companies for the alleged bribe. The report does mention that South West Mining Company (a Jindal Group Company) had their mining permissions renewed, but in reality this was done during the previous tenure of HD Kumaraswamy. Yeddyurappa did not own any mining company or operated any mining business like the Reddy brothers or DV Shivakumar of Congress. In March 2012, the High Court of Karnataka quashed the FIR registered against him regarding the mining scam. This is not to suggest that Yeddyurappa is crystal-clean, but during his tenure he had his list of sworn enemies in the form of a biased governor, the Lok Ayukta, his own party members in addition to the Congress and JD (S).
DV Sadananda Gowda was chosen as the CM in August 2011 after the resignation of his mentor Yeddyurappa. He strived hard to improve the image of the government and introduced various schemes like Sakaala that aimed to provide time-bound services at government offices. However, within a few months of becoming CM, he fell out with Yeddyurappa and was unable to unite the various factions within the party. He resigned in July 2012 and Jagadish Shettar was made the CM. Shettar contined to be the CM till the Assembly Elections of 2013.
Karnataka Politics from 2013 onwards – From the frying pan to the fire:
By now, the public was fed up with the BJP rule in the state. Governance had taken a back-seat and the only thing that was happening was in-fighting among the various BJP factions. Yeddyurappa contested the election as part of his new party, the KJP. Owing to anti-incumbency, the Congress won a whopping 122 seats, thereby giving them a clear majority. The JD (S) got 40 seats and the BJP’s tally also reduced to 40. Siddaramaiah, who had by now left the JD (S) and joined the Congress, became the CM. At that point in time, this seemed to be the best thing to have happened as many analysts believed that the BJP’s inability to cross the half-way mark was one of the reasons for its downfall. But people who thought that this government would do better than the previous one were in for a huge disappointment.
Road and transport infrastructure in Bangalore has deteriorated to such an extent that a lot of IT companies are now looking at options outside Bangalore. Infosys pulled out of a major Development Center project in Bangalore, citing lack of infrastructure. Hyderabad is slowly replacing Bangalore as the preferred IT destination. Not only the IT industry, but other industries like bio-technology and heavy-manufacturing now prefer other states like Gujrat and Maharashtra. Power-cuts has been a major problem in Bangalore, in spite of the Central government declaring that there is sufficient power available at the Central grid and Karnataka does not have enough transmission lines. The lakes in Bangalore are highly polluted with toxic foam (readers can just google ‘Bellandur Lake’ to see the images) and the government is turning a blind eye to them in spite of petitions filed to have them cleaned up. Bangalore, which was once a ‘Garden City’ has now become the rape capital of India, with no proper law and order and lack of safety for women.
The situation outside Bangalore is not any better. Mangalore has huge potential, but clients visiting Mangalore get put off looking at the state of infrastructure and roads there. Tier-2 cities like Mangalore, Hubbali, Dharwad, Mysuru are still underdeveloped and not too many companies are keen on investing there. Farmer suicides in Karnataka, especially in the district of Mandya have hit the highest level in a decade and the government is doing nothing to rescue agricultural households that have fallen into a debt trap.
Corruption is rampant in Karnataka and the government is not at all serious in doing something about this. The government handling of the recent death of Civil Servant DK Ravi is one such example. When the opposition parties wanted a CBI enquiry to investigate his death, the government refused this and instead announced a CID enquiry. It was only after widespread protests that the government finally ordered a CBI enquiry.
Instead of encouraging industries from being set up in the state, the government is busy with populist schemes (involving gross misuse of tax payers’ money), some of them with provocative communal undertones. Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya, Shaadi Bhaagya are some of them.
The Anna Bhagya scheme, which gives rice at Re 1/kg for BPL families has resulted in large scale misuse of highly subsidized rice. The Food and Civil Supplies department has received feedback from its field officials that a large quantity of rice being supplied under the scheme is sold back to the department.
Under the Ksheera Bhagya Scheme, free milk is provided to students of government and aided schools thrice a week. A lot of students have complained of foul smell and overdose of water in the milk. Not only that, there have been complaints that the milk given to the students is made out of powder and not milk obtained from cows or buffaloes.
The Congress indulging in minority appeasement would not really come as a surprise to anybody. The Shaadi Bhagya Scheme initially offered to give Rs 50,000 to Muslim brides aged 18 and above having a family income of less than Rs 1.5 lakhs per annum. After pressure from the BJP, this scheme was extended to all the brides belonging to other minority communities (it must be noted that Hindus are not covered in this scheme). The recent controversy over celebrating Tipu Jayanthi is another example of the Congress going out of their way to try and please the Muslims.
The citizens of Karnataka (especially the urban citizens) are highly disillusioned with the Congress-led Siddaramaiah government and the CM himself. 2018 will tell if the Congress will occupy the opposition benches in the assembly, giving away power back to the BJP or if the coalition drama would again repeat itself.