Siddu Sinking Low

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Karnataka’s chief minister siddaramaiah has little to show his constituents after 30 months in office. Lofty promises made remain forgotten. Corruption and maladministration go hand in hand. Karnataka needs a savior but elections to the state assembly are quite some time away. BY RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

Recall Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s promise to the people on assuming office in May 2013, that he would not contest any more elections; he even declared his son Rakesh, his political heir, asking him to nurse his Varuna constituency in Mysuru district.

If it was “Siddu’s” (as he is referred to) intention to signal that he had realized his “life’s ambition”, and would devote himself whole-heartedly to his job minus any distractions, he did not quite achieve that result. The impact was quite the opposite with the Opposition jumping at the statement, saying that he had no will to deliver as chief minister since he was a ‘contented’ man; his own party men warned that the chief minister looked a “reluctant politician”, one who was not very concerned with issues like good governance or improving the party’s future.

Under pressure, Siddu retracted his statement within days. He declared that he would not only contest again, but his objective was to bring Congress back to power. If that was the intention, it was not evident on Nov. 13, the day his government completed 30 months in office. There were no celebrations, no announcement of new schemes, even the customary press conference to brag about his ‘achievements’ was not held. The day passed off unnoticed and for good reason.

Siddu failed to keep his promise, worse still his own cabinet colleagues have proved no less corrupt. They have been linked to the land mafia, sand mafia, liquor mafia and mining mafia, but the chief minister has been unable to take any action against them

Three days earlier, the Siddu government invited needless controversy by organizing the 265th birth anniversary of the 18th century ruler Tipu Sultan. It sparked off widespread riots in Kodagu, Chikmagaluru and Mangaluru districts, leaving four people dead. Tipu, who engaged the British in four wars finally succumbing in 1799, is admired for his bravery in taking on a militarily powerful colonial power. But he is also accused of demolishing hundreds of temples and churches, killing or converting to Islam, thousands of Hindus in Coorg, Mangalore and parts of Kerala.

In hindsight, the government could have left the job of organizing the Tipu Jayanti to private institutions rather than appearing to appease a certain section, angering other communities. Playwright Girish Karnad stoked further controversy by proposing that Bengaluru airport could have been named after Tipu Sultan rather than Kempe Gowda, the founder of the city. This upset the Vokkaligas (the community to which Kempe Gowda belonged) and it was several days before the situation returned to normal.

The flare-up underscored the government’s mediocre performance, and Siddu being saddled with a cabinet short on talent and competence at one level, and corrupt and self-serving at the other. It belied the hope that Siddu held out when he won a clear mandate in May 2013, defeating the faction-ridden and corrupt BJP government (there were three governments in five years led by Yeddyurappa, Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar). Though G Parameshwar was the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president, it was Siddu who campaigned extensively and deservedly won the crown (he also had the backing of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi). The Kurubas, Karnataka’s third largest community after the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, rallied the other backward classes to support Siddu. But what really helped him clinch a decisive victory was the division of BJP votes (Yeddyurappa wreaked vengeance on his former party by forming his own outfit which garnered nearly 10 per cent of the votes).

Two important announcements Siddu made on assuming office were to offer 30 kg of rice at Re one per kg (a scheme called ‘Anna Bhagya’) to virtually half the population, and substantially enhancing the milk subsidy for farmers. Rather dramatically, he recalled the days he went hungry as a child, and how both moves would help poor families. In fact, the milk subsidy has helped around 55 lakh farmer families whose income otherwise has been coming down.

But Siddu has failed to dent widespread poverty. The Anna Bhagya scheme was not well planned resulting in black marketing of rice. It drained government coffers as the scheme required annual funding of Rs 4,000 crore. Since then it has been scaled down to more manageable and practical levels.

It is on the issue of fighting corruption and providing a clean administration that the Siddu government has been a complete let down. Considering that the then Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde had come out with a voluminous report on illegal mining, detailing the loss of Rs 25,000 crore, Siddu had promised to set up special courts to ensure speedy trial of those accused and recovery of the money they had looted.

Tipu, who engaged the british in four wars finally succumbing in 1799, is admired for his bravery in taking on a militarily powerful colonial power. But he is also accused of demolishing hundreds of temples and churches, killing or converting to islam, thousands of hindus in coorg, mangalore and parts

Of kerala

But Siddu failed to keep his promise, worse still his own cabinet colleagues have proved no less corrupt. They have been linked to the land mafia, sand mafia, liquor mafia and mining mafia, but the chief minister has been unable to take any action against them. In October, when Siddu had an opportunity to reshuffle his cabinet, he was keen on dropping some of the corrupt ministers along with other deadwood and give a new image to his government.

Siddhu’s instincts were sound unfortunately, he ran aground on the issue of admitting KPCC president Parameshwar into the cabinet. Given his seniority, Parameshwar was keen on joining the cabinet as deputy chief minister, but Siddu stoutly opposed it fearing an alternate power centre in the government. The matter went to Sonia Gandhi who persuaded Parameshwar to join the cabinet as home minister, but Siddu was denied permission to recast his ministry and could only fill four vacancies.

Siddu also failed the litmus test when the office of Lokayukta headed by Justice Bhaskar Rao, was rocked by corruption charges. Several officials who were forced to give bribes to avert Lokayukta raids, told police that Rao’s son Ashwin was the kingpin in the blackmailing and extortion racket. Ashwin and several of his accomplices were soon arrested. It marked the lowest point of this government since it underscored how bad things were.

When Santosh Hegde was Lokayukta, a chief minister as removed and jailed on corruption charges. But Bhaskar Rao not only ran his racket with impunity, he inveigled Siddu into appointing a state-controlled special investigation team. It later came to light that Rao had let off Siddu by dismissing a complaint regarding denotification of land worth several crores of rupees.

It touched a deep chord because Karnataka’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, power and water supply, is in a shambles. The state has slipped to ninth position in the development index, according to a World Bank report. Instead of accepting the challenge to improve the state’s rating, Siddu accused the Modi government of ‘manipulating’ the rankings.

This when the reality is inescapable: Bengaluru’s roads are choc-a-bloc with the growing volume of traffic, potholes and garbage everywhere, shaming what was acclaimed to be the Silicon Valley of India. The Siddu government’s patch-work solutions get exposed after every rain. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) contracts for lifting and dumping of the garbage, which are mostly cornered by politicians, are worth more than Rs 400 crore a month and too juicy to be given up.

Siddu government invited needless controversy by organizing the 265th birth anniversary of the 18th century ruler tipu sultan. It sparked off widespread riots in kodagu, chikmagaluru and mangaluru districts, leaving four people dead

During the BBMP elections a couple of months ago, Siddu tried hard to wrest it from the BJP, but the Congress managed to win only 74 seats to the BJP’s 101. However, since the BBMP constitution provided for voting rights to the city legislators and MPs, the Congress took the support of the JDS to overturn the people’s verdict and capture the BBMP administration.

Though elections to the Karnataka Assembly will happen only in 2018, the success of the Mahaghatbandhan in Bihar has inspired the JDS to offer the Congress a helping hand whenever the elections are held. Given the state of the Congress in Karnataka, Siddu may not be averse to accepting the JDS’ hand of friendship to defeat the BJP, which has been strengthened by the return of Yeddyurappa. Like Lalu Prasad, JDS supremo Deve Gowda also has his dynasty’s interests to protect, and we all know that dynasties never die!

Summary

  • Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has failed to deliver on his campaign promises of clean government and efficient administration
  • He blundered by patronizing the Tipu Jayanti celebrations, and has alienated key communities like the Vokkaligas
  • Schemes to benefit the poor failed and had to be scaled down drastically, add to that infrastructure is in a shambles
  • The chief minister’s blatant manipulation of the Bengaluru municipal election result could rebound on him in the long run
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