The tussle over location of IIT in Karnataka could force the Central Government to review its decision altogether like it did earlier.
The Central Government’s decision to locate Public Sector Undertakings in the states comes with its accompanying advantages especially as it leads to creation of job opportunities and infrastructure.
This was evident in Karnataka in particular with the setting up of PSUs such as Bharat Electronics Ltd, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and HMT Limited, to name but a few. This stands true even when it comes to locating a prestigious academic institute like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) now, as the attendant benefits are far reaching.
Accordingly, it was a great moment for the State when the Union Government decided to set up an IIT in Karnataka while leaving the choice of location to the Siddaramiah Government. Yet, instead of taking advantage of the opportunity the ruling party has decided to play politics over the location. That too after the State Government itself forwarded to the Central Government the names of Dharwad, Raichur and Mysore as the ideal options.
The State should have been happy that the Central Government had accepted one of its options (Dharwad) after a committee examined the State’s choices. To that extent, the matter should have been considered closed.
This, however, was not enough for Mr Siddaramiah who felt the Central Government should have named Raichur in Hyderabad--Karnataka region. The reason for the last-minute turnabout was perplexing to the naïve but evident to others in the know.
Mr Mallikarjuna Kharge, Congress stalwart from the region, wanted the IIT to be located in Raichur and the chief minister thought nothing of reversing his own stand on the issue. If only to remain in sync with the man who has the ear of party leader Sonia Gandhi.
Once the Union Government zeroed in on Dharwad, Mr Siddaramiah realised that unwittingly he had played into the hands of the BJP. The latter has a fair influence in the twin cities of Hubballi-Dharwad in the Mumbai-Karnataka region.
Till before the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP did make inroads into the Hyderabad–Karnataka region particularly Ballari, Bidar, Kalaburgi, Yadgir, Raichur and Koppal. This sway, however, was neutralised to a large extent after the Congress did well in the polls. This is where Mr Siddaramiah and Mr Kharge want to capitalise on the party’s advantage by plumbing for Raichur, something that promises a political windfall as well what with the assembly polls barely two years away.
In the process, Mr Siddaramiah did not think twice before seeking to negate the advantage that would accrue to the Congress in the Hubbali-Dharwad belt. More so as the Central Government had decided on the location from the list given by the state itself.
The people and the region cannot be penalised and deprived of housing a major academic institute, merely because the BJP is perceived to have influence there. The chief minister’s turnabout has resulted in antagonising the two regions, even pitting one against the other. He has opened up possibilities of the Central Government even reviewing its decision on locating an IIT in the State, something that actually happened in the early 1990s.
The Union Government had then decided to set up an IIT in the State. But Mr Deve Gowda, the then chief minister, wanted the institute to come up in Hassan while the Opposition had favoured North Karnataka. This led to a bitter controversy. Consequently, the Centre played it safe and dropped the project.
Instead of considering carefully the overall interests of the State as a whole politicians have often resorted to unreasonable lobbying; seeking the institute’s location in their own districts or regions. Successive chief ministers have only ended up displaying their narrow views.
A few years ago while former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa preferred setting up the IIT at Shivamogga, Mr Siddaramaiah wanted it in his home district of Mysuru. Former Union minister M Veerappa Moily, on his part, was keen on locating it in Chikkaballapur, his Parliamentary constituency, citing proximity to the Kempegowda International Airport as the reason. Yet another group of legislators from Belgavi favoured the IIT in that district.
Some fear that the unseemly conflict today could even lead to cancellation of the IIT project yet again, worried as they are by Siddaramiah’s attempt to fan the flames of discontent between different regions.
Had the chief minister recommended Raichur as the State’s primary choice, the current problems may not have arisen. After shortlisting three locations and leaving the final choice to the Central Government, he wrote to the Union HRD Minister stating that the institute should be located in Raichur as “Dharwad was my last choice.”
His letter has provided fodder to certain elements who are raising a demand for the state’s division. Cutting across party lines, these local worthies want a separate state covering the entire North Karnataka with Belgavi as its capital.
Today the issue may appear to be trivial. Yet the strong feelings of the people in the belt against what they term as “a step- motherly” treatment, cannot be brushed aside.
Dharwad, incidentally, had many pluses going for it particularly as it is already a developed city with infrastructure, including rail and road, connecting it to Mumbai, Bangalore and Belgavi.
Besides, it is known as the cultural and academic centre of the State. This made it easier for the Central Selection Committee to favour the city over the other options. In contrast, Raichur lost out merely because it did not have the climate or the infrastructure to support the institute.