Ahead of the 2018 Karnataka state election, the cleverly coined Congress campaign of ‘Sada Sidda Sarkara’ (ever-ready government) subtly brands Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s style of governance in the state. The whole election seems to be riding on his shoulders. But are his efforts being undermined by the antics by members of the Congress’s vote base including the progeny of its legislators? Harsha Raj Gatty examines.
Despite his political legacy as an outsider – Siddaramaiah comes across as a leader, with a stable image who could steer the party through the choppy electoral sea to victory. However, in the run up to the elections a series of incidents have put the Congress on the back-foot and the otherwise seemingly confident government now appears to be shaky.
For instance, the February 2018 incident of Congress MLA N A Haris’s son, Mohammed Nalapad Haris’s alleged attack on a fellow pub-goer; it’s a newsmakers fantasy come true ‘Of how a the children of rich and the mighty break the law and then meddle with the criminal justice system’. The dastardly act has caught the public imagination and for the party which is trying to leave no stone unturned to win back people’s mandate, the proximity of the accused to its leadership has drawn a lot of infamy.
The shocking details that are emerging from the Nalpad’s incident will undoubtedly, determine the Congress’ performance not only in Bengaluru but in the entire state.
Since the day of the incident, the internet is awash with the graphic details of how a lawmaker’s son along with his cronies allegedly attacked a pub-goer Vidwat with beer bottles over a silly reason and later even purportedly issued death threats to the victim at the hospital. The pictures of Vidwat, whose face was pulped apparently due to perpetrators smashing him with beer bottles, are already highlighted by the media as a testimony to brutality that the son of this prominent MLA and the Youth Congress leader had unleashed on that night. In its attempt to save its face, the Congress may have kept Nalapad under suspension from the post of General Secretary of the Bengaluru District Youth Congress. Even his father, the MLA re-elect hopeful from Shantinagar constituency has started maintaining distance from the incident. But can INC escape the wrath of the metropolitan city’s voters, whose fear for personal security has just escalated due to the incident?
A BJP delegation is already said to have met Governor Vajubhai Vala to seek that the case should be expedited. Even at the expense of being caught on wrong foot, BJP National President Amit Shah went on to claim that Vidwat was their party worker, only later to retract. The Congress must realize, that the BJP is definitely going to blow the sub-judice matter out of proportion even for temporary political mileage.
In fact, it is not the first time that the Siddaramaiah government is under scrutiny for the acts of its legislator’s children. In 2010, PWD Minister H.C. Mahadevappa’s son Sunil Bose was in the news for all the wrong reasons. He was accused of aiding and abetting with Mines and Geology officials to take a bribe in an illegal sand mining case and the case is still subjudice. Despite this, not only was he made the Chairman of a Vigilance committee in his father’s constituency, but at present is also rumoured that he may make his political debut this elections. His father Mahadevappa is expected to move to Bengaluru leaving his constituency, T Narasipur, to his son.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has maintained a calculated silence over these issues, saying the law will take its own course. But can the Congress government in the state afford to be seen to be patronising political nepotism, and welcoming another tainted ‘son’, who may in fact turn into a political liability?
As elections approach, the Siddaramaiah government is working overtime to launch the ‘bhagyas’ that have been announced in the budget. The official machinery too is stretching its limits to ensure that the government’s projects complete or are otherwise inaugurated before the Poll Code of Conduct comes into force. Taking a pre-poll cue from UP former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, even CM Siddaramaiah has gone ahead to inaugurate the Hennur flyover, a multi-level car park at Freedom Park, a skywalk at M.G. Road, the re-modeled Church Street and minor projects at several residential layouts – despite the fact that the projects have not been completed. Many political analysts have read these sporadic activities by the CM as his insecurity over the upcoming poll results. But can these ‘superficial inaugurals’ of public projects save the ‘Bhagya’ of the Siddaramaiah government in battling-out the controversies and issues, generated in the last 5-years when it goes to elections?
Earlier, the suicide of IAS officer DK Ravi (2015) and DySP MK Ganapati (2016) had rocked the government. In both the cases, the spotlight was on Home Minister K.J. George. His resignation and come back drama managed to silence the opposition parties, but what about the mysterious death of another IAS officer Anurag Tewari (2017), who was the Commissioner for Food and Civil Supplies. There had been allegations that the officer was preparing to expose the scam in the Anna Bhagya Scheme. So far, the probe is said to going on in all the cases and yet there is no justice to the deceased.
Not just these issues, but the unsolved murder mysteries of two prominent writers – Dr MM Kalaburagi (2015) and Gauri Lankesh (2017) – reflects of poor law and order apparatus under the command of the present government. It’s over three years since rationalist and scholar Dr M.M. Kalaburagi was shot dead by unknown assailants at his house. Similar modus operandi was adopted when the killers came looking for journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh. However, the investigation into Kalaburagi case has neither made any headway, and the SIT team on Gauri murder is still gaping at the loose end conspiracy theories and mere arrest of one suspect, which creates a trust deficit among the voters.
Further, throughout its term, the Congress government has grappled with the alleged murders of Hindu activists in Dakshina Kannada as well as one such case of Paresh Mesta in Uttara Kannada. The primary opposition BJP had even accused the Congress government of harbouring terrorists in the state and being sympathetic to minority communities. The campaign launched by the BJP and the series of protests in Bantwal following the murder of RSS worker Sharath Madiwala and other similar protests – may well prove to be a spoiler for Congress in coastal belt.
Where does the buck stop?
The Congress has been attempting to rope in legislators with big bucks - such as Anand Singh (ex-BJP), Ashok Kheny (Karnataka Makkala Paksha), B Nagendra (Independent), overlooking their performance as legislators or their antecedents. While Anand Singh and Nagendra have been facing charges of illegal mining and export, the Congress itself has instituted a Joint Legislative Committee against MLA Ashok Kheny in 2014, to probe his alleged land grabbing and forgery. Even as the probe is underway – the Congress has gone ahead and inducted Kheny into the party. Let alone the opposition, now the state legislators are facing the anguish of their own party-men and are expected to take up the issue with the Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Induction of such leaders will lower the morale of party cadres and will split the party’s’ support, claimed a leader. Moreover, the recent allegation levelled by IPS officer D Roopa against her then senior DG and IG (prisons) Satyanarayana Rao for allegedly receiving bribes to provide luxury facilities to former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha’s aide Sasikala, who is presently housed in the Parappana Agrahara has embarrassed the Congress downright and the government has been forced to order an inquiry into the allegations.
Another cop from Kudligi former DySP Anupama Shenoy’s transfer at the alleged behest of then minister PT Parameshwar Naik and the drama that unfolded later is another embarrassment. The former cop boldly walked out of the police force and has now floated a political party - the Bharatiya Janashakti Congress. Embarrassments also came in dollops to the Siddaramaiah government over the 2017 Income Tax raid on State Energy Minister D.K. Shivakumar and recovery of Rs.300 crores of undeclared income (2017). Also the discovery of former Excise Minister H.Y. Meti’s sleazy CD, bowing to the pressure, the government that had too much on its plate had to relieve him of his position although later he came out with a clean chit.
The BJP on the other hand is desperate to repeat the former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s (2008-2011) era when the Saffron party first came to power in Karnataka. Though the government was short-lived, and was mired in infighting, and allegations of corruption, B.S Yeddyurappa was re-inducted into the party as its leader.
The scenario today however is much different to the one in which he swept to power in the state. At present the party and the national mainstream agenda is steered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The highly enterprising duo has already left its stamp on 21 of the 29 states and the Union territories of the country including in the North East which is a historic achievement for them. Karnataka will be the icing on the cake. Indeed, the Congress led Siddaramaiah government in Karnataka is under tremendous pressures to retain its position in Karnataka, the last of the three states where it is in power besides Manipur and Punjab. Although, the Congress in public claims that the ‘saffron-sweep’ in the North Eastern States may not have a bearing on the Karnataka Election, senior Congress leaders know for sure, that armed with its Hindutva agenda along with the tried and tested formulae of polarisation, the BJP is unlikely to give room for the Congress to make mistakes and get away.
Be it the brutal murder of Rudresh, a RSS worker, allegedly by the members of Popular Front of India or Congress’ support to Tipu Jayanti - in both cases the BJP has already played-up the two with its Hindutva card – alleging the Congress government was indulging in minority appeasement politics. Time and again Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his team were seen in a defensive mode, while claiming that their government was non-partisan. Even while advocating a separate Lingayat religion, the Siddaramaiah government seems to have dug its own grave, as analysts point out that the Chief Minister and his party walked right into the trap laid by Lingayat strongman BS Yeddyurappa, especially when in North Karnataka the BJP has considerable presence.
Back to Nalapad incident, where the Congress has scored a ‘self-goal’. The BJP is here to make its point. The investigation proceedings of Nalapad Haris is being closely scrutinized by the BJP. Infact, the political leaders from right-leaning ideology have already posed the Vidwat-Nalpad incident with a Hindu v/s Muslim analogy among its grass-root workers and claimed that the Congress would save the attacker to appease the minority community and its party leader.
The recent frequency of visits by both the top leaders of the BJP to Karnataka speaks volumes for its focus on the one state it wants in its kitty more than anything else. They are already inching towards an ‘Opposition-Mukt-Bharath’. Similar to Gujarat, Himachal and North-Eastern polls, the BJP may invite its army of Ministers and Chief Ministers across the country to Karnataka to address rallies, while the Congress has barely any national leader who can sway public opinion.
Not even the Party President Rahul Gandhi, commands the confidence of his party-men and who at times of polls results or other anticipated failures, is known to make foreign trips and thereby disown the electoral losses.
If the voice of the Former INC President Sonia Gandhi still holds of any value to the party, then probably Karnataka Congress must rather take it seriously when at a recent ‘India Today Conclave’ meet she subtly warned the Karnataka leaders “It is better to work hard until the very last day instead of being over-confident”.