There are 28 Assembly constituencies in Bengaluru, the capital of Bengaluru. Congress has 13 MLAs, BJP has 12 MLAs and JD(S) three MLAs. Bengaluru is one of the keys to government formation, given the number of constituencies and the influence its MLA’s wield in the corridors of power. All the parties will try to retain and spread their foot prints across the metro, but must remember that the citizen is king every five years. Y Maheswar Reddy has more.
The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) is leaving no stone unturned to overtake its main rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bengaluru in the forthcoming Assembly elections. If the latest developments and incidents that deserve condemnation are any indication, it seems Congress leaders are on the wrong foot and it has become necessary for them to pull up their socks to retain their 13 Assembly seats in Bengaluru. The irony is, the more Congress leaders try to improve their tally in the Assembly from Bengaluru the more it is becoming tough for the Congress that is known for having more leaders than cadre.
With the BJP leaders grabbing every opportunity to show the ruling party in poor light, the Congress leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to convince the people of Bengaluru about their commitment and dedication to maintain law and order in the city. The BJP leaders have upped the ante by taking to the streets on the deterioration of law and order in Bengaluru. The BJP leaders have even roped in their national leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to attack the Siddaramaiah government for its alleged failure to maintain law and order.
Addressing a mammoth gathering at the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru on February 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lampooned the Siddaramaiah Government as a Sarkar known for ease of committing murder than ease of doing business. It is not that Congress leaders lagged behind in counter attacking the BJP but the absence of a concerted effort has facilitated the BJP leaders to continue their campaign against the Congress government in Karnataka with a much more telling effect.
The BJP leaders have utilised RSS activist Rudresh’s murder in Shivajinagar very well. They were also successful in organizing protests to condemn Santosh’s murder at Chinnappa Garden in JC Nagar police limits. They showcased the murder as the handiwork of drug mafia in which a Congress Block Committee President’s son is allegedly involved. Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy’s statement on Santosh’s murder provided another opportunity for the BJP leaders to go to the people highlighting Congress leaders’ scant respect towards lives of people in the city. Ramalinga Reddy had claimed that Wasim, the accused, did not intend to kill Santosh, he just pierced a screw driver. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) launched a unique campaign -- the “screwdriver campaign” -- to courier thousands of screwdrivers to the State Home Minister. They claimed that Home Minister Reddy had trivialized the death of a BJP worker who was stabbed by a screwdriver and was killed.
The latest unfortunate and horrific incident of the stabbing of Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Vishwanath Shetty provided the much needed ammunition for the BJP leaders as well as the Janata Dal (Secular) leaders. While BJP State president B.S. Yeddyurappa has described the incident as proof of the deterioration of law and order in the state, former chief minister and JD (S) state president H D Kumaraswamy has condemned the incident and expressed shock over the lack of security at the Ombudsman office. “The fact that a miscreant has the courage to attack the Lokayukta in his office is an indication of the weak law and order system in the state,’’ Yeddyurappa said.
The stabbing incident has also provided an opportunity for former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, who maintained stoic silence over other incidents in Bengaluru, to express concern over the deterioration of law and order in the state. “If a person holding a high office such as the Lokayukta has no security, what then can be the state of common man?” Gowda asked.
On March 1, the BJP brought out a Bengaluru-specific ‘charge sheet’ against the ruling Congress in Karnataka and announced the launch of a 14-day ‘protect Bengaluru Yatra’ from March 2. Releasing the booklet carrying the “failures” of the Congress government, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said Bengaluru has been reduced to a “garbage and crime city” ever since Siddaramaiah took over as chief minister. “The charge sheet is an eye opener. A decent city has been converted into a crime city. Now it’s ‘goonda raaj’ when we see the happenings in the last one month,” the union minister said. He cited the recent incident where a video of a Congress leader, purportedly seen throwing petrol inside the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) ward office to set it on fire, went viral.
Javadekar also highlighted Shantinagar Congress MLA N.A. Harris’s son allegedly assaulting a youth brutally inside a pub. “Goondas are attacking police, robbing their houses and snatching their revolvers in Bengaluru,” he claimed. “Once considered as the safest city for women, Bengaluru has become the most unsafe city today due to increasing cases of rape, abduction and chain snatching. This is the transformation done by the Congress under Siddaramaiah,” he said. The union minister said his party would visit all the 28 constituencies of the city and impress upon people to root out the Congress by voting the BJP.
However, KPCC working President Dinesh Gundu Rao and Bengaluru Development and Town Planning Minister K.J. George have said the BJP has released a ‘charge sheet’ against the State government out of ‘frustration’ and fearing defeat in the coming Assembly polls. “It is just a bundle of lies. It is not fit to be even put in a waste basket... they (BJP) feel people of the State and Bengaluru are dumb, and will believe them,” George told media persons at the KPCC office.
Dinesh Gundu Rao held the BJP responsible for various issues faced by Bengaluru, including traffic, potholes on roads, pollution of lakes and inefficient infrastructure. They claimed that the Congress has made all efforts in fixing these issues and giving a face-lift to this ‘global city’. Taking a dig at BJP’s ‘Save Bengaluru’ Yatra, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has retorted that “Bengaluru must be saved from the BJP”.
While inaugurating a slew of projects and laying foundation stone for projects across the city and kick starting projects worth Rs 400 crore at K.R. Puram, Siddaramaiah said, “Another name for the BJP is shameless. Their sole job is to spread false messages. They were the ones who indulged in midnight tenders. They are the ones who had reduced the Garden City to a garbage city and mortgaged the BBMP properties, which we had to release from banks.”
Responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that Karnataka government was a 10 per cent sarkar, Siddaramaiah said Modi had no moral right to blame his government as he sits next to the ones who accepted bribe in the form of a cheque and had landed in jail. Siddaramaiah has challenged Modi for a debate on his ‘10 percent’ remark.
He said that the people, who are spreading lies that the law and order situation in the state has taken a beating, should look at the National Crime Bureau report. “If the crime rate is increasing, then how will investors dare to invest in Karnataka and make it number one in investment?” he questioned.
In the upcoming assembly elections people will discard the Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal (Secular) and vote for the Congress, the Chief Minister said. He also listed the promises fulfilled by his government. He confidently said that out of 28 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru, Congress will win 25.
The Ashok Kheny factor
Ashok Kheny, Bidar South MLA and businessman, joined the Congress on March 5, amid strong reservations from within the party and attacks from the Opposition. He joined the party in the presence of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president G. Parameshwara and campaign committee chairperson D.K. Shivakumar, by merging his Karnataka Makkala Paksha with the Congress.
Kheny is the Managing Director of Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise Ltd. (NICE), the implementing agency of the Bengaluru-Mysuru Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project that is facing allegations of irregularities. A 11-member House committee set up to look into this had come out with a 391-page report that recommended a probe by the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate. The committee, headed by Law Minister T.B. Jayachandra, had also recommended dropping of about 1,160 acres of both private and government lands acquired for the project. The government is yet to act on the recommendations.
Welcoming Kheny into the party, Parameshwara said that the government “will not violate rules in favour of Kheny.” He said that Kheny was joining the Congress without any preconditions and it would help strengthen the party in Bidar district.
However, several Congress MLAs have opposed Kheny’s induction. S.T. Somashekar, Yeshwantpur MLA, said he was opposed to it in the context of the House committee report on the alleged irregularities in the BMIC project still pending before the government for action. “I’m also a member of the committee. A few other MLAs have also contacted me regarding this. We got to know about this development from the media. I will meet the KPCC president and express my opposition,” he said.
However, ruling out differences within the party over the issue, Shivakumar said all party leaders, especially from Bidar district, had been consulted before the induction. “His business has nothing to do with our party or politics. He may be the director at NICE, but NICE has nothing to do with politics. We are not inducting NICE into the party and will not allow anyone to misuse power. Law will take its course,” said Shivakumar.
Later, speaking to reporters, Kheny refused to comment on the report and claimed that most Congress leaders were with him. The BJP leaders, who backed legislator Ashok Kheny and his BMIC project to the hilt as part of the coalition government headed by JD (S) leader H D Kumaraswamy in 2006-07, criticized the businessman-politician on the day he was inducted into the ruling Congress, on Monday.
BJP spokesperson and Rajajinagar MLA S Suresh Kumar, and former deputy chief minister R Ashok said: “Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah, had spoken about Rs 2,000 crore scam during execution of the Bengaluru Mysuru Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) executed by Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE)). Now, the Congress wants money for Assembly elections, so the party inducted him.” Referring to Congress’ leaders mocking at his party colleagues as ‘jail birds,’ Suresh Kumar said: “They used to describe BJP leaders as jail birds. After inducting them, the party describes them as good and honest leaders. The Congress is hungry, so Kheny has been inducted. The NICE scam was discussed threadbare on the floor of the House. Subsequently, a House committee was constituted. The committee gave a report confirming irregularities in execution of the project. The committee had recommended stringent action too but the Congress has revealed its true colours.”
‘Congress has lost its moral right’
Coming down hard on the Congress for opening its doors to NICE chairman Ashok Kheny, who was not too long ago indicted by a legislature committee on land grabbing charges, state JD(S) chief H.D. Kumaraswamy on March 5 said it had lost its moral right to speak against corruption.
Kumaraswamy said by this move the Congress had proved it fully backed the corrupt and was ready to protect them. Although it spoke against illegal mining, it had also inducted Anand Singh, the prime accused in the Belekeri iron ore export scam, he recalled. And now it had put the report of the legislature committee on NICE in cold storage and inducted Kheny into its party as well. “What does this show? Both Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Kheny are partners in corruption and the Congress has become a loot party,’’ he charged.
With the election code of conduct to be announced anytime, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah got busy inaugurating projects, some of which were far from complete. The chief minister inaugurated an underpass and one flyover ramp and a link road, all part of eight-lane Okalipuram signal free corridor. Now citizens heading from Malleswaram towards Rajajinagar can use the underpass, while people coming down from City Railway Station and heading towards Malleswaram can use the flyover and the ones coming from railway station use the link road to head towards Rajajinagar. The commuters were unhappy as the project has been progressing at a snail’s pace. And now it has only been partially opened. “Okalipuram just looks like a construction site with lot of activities going on. If proper safety measures are not taken, then it will endanger people using the new flyover and underpass,” said a commuter, who did not wished to be named. The leaders just want to have their name etched on the project and nothing else, he lamented.
JD(S) Vikas Parva
Even as the BJP and Congress held mega rallies in Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular) took its turn to enter the political arena with ‘Vikasa Parva’, its first major public rally of the 2018 election season held in Yelahanka on February 17.
JD(S) leader and former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy shared the dais with former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) leader Mayawati, who was addressing her first public rally since her defeat in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The rally was set to be held in Davangere but later shifted to Bengaluru presumably to compete with BJP and Congress’ show of strength in the city.
While all roads led to Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology on February 17, traffic on the roads in Yelahanka was brought to a standstill, delaying the start of the rally. Several people took to Twitter to reveal that they had missed their flights due to the traffic jam as the rally venue fell on the road to the Bengaluru International Airport.
However, the JD(S) leadership failed to continue their campaign in Bengaluru against Siddaramaiah government. The JD(S) has only one MLA in Bengaluru after two others – Zameer Ahmed and Akhanda Srenivasa Murthy – deserted the party. Its Vikasa Parva Padayatra lost steam even before it took off on day one, with party leaders leaving the Basavanagudi candidate stranded, merely a couple of hours into the campaign.
The party gave a start to its Vikasa Parva Padayatra in south Bengaluru on March 6, with JD(S) national working president P.G.R. Sindhia and MLC T.A. Sharavana leading the workers from Basavanagudi, after performing puja at the Dodda Ganapathi Temple in the locality. Hundreds of party workers traversed through N.R. Colony, Vidyapeetha Circle, Kathriguppe, Seetha Circle, Girinagar and Srinagar before reaching Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple.
The padayatra started off with much enthusiasm at around 11 am, with workers shouting anti-BJP and anti-Congress slogans, even as many followed the campaign in autorickshaws, on bikes and cars, causing traffic jams along the way.
The padayatra however soon started losing steam, as the handful of leaders (including Sindhia, Sharavana and JD-S MLA K Gopalaiah) left one after the other, deserting the party workers and the JD(S) Basavanagudi candidate Bagegowda.
By the time the padayatra culminated at Gavipuram at around 3 pm, Bagegowda was left alone with a few party workers to cheer him on.
All in all, BJP is set to add one or two more seats to its kitty in Bengaluru, Congress will have to turn the tide with something dramatic if it is to retain its 13 seats in the city while JD(S) is set to draw a blank if Congress and BJP come to an understanding to trounce its lone loyal MLA K. Gopalaiah who represents Mahalakshmi Layout in the State Assembly. Chamarajpet is set to slip from JD(S) to BJP due to the latest political developments and Pulekeshinagar, represented by JD(S) rebel MLA Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy is set to be snatched by the Congress in the forthcoming Assembly elections.