Congress between a rock and a hard place in Karnataka
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]C[/dropcap]ongress government in Karnataka under the leadership of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah completed four years in office. With one more year to go for election, political parties are already in poll mode. State Government and Congress party are busy highlighting various schemes that had the focus on its pet theme – Social Justice. The Chief Minister claimed that his government has fulfilled 154 promises out of 164 made to voters in Party manifesto.
The regional party Janata Dal (S) is far better positioned to give Congress a run for its money. Party’s charismatic leader and former Chief Minister Mr HD Kumaraswamy who is a favourite amongst voters to become next Chief Minister
Looking back at the four years, Mr Siddaramaiah must be credited for having a firm grip on leadership within the ruling party. After initial grumbling, he and his government have worked towards consolidating their voter base – Backward Classes, Dalits and Minorities by introducing various Bhagya schemes like Anna Bhagya (Rice & Wheat), Sheera Bhagya (Milk), Shaadi Bhagya (Marriage) and Krishi Bhagya (Farmers). This financial year, the state government is introducing “Indira Canteen” on the lines of “Amma Canteen” to capture the hearts and minds of urban poor. Also to his credit, Mr Siddaramaiah successfully engineered a mid-term cabinet reshuffle that replaced aged Ministers with many fresh faces.
Also, in the past four years, there have been visible failures that have not gone down well with voters. First and foremost is the letdown in not bringing down corruption. A recent national survey named Karnataka as the most corrupt state in India. Although there has been no big ticket corruption, there have been a number of instances where corruption has taken a toll on the state as well as the Chief Minister. The explosive Govindaraju dairy that contained initials of several of cabinet ministers were those who were supposedly sending crores of rupees to Congress High Command in New Delhi. Mr. Govindarjau, a close confidante of Chief Minister and a Vidhana Parishad representative, denied the allegations.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]C[/dropcap]hief Minister himself was mired in “Hublot” watch controversy wherein he was unable to explain the source of an expensive wrist watch he was seen wearing quite often. Then there were several instances like land de-notification of Arkavathi Layout, single digit lottery scam and the nexus between the sand mafia and administrative officers that gave the perception of a corrupt administration. The Chief Minister was also charged with nepotism when state government awarded a contract to start a diagnostic center to a firm headed by his son Dr Yathindra.
With no end in sight to the infighting in BJP and doubts over JD(S) making inroads in North Karnataka, Congress in Karnataka might yet thwart BJP’s dream of “Congress Mukt Bharath”.
Second is the economic failure to balance between redistributive policies and investment policies that would have made the state economy much stronger. With manifold increases in budget allocation for Congress vote bank, investment has suffered. Bengaluru’s crumbling infrastructure did not see any improvement except for cement topping of a few arterial roads and shoring up of footpaths. Had the State Government given an inclination towards investments in manufacturing and agriculture sectors in the first two years, it could have reaped the fruits of a vicious economic cycle of growth and more subdued redistribution. Failure to do so has not only weakened state economy but also increased overall state debt to over a whopping Two Lakh Crore.
Finally, glaring administrative failures cannot be overlooked. In the Home Department, there have been a number of suicides by police officials attributing to stress at work place as well as frequent transfers. Failing to rein sand mafia has been due to the official nexus between mafia and bureaucracy. It took three continuous Pre-University Chemistry question paper leaks to swing the administration to action and prevent it. A transport strike in Bengaluru and across the state could have been avoided had the Minister and government officials showed courage and negotiated a settlement on the wage increase. The much heralded “Namma Metro” Phase I opening was announced four times and deadlines were subsequently missed. It is yet to open which has caused much consternation and dismay to both citizens and taxpayers.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]C[/dropcap]ongress party and Chief Minister are in a tight sport in the run up to the upcoming assembly election which must be completed by April 2018. For now, by winning two by-election seats that were held recently, it has successfully put an end to BJP’s goal of “Mission 150”. BJP is now much more subdued while in-fighting reaches its pinnacle. Most voters are sceptical of giving the same leaders in the party who were primarily responsible for BJP’s disastrous performance during 2008-2013 another chance.
The regional party Janata Dal (S) is far better positioned to give Congress a run for its money. Party’s charismatic leader and former Chief Minister Mr HD Kumaraswamy who is a favourite amongst voters to become next Chief Minister has been stationed in North Karnataka for almost a year to strengthen JDS at grassroots. A reasonable success in that region could bring JD(S) close to hundred in seat strength. An X factor is the fluid situation of state politics when many MLA’s and ex-MLA’s are in a mood to switch parties that could strengthen or weaken any of the three parties.
With nine months to go for all political parties to launch a full-throttle campaign, battle lines are clearly drawn with parties boasting of their strengths and doing everything to overcome their weaknesses. With no end in sight to the infighting in BJP and doubts over JD(S) making inroads in North Karnataka, Congress in Karnataka might yet thwart BJP’s dream of “Congress Mukt Bharath”.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
He tweets at @envyk_blr.
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