B Ghanshyam Shenoy
The Karnataka Government: A Sham

Infrastructure, basic civic amenities in shambles; welfare schemes with communal tinge—people who voted for the Siddaramaiah-led Congress expecting good governance have been disappointed by its appalling performance.

In the 2013 Karnataka Assembly elections, the Congress party came back to power with a roaring and an emphatic victory silencing the BJP and its factions who had to settle for a third place. At the time, it was a genuinely good thing for the state that the Congress had won 122 seats, crossing the half-way mark of 113, since that would mean there would be none of the no danger of instability as during the BJP years.

In fact, many state analysts believed that in the assembly elections of 2008, the failure of the BJP to cross the half-way mark was one of the primary reasons which led to their downfall five years later. The now infamous ‘Operation Kamala’, the daylight poaching of sitting MLA’s and politicians from other parties in order to pass the halfway mark in the house, proved to be disastrous. Moreover, corruption scandals which had infiltrated the government proved decisive. B S Yeddyurappa, once the poster boy for BJP south of the Vindhyas, became a loose cannon, which neither the BJP state-brass nor the central command could manage properly.

So, out went Yeddyurappa and formed the Karnataka People’s Party (KJP) and along with him went, 9.8% of the votes (he merged back with the BJP a year later). Another BJP dissenter Shriramulu also defected and took away his 2.7% of the votes. All in all, the BJP’s vote share went down 13.9% resulting in a seat-loss of 72. In came Siddaramaiah and the Congress, with no worry about proving the majority or horse-trading. But whoever thought this government’s performance would be better than the governments of the previous decade, was in for a surprise.

Performance wise, this Congress government has been appalling. Road and transport infrastructure has deteriorated, infrastructure development has stopped, exports from the state have declined, Bengaluru is reeling from misuse of resources, failure to develop Tier-2 cities like Mangaluru, Hubballi-Dharwad, Belgavi and Mysuru has resulted in exodus of companies to other states like Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Primary example of this is Google, building its new 1000-crore campus in Hyderabad and not in a city in Karnataka.

Bengaluru simply cannot take such a huge campus into its laps, the resources that are required to manage the huge number of people coming in, have been exhausted. Consider this, in 2014, one of the biggest exporters of software-IT from Karnataka, Infosys, pulled out of a major software development center project in Bengaluru, citing lack of infrastructure. The rest of the state’s condition does not appear too rosy either.

“Mangalore has huge potential, but clients visiting the centre get depressed seeing the condition of the roads leading to our offices,” said Ramadas Kamathexecutive vice president of Infosys. “The IT Park developed by the government by sinking hundreds of crores of rupees adjacent to our campus has no takers.” Infosys has invested Rs 700 crore in the coastal city and created infrastructure for 6,000 employees on 1.4 million square feet.

Take other industries like bio-medicine, bio-technology, heavy-manufacturing, automobile and engineering fields. Companies prefer other states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka’s southern neighbours as their likely destinations. All these directly impact job-seekers and other sub-contractors and their employees, who are dependent on these industries for work. The state industrial policy is nothing but a piece of printed paper and not even a word printed on it is being implemented.

Inside Karnataka, the state Congress government is known as the ‘Bhagya Sarakara’. In Kannada, ‘Bhagya’ means fortune. But, it’s not that people are fortunate to have this Congress government. It’s named so because of its various ‘Bhagya’ schemes it has brought out. ‘Krushi Bhagya’, ‘Arogya Bhagya’, ‘Ksheera Bhagya’, ‘Shaadi Bhagya’, ‘Anna Bhagya’, were some of the schemes introduced for agriculture, health, and nutrition.

On paper, these schemes look brilliant and promising. But, the reality is different. Moreover, some schemes have a communal undertone to them. In the aforementioned ‘Shaadi Bhagya’ scheme, initially only Muslim women were eligible to an amount of Rs 50,000, provided they have an annual income of less than Rs. 1.5 lakh. Later, the scheme was extended women of all minority communities. Would it not have been better this scheme was extended to all women from financially backward sections, irrespective of their religion?

In the public opinion survey and review of this government, conducted by veteran Kannada journalist H R Ranganath and his team at Kannada news channel Public TV, at the end of two years in office, citizens felt, there was a huge failure on part of the government to execute policies in the right manner.

People felt the performance of the ministers at the time of crisis was abysmal and really poor at times of emergency. Drought, farmer suicides, communal disharmony, protests etc, were mishandled and poorly managed.

The recent Tipu Sultan controversy is a prime example. When asked about this, the new Karnataka Home minister G. Parameshwara said that by celebrating Tipu jayanti, they were merely following a precedent set by the previous BJP government in naming of holidays for Valmiki and Kanakadasa. The problem here is that neither Valmiki nor Kanakadasa were blamed of mass-murder and ethnic cleansing of people, Tipu Sultan is. And all it did was flaring up of the regions already communally sensitive.

People from Coorg and the coasts were up in arms. This, after they were already angry with the government for the controversial Yettinahole river project. To be fair, all Congress MLA’s and leaders from Dakshina Kannada district, which will be the main district affected by this project, have vehemently opposed the same. In a nutshell, the Yettinahole project involves the diversion of one of the main feeder streams of the River Nethravathi (The only source of water to Dakshina Kannada) to provide for water to drought hit districts around Bengaluru.

This has created a rift around the Karnataka Pradesh Congress with the state top-brass angry at the district leadership for openly sharing stages with the BJP leaders on this issue. All ministers from the district are being sidelined and sub-groups have formed within the government. The Congress won 7 out of 8 seats in Dakshina Kannada, traditionally a BJP stronghold, last time around but it will be a miracle if it can even get 3 out of 8 the next time.

But, election analysis is for another day. There are more pressing matters which need urgent attention, like pollution. Sometime in 2013, a former additional chief secretary of Karnataka, V. Balasubramanium, in a study conducted on the state capital’s water woes said that the state government will need to evacuate at-least half of the present population of Bengaluru in the next ten years due to water scarcity, contamination and diseases. The reason is that ground water in half of Bengaluru is mixed with sewage.

One look at the Bellandur Lake should wake the government up but it seemingly does not care. The entire lake is filled with toxic froth which actually arises because of the mixing up of sewage and water. It seems the only way to stop this mess is if they actually fill up the particular lake. Bengaluru was called the land of the thousand lakes. Today there are only around 200 of them left. All the others have been filled up and sold to builders and developers.

All in all, nothing seems to be going right for this Karnataka government. Parallel verticals of power are trying to run the show but all of them are controlled by 10 Janpath. It is said, in a five year term, the first two years aka, ‘The Holiday Period’ should be used to setup a clear and a strong base on which it will run for three more years. The next two years should be the main events where all the runners of the show perform and set right their credentials. The fifth year is the election year meaning no work takes place.

This Congress government has not built a strong base in the first two years and is presently doing nothing to build up its credentials. If this carries on, the only show the Congress will be in will be the show of watching the BJP from the opposition box in the near future, in the same manner in which UPA found itself in the centre.