Karnataka is one of the few states the Congress party is in power for the last three years. Though Janata Dal (S) is regionally strong, the real opponent to the Congress in the state is the BJP. BJP was in power in the State prior to Siddharamaiah’s tenure as Chief Minister and the party is leaving no stone unturned to return to power in the elections of 2018.
Every opportunity is made use of by the party to defame the Congress and the Congress similarly has not spared the BJP. The advantage for the Congress is both the Chief Minister – who hails from a community of Kurubas, a backward class community – and the Party Chief Dr. Parameshwar, a Dalit. Their large constituencies have been the source of their strength. In spite of many challenges, as a result, the Congress has maintained its hold on the state. There were disappointments for the party as well. In the bye elections the party won a single seat while BJP won two.
In the Karnataka Zilla and Taluk Panchayat polls Congress emerged victorious with the maximum number of seats in both the local bodies though it was a neck and neck battle. Out of the 1,083 zila panchayat seats, the Congress won 498, the BJP has 408, the Janata Dal (Secular) 148, CPM 1, JD (U) 1 and Independent candidates 27 seats. In the 3,884 taluk panchayat seats the Congress bagged 1,703 seats, the BJP 1,363, Janata Dal (Secular) 609, Independents 179 and Others 8.
The Congress Party had to face embarrassment with a minister having to quit over an alleged sex CD scandal and another being caught on camera scrolling through sleazy pictures on his mobile at a public function. The Chief Minister was embroiled in a controversy over owning an expensive Hublot watch.
The state witnessed police officials quitting service or committing suicide alleging interference and harassment. One of those incidents led to the resignation of minister K J George who along with two senior IPS officials was named by DySP M K Ganapathy in an interview to a TV channel of harassment before committing suicide. George returned as minister after being given a clean chit in a probe. In every one of the incidents BJP tried to shame the Congress.
Cauvery waters war
The major political event during the year was conflict on the waters of Cauvery River. The state witnessed large-scale violence as successive court and tribunal's decisions on both the issues were not in favour of Karnataka. Two persons were killed after the Court’s directive to release water to Tamil Nadu.
Following the Supreme Court's successive directives to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, two special sessions of the legislature were held in a span of 10 days to decide on the state's course of action following the court's directive. Karnataka legislature through a unanimous resolution decided to use water at reservoirs only for its drinking water needs. The decision was altered after court warned about the "wrath of the law". The manner in which Sri Siddharamaiah handled the issue helped him to corner the BJP for its inability to help in the crisis in spite of the Prime Minister being from the party.
Wedding of Reddy’s daughter
On the demonetization issue there has been greater embarrassment to the BJP. In the midst of demonetization, a wedding of mining baron and former minister of the BJP, B Janardhan Reddy's daughter marked by unmitigated opulence that took place at the sprawling Palace Grounds had raised controversy. When people across the country are reeling under cash crunch after demonetization of high value currencies, there was no scarcity of any kind at the 500 crore wedding. After the opulent wedding, Reddy was at the centre of another fresh row, with the car driver of the state official allegedly committing suicide, leaving a note claiming he got Rs 100 crore converted into white money for the marriage of Reddy’s daughter. Several BJP leaders including the party Chief Yeddyurappa had attended the wedding.
The BJP’s aggressive politics has caused murders. Following the killings of five BJP and Sangh Parivar activists in various parts of the state, BJP has been seeking NIA probe into the incidents though two of those killings were by the members of the saffron family. Alleging Kerala-based Popular Front of India (PFI)'s hand behind some, they had sought its ban. A senior PFI functionary was arrested earlier this month in connection with the murder of Rudresh, an RSS worker in Bengaluru. Rudresh's gruesome murder had created tensions in parts of Bengaluru with Sangh Parivar affiliate organizations staging protest. At public meetings the Congress has won scores over the BJP. The BJP’s allegation that there were Muslims behind the murders to attack the Congress for their alleged appeasement policy has not found supporters. Instead the statement of the Congress that the party considers every death as a human tragedy and does not look at these killings as Hindu or Muslim has received appreciation.
The other issue on which BJP tried its best to undermine the Congress was on the Steel Bridge controversy. The state government was firm in going ahead with the proposed steel flyover worth about Rs 1800 crore to connect the airport and surrounding areas amid opposition from citizen groups, environmentalist and opposition parties, citing various reasons including lack of transparency. Chennai-based southern bench of the National Green Tribunal has stayed the project. The argument of the Congress has been that the plan was of the BJP in power then and the party is merely implementing it has not provided ammunition to the BJP to attack the Congress.
The BJP also tried its best to boost its morale by attacking the Congress for its encroachment clearance drive in several parts of the city hit by inundation due to usurpation of storm water drains. The large-scale demolition houses led to protest by affected citizens. Government armed with the court's approval for the drive also admitted to fault on part of the officials and lodged criminal cases against 20 officials and few developers. However the Chief Minister’s stand that the encroachment is to protect the city from major damages and to protect lakhs has won acceptance.
Yeddyurappa as BJP Party Chief
The biggest blow for the Congress was the appointment of Yeddyurappa as BJP Party Chief of the State. In spite of all the controversies surrounding the man, Sri Yeddyurappa remains central to the BJP politics in the state. There is no way any other leader of the BJP can help the party to inch towards political power in the next state elections. Made Chief Minister of Karnataka in 2008, in August 2011, Mr Yeddyurappa was forced to resign as Chief Minister of Karnataka after the state’s Lokayukta, Santosh Hegde, indicted him for colluding in illegal iron-ore mining in the mineral-rich district of Bellary and sent him to jail. He had to remain there for three weeks till he got a bail. Investigators had accused him of swapping mining licenses for donations that were made to trusts run by him and his family. After completing his jail term, Yeddyurappa was more or less confined to the margins of public life as the State BJP unit found him a liability while fighting State elections in 2013, when the party lost. Though made Party President few months ago he was not too enthusiastic given the “democles sword” hanging over him on account of the case. The special CBI court in Bengaluru had accused Yeddyurappa and his family members (12 of them) of abusing his power by favouring JSW Steel in violating the law and cheating the Karnataka government of rightful revenues while personally benefitting from those decisions as a government official when he was deputy chief minister between February 17, 2006 and February 6, 2007, and later as the chief minister of Karnataka from May 30, 2008 to July 31, 2011. The allegations of corruption in the mining case and the land de-notification case had derailed the political career of Yeddyurappa. The CBI has absolved him of all wrong doings. There are other pending cases against him. The party leaders are confident of facing them “politically.” The legal victory is expected to give him complete authority over the BJP’s organization at a crucial juncture.
Response of the Congress
The last thing that the ruling Congress in Karnataka would have wanted was for former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa’s acquittal . But the opposition is not planning to let Yeddyurappa and the BJP simply let go with the verdict. The Congress has already alleged that it is the central influence that ensured the acquittal of Yeddyurappa. The government is also contemplating of filing a review petition or an appeal. In spite of the courts acquitting him there are not many groups who believe he was innocent. BJP will only know of its chances of making to the state again only after the elections of 2018. There are enough of bickerings within the BJP with sharp divisions that may obstruct their return. In the meantime the CM is strengthening his constituencies through “Ahinda” – a political organization of the backward classes. The CM will also soon release a report of the backward classes would name the communities to be in the list of backwards that may provide him further political mileage
(Dr. Ambrose Pinto SJ is Professor of Political Science and the Principal of St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore.)(Published on 02nd January 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 1)#