An insightful look at Karnataka

Ever since Karnataka entered the era of coalition, there has never been a dull moment in politics. Power plays enacted by small men with vaulting ambitions often bordered on the burlesque and the melodrama. Greed drives them and hypocrisy is their watch-word. Characters must have changed, but the plot remains unchanged.

In the aptly titled Natak Karnatak, senior journalist Ramakrishna Upadhya vividly captures the spirit of the times. After reporting and commenting on Karnataka for over three decades and watching politicians and events at close quarters, his words have the ring of a dispassionate observer. It is a collection from his weekly columns during the past eight years, beginning with the twilight phase of the Krishna government and ending with the eventful tenure of Yeddyurappa.

If the politics of the period was in a state of turmoil, socio-cultural life too was undergoing fast changes due to the fast-paced growth of Bangalore which has become India’s IT capital. While some of the articles critically examine the infirmities of the opportunistic alliance government of JD(S)-Congress due to prolonged haggling over ministry-making, some others highlight the BJP-JD(S) government’s failure to work as a cohesive team. Dharam Singh’s plight and how he never had an inkling of the impending coup by Kumaraswamy are all well presented.

Corruption and every ministry’s reluctance to empower the Lokayukta receive due attention. Upadhya cites Krishna’s vow to wage dharma yudha against corruption and how he turned a blind eye to Lokayukta’s plea for permission to prosecute the corrupt.

Krishna’s alleged links with Telgi and police officer Sangram Singh’s bombshell on payment of ransom to free Rajkumar are narrated lucidly. He also recalls how Yeddyurappa, as the opposition leader, used to rail against graft. It is amusing to read about Deve Gowda’s machinations and behind-the-scene actions to prop up his son’s ministry. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya unabashedly defends donations to political parties and vows to redefine politics!

Though politics occupies the pride of place in this collection, Upadhya devotes a lot of his attention to other vital issues concerning Karnataka. Infrastructure, education, public transport, literature, environmental issues and Kannada films get adequate attention. On the Cauvery dispute, he buttresses the state’s case with telling statistics. He also doesn’t spare the hooligans who made Rajkumar’s funeral an unsavoury one. The pieces on media are perceptive and thought-provoking. Print medium: a giant and pygmy, succinctly analyses the changing face of the print media due to the pressures of commercialisation.

Upadhya’s interaction with achievers in diverse fields has produced enriching pieces. Sketches on Dr Devi Shetty, H Narasimhaiah, K V Subbanna, Shivakumara Swamiji, G S Shivarudrappa and Dr Sampath Kumar bring out the author’s wide range of interests. The articles on national issues too are captivating. He has also penned a few articles on his other passion, cricket.

The volume is a slice of contemporary Karnataka history. Steady deterioration of polity and the cynical public perception of politicians are laid bare before us. The comments from someone deeply interested in upholding the values of democracy and probity in public life can’t be missed out. After moving closely with the high and the mighty for years, Upadhya minces no words while critically examining their actions. It is a balanced view of events and personalities from an author with the right credentials. The volume will be a valuable handbook for journalism students as such books focusing on Karnataka are rare.

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