The yatri's unease

Advanis Chetana yatra

When BJP ‘Bhishma’ Lal Krishna Advani’s Jan Chetana Yatra, purported to highlight the unbridled corruption in the UPA government, passed through Karnataka, a local cartoonist made a telling point: While Advani took out a yatra over a decade ago demanding liberation of Ram Janam Bhoomi, the current yatra appeared to be for ‘liberation’ of some of his colleagues lodged in the Krishna Janma Bhoomi, aka Parappana Agrahara central jail.

Advani, of course, made the right noises about how his party had acted quickly on the Lokayukta report on illegal mining and obtained the resignation of B S Yeddyurappa as chief minister. He also said that in respect to other ministers, R Ashoka and Murugesh Nirani facing land grabbing charges, “the views of the Lokayukta will be respected.”
Being a seasoned yatri, Advani was aware of the embarrassment his campaign would face in Karnataka and initially wanted to cancel the Bangalore leg of the yatra. But, apparently he changed his mind and addressed a public rally in the capital, hoping to take the issue head on. It only served to expose the deep fissures within the state BJP and vulnerabilities of chief minister D V Sadananda Gowda, who is valiantly trying to fight the continued hold of his predecessor over the government and the party.

Yeddyurappa has kept up his promise of doing politics even from jail and made sure that Advani, who was principally responsible for his ouster, was delivered a snub by ‘directing’ his loyalists in the Gowda government to stay away from the rally. About a dozen loyalist-ministers also boycotted the dinner hosted by the chief minister for Advani.

After relinquishing his posts as party president and later, as the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Advani is no more the Numero Uno in the BJP. The withdrawal of A B Vajpayee from active politics, due to ill-health, has also weakened him. Advani’s unilateral decision to undertake the yatra and reluctance to give up his prime ministerial ambition has also not endeared him to his senior colleagues. Hence, the satraps like Yeddyurappa and his followers know that their boycott of Advani would not be dealt with seriously and perhaps even have a nodding approval of the central leadership.

But the episode has certainly weakened the position of Sadananda Gowda, who is trying to provide a better administration than his predecessor did. Gowda demonstrated his sense of propriety and commitment to restore the dignity of Rajyotsava awards by strictly limiting the number of awardees this time to 50, but his singular weakness is that he has been unable to free himself from Yeddyurappa’s demands and influence.

Deliberate weakening

How else can one explain the deliberate weakening of the institution of Lokayukta and the chief minister’s pathetic attempt to appointed as Lokayukta some one who has the approval of Yeddyurappa, but who is handicapped by the same disqualification which forced the previous Lokayukta to quit his office?

I’m referring to Justice (retd) S R Bannurmath, former chief justice of Kerala high court, whose name has been recommended by the government for appointment as Lokayukta. Governor H R Bhardwaj has expressed his reservations in accepting Bannurmath’s nomination, as the former judge is reported to have a house in the controversial judicial layout built on a civic amenity site and the matter is before the court.

The chief minister’s contention that Bannurmath should be accepted as the government was finding it “difficult to find judges with a clean record” is untenable. Any retired Supreme Court judge or a former chief justice of a high court, not necessarily from Karnataka, is eligible to be Lokayukta and surely the government can identify an upright retired judge from any part of the country to take up the post. Bhardwaj has also revealed that he has given a list of eminent retired judges to the government from which it can choose. When Lokayukta is dealing with so many sensitive cases of corruption in high places, how can someone under a cloud be asked to preside over it?

The lack of morality and inconsistency in dealing with allegations of corruption and misuse of office against the BJP ministers is also evident from the fact that Sadananda Gowda has allowed home minister R Ashoka and industries minister Murugesh Nirani to continue in office even after the Special Lokayukta Court ordered filing of FIRs against them for their alleged involvement in land grabbing cases. There are clearly double standards here, considering that not long ago, Katta Subramanya Naidu had been asked to quit as minister the moment an FIR was filed against him in the KIADB land scam.

The government has done more harm to its image by inexplicably pushing through the appointment of tainted persons for the posts of registrar of Bangalore University and the director of Escoms. The appointment of V Venkatashiva Reddy to the high-profile post of director of all the five Escoms and also the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd, despite he facing a disproportionate assets case, has raised several eyebrows.

Reddy, against whom the Lokayukta had registered a case after raiding his premises in December 2007 and finding assets worth Rs12.2 crore, had been kept under suspension only to be reinstated later. When the Lokyaukta case is still pending against him, he has now been ‘honoured’ with an important post.

So, when corruption is rampant, isn’t it time for Advani to launch a separate yatra against the government run by his party?

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