After a long spell of instability and repeated upheavals, Karnataka politics in 2013 entered the phase of stability with a single party getting simple majority to hold the reins of power.
However, cracks appear to have already developed in the new dispensation headed by Siddaramaiah, owing to infighting within the ruling Congress. In the elections to the State Assembly held in May, the Congress returned to power after a gap of nine years, routing the BJP. The JD(S), too, grew in strength, but had to be satisfied with only the principal opposition status.
Though Siddaramaiah was the unanimous choice of the high command for the chief minister’s post, it did not go down well with many State-level leaders, especially those claiming to be ‘original Congress leaders’. The animosity between the ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ has resulted in Siddaramaiah relying on only a couple of ministers whom he has pampered with plum portfolios.
But the chief minister, by and large, has selected legislators with good track record for his Cabinet, though the same cannot be said about a couple of ministers who are members of his inner coterie. Like his predecessors, Siddaramaiah too has not been able to fill all the Cabinet berths. In addition, he has kept for himself all key portfolios. But, he has been able to prevent certain legislators who are branded tainted from becoming ministers.
From Day One in the office, the Congress government has become Siddaramaiah-centric. He was a man in a hurry while launching and taking credit for the Anna Bhagya scheme. He also tried to get maximum scope by announcing complete waiver of loans to minorities and backward classes. Such acts have only left him isolated. Hardly any senior Congress leader has so far come to his support in public or in the legislature, whenever he had to defend the actions of the government. State Congress chief G Parameshwara, who is still sulking over his defeat in Koratagere and for not becoming deputy chief minister, has no sweet words for the chief minister.
Siddaramaiah has not wasted time in pursuing the Ahinda (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and dalits) agenda with an aim to positioning himself as the leader of backward classes and thus consolidate his position. He has tried to spread his wings by getting felicitated as backward classes leader, in the neighbouring states too.
In the budget for this fiscal, he rolled out several schemes and programmes to appease only OBCs and minorities. In this quest, he has antagonised his partymen as he has stopped funds for mutts and other places of worship.
His one-man show only forced his adversaries to approach the high command to appoint a co-ordination committee with Digvjay Singh as the chairperson. However, the ruling party’s thumping victory in the byelections to Bangalore Rural and Mandya Lok Sabha constituencies held in August helped Siddaramaiah silence his critics and detractors.
The bypolls also forced former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy to relinquish the post of JD(S) State president, owning moral responsibility for the defeat. A Krishnappa, who had hopped over to the JD(S) from the Congress, replaced him.
The BJP, which was sulking over its suicidal acts after losing power, is now hoping to see the ‘Modi magic’ in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. KJP leader B S Yeddyurappa’s innumerable visits to temples have not helped him return to his parent party.
If these are the major developments on the political front, the Congress government has shown that it is not devoid of controversies. It has also failed to position itself as being pro-active in bringing positive changes in administration for building a better Karnataka.
Kumaraswamy sarcastically termed it a ‘rollback’ government. It seems to be an apt comment as Siddaramaiah has reversed many of the important decisions he had taken; be it banning superstitious activities through a legislation or implementing the 2006 Act pertaining to the CET for professional courses or expanding the scope of the Bidaai (Shaadi Bhagya) scheme or that of the excursion for schoolchildren belonging to backward classes.
In all these cases, he first stood firm by the decision he took. But, once he came under criticism, he reversed his decisions. Even while handling the rice millers’ protest against enhanced levy rice quota, he caved in to pressure and reduced the target. He is yet to resolve the sugar mill owners’ problem. But he was fortunate that the farmer’s suicide in front of the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in Belgaum over the sugar cane price issue did not lead to a major agitation.
The government has been running into one controversy after another. First it was Minor Irrigation Minister Shivaraj Tangadagi embarrassing the government by demanding the transfer of Koppal Deputy Commissioner Tulsi Maddineni. The minister, it is said, had pressured Siddaramaiah to transfer the deputy commissioner for having ordered the demolition of a bungalow of the minister’s brother built on a piece of encroached land. This showed that the chief minister buckles under pressure from vested interests.
On sacrificing Santosh Lad as minister, he did a flip-flop. First, he denied that Lad had any role in illegal mining, but later he was asked to resign.
One positive development the State witnessed in 2013 was the filling up of the post of the Lokayukta after a gap of one-and-a-half years. The Jagadish Shettar government appointed Justice Y Bhaskar Rao as the anti-corruption ombudsman in February, before the announcement of the Assembly elections.
The year is ending, leaving the Congress on tenterhooks and the BJP gearing up to face the Lok Sabha elections with more confidence than it had during the Assembly elections.