Missing in principles

Karnataka Elections

Never before has Karnataka witnessed an Assembly election with such scant principles, morals and ideology. Like grasshoppers, candidates have hopped from one party to another in search of greener pastures, to realise their dream of being an MLA.

The people of Karnataka will soon elect a new a legislative Assembly. Political parties and candidates are doing everything to woo the electorate by promising them the moon, with some candidates even showering the voters with goodies such as pressure cookers, mixies, sarees, liquor, cash and even bisi bisi non-vegetarian ootta.

Candidates who disappeared from the public radar and have not been seen around in their Assembly constituencies for the last five years, have suddenly become visible, accessible, humble and are trying to hypnotise the voters with their disarming smiles and namaste. Reports have come in of ministers, former ministers, current and former MLAs receiving a hostile reception in some villages and wards due to their indifference, lack of connect with voters and lack of basic amenities.

Never before has Karnataka witnessed an Assembly election with such scant principles, morals and ideology. Like grasshoppers, candidates have hopped from one party to another in search of greener pastures, to realise their dream of being an MLA.

Power at any cost, rather than service to the public, seems to be the guiding principle. If the election results in a hung Assembly, then we can see another round of elected representatives willing to offer themselves for purchase by the highest bidder. Karnataka will then witness Operation Lotus to purchase fence sitters and opportunists. No previous election has witnessed such acrimony with charges and counter charges, use of expletives and choice adjectives against one’s rivals.

BJP’s CM candidate Yeddyurappa called CM Siddaramaiah a “lunatic.” In turn, the chief minister called Yeddyurappa and his former Cabinet colleagues — Katta Subramanya Naidu, Krishnaiah Setty who are contesting the elections on BJP ticket — “ex-jailbirds.” This practice of name calling and abusing rivals was initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in the 2014 general elections. The sad part is that in this vitiated atmosphere, issues concerning the people and development have taken a back seat. Most political parties are shedding crocodile tears for farmers, marginalised people and the youth. Referring to farmer suicides in Karnataka Modi in his election speeches, attacked the Siddaramaiah government for its “neglect” of farmers. Modi conveniently forgot to mention that as far as farmer suicides in India are concerned, the BJP-ruled states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh top the list.

For instance, as per the information conveyed by the Modi government to Parliament based on National Crimes Research Bureau data for 2016, Maharashtra reported the highest number of farmer suicides in the country (3,661), followed by Karnataka (2,079) and then Madhya Pradesh (1,321). Farmers from Tamil Nadu agitated at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi for several weeks, but neither Modi nor any of his senior ministers bothered to meet them or assuage their grievances.In Maharashtra, thousands of farmers walked miles together for several days from their villages to the Maharashtra Assembly in Mumbai with their grievances, but Chief Minister Fadnavis found time to meet them only in Mumbai after they endured this tortuous journey. Hitting back at Modi, Siddaramaiah pointed out that despite several pleas, the Modi government has refused to write off the loans taken by farmers from nationalised banks.

In the recent Rajya Sabha elections in Karnataka, both the BJP and the JDS put up money bags as its candidates rather than farmers or sincere party workers. Modi is now trying to sway the rural electorate by referring to his plans to double farmers’ incomes by 2022 if the BJP returns to power in the 2019 general elections.

But leading agricultural economist Ashok Gulati has pointed to the Modi government’s poor record on the agricultural front compared to the UPA government, and how this goal is not achievable at current agricultural growth rates. He pointed out that the agricultural GDP growth rate during the UPA years (2004-05 to 2013-14) clocked 3.7%, whereas under Modi’s rule, it plunged to 1.9%. Furthermore, real incomes of farmers need to increase at an annual compound growth rates of 10.4% to achieve this target of doubling of farmers’ income by 2022, whereas between 2012-13 to 2016-17 it grew at only 2.5%.

Modi has tried to woo the Karnataka electorate by asking voters to bring Karnataka under the BJP umbrella to ensure development, accelerated development and all-round development. But he conveniently overlooked the fact that Karnataka, like most other southern states, fares well in terms of economic and social indicators compared to some BJP-ruled states in North India and is also the top destination for FDI, setting up of e-commerce and start-ups. Even Modi’s Gujarat, advertised as a model of development, lags behind many states in terms of social indicators. The BJP rode to power in Tripura on the promise of providing jobs to the jobless, but now the Tripura CM has asked the youth of the state to “take up rearing of cows” or open “paan shops” for a living.

The Siddaramaiah government is being branded as corrupt though, no evidence has been provided. As former Lokayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde bemoaned the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate and other BJP candidates, indicted by him in illegal mining scams.

This exposes the hollowness of Modi and Shah’s claim of zero tolerance to corruption. Modi talked of the “ease of doing murders” in Karnataka under the Siddaramaiah regime, but forgot to talk about the “ease of doing rapes and atrocities on Dalits” in BJP-ruled states, in which some BJP MLAs and partymen are involved. In the Kathua child rape case, BJP MLAs allegedly involved were recently appointed as Deputy CM and Speaker in Jammu and Kashmir. Responding to these rape cases, the prime minister appealed to the people not to politicise this case in particular. But in Karnataka, the prime minister and BJP leaders only talk of murder of Hindu activists.

Most opinion polls suggest a hung Assembly. Modi, who has abused his predecessors in the past, has suddenly showered praises and affection for JD(S) supremo, former PM Devegowda. Whether this suggests that the BJP, unsure of a majority on its own, is now trying to woo the JDS to capture power in Karnataka, will be known after the results are announced.

(The author is an economist)

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Missing in principles

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