Slide towards populism

Reflecting on Karnataka CMs

Today is Rajyotsava. Celebrations will be in the form of cultural events and music shows. It’s also time to do some critical analysis. Let’s reflect on initiatives taken by key political leaders while in power to come up with progressive legislation to promote inclusive development.

Following the dissolution of the Mysore Representative Assembly and the Council in 1947, K C Reddy became the first chief minister of the state. He was chosen for office as he had led the Mysore Congress twice, in 1937-38 and 1946-47, apart from being a member of the Constituent Assembly. He laid the foundation for the development of the new state. It is not widely known that he conceived the blueprint of Vidhana Soudha and got Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to lay the foundation stone for it. The project was completed by his successor Kengal Hanumanthaiah.

Hanumantaiah had set larger goals for himself. His vision was to set in motion the process for the unification of the state by integrating the Hyderabad-Karnataka and Mumbai-Karnataka regions. He was cautioned by his friends that integration would result in a diminished role for the Vokkaligas in state politics, but he brushed aside such advice, rose above caste considerations and prepared the ground for the state’s reorganisation. However, he had to resign as chief minister due to differences with his colleagues.

Kadidal Manjappa, who succeeded him for a brief period, was deeply committed to the cause of farmers. He got the Inam Abolition Act passed which had fixed the ceiling of 27 acres of land for a family of five members. He also played a key role as revenue minister in B D Jatti’s cabinet to get the Mysore Land Reforms Act passed in 1961.

S Nijalingappa stands out as he brought the about the unification of the state by deftly balancing the pulls and pressures of different regions. The administrative problems of integrating the regions which were following different laws and facilitating the emotional integration of people of different backgrounds fell on Nijalingappa’s shoulders. He is also credited with the vision of starting the Sharavathi hydro-electric project. During his time, the state had surplus power. Veerendra Patil, who succeeded Nijalingappa, was an able administrator. His focus during his two stints in office was on power generation and distribution and strengthening the finances of the state.

Devaraj Urs brought about land reforms by making the tiller the owner of the land. He set up land tribunals to implement his reform measures. He also abolished money lending and ended bonded labour by taking advantage of the Emergency. As a champion of the backward classes, Urs not only reserved positions for the OBCs but also forged an alliance with the Dalits to ensure a greater say for them in state politics.

Ramakrishna Hegde was a visionary leader who showed exemplary commitment to democratic decentralisation. The Hegde-Nazir Saab combine introduced the three-tier Panchayati Raj system by introducing Zilla Panchayats, Taluk Panchayats and Mandal Panchayats at the district, taluka and village level and reserved seats for women in panchayat bodies. Hegde also set up the office of Lokayukta to investigate corruption charges against public servants, including the chief minister.

Deve Gowda was chief minister for only about two years (1994-96). He took keen interest in agriculture and irrigation. He started the Upper Krishna Project. His commitment to social justice for women resulted in 30% government jobs being reserved for women. The fourth stage of the Cauvery water project to increase supply to Bengaluru and the fifth and sixth units of the Raichur Thermal Power Plant were commissioned during his time.

J H Patel, who succeeded Gowda, and Bangarappa, who preceded him, were socialists but led weak governments to pass progressive legislations, though it was Bangarappa who started the ‘Ashraya’ scheme for the construction of houses for the poor, something that has been continued by successive leaders under different names.

During his first stint as chief minister, Kumaraswamy showed commitment to the cause of farmers, waived off loans to the tune of Rs 2,400 crore (this time, he has promised to waive nearly Rs 50,000 crore in loans) and approved medium and large irrigation projects. However, loan waivers are only palliatives.

Governments need to come up with real and sustained measures to alleviate the problems of farmers. Kumaraswamy also initiated the practice of having the winter session of legislature in Belgaum, which has been continued by successive governments. The people of the region, however, see it as mere tokenism without addressing their real developmental needs.

B S Yeddyurappa, as the first BJP chief minister of the state, presented its first-ever ‘agriculture budget’, waived off farmers’ loans, allocated a whopping Rs 17,788 crore for agriculture-related activities like horticulture and animal husbandry, and announced free power supply to farmers.

Sadananda Gowda’s focus as CM was on governance reforms. The landmark initiative taken by his government was the introduction of ‘Sakala‘ scheme for time-bound government services to citizens. But it has since been ignored and taken a backseat of late.

Siddaramaiah came up with many populist programmes. The notable among them were the Anna Bhagya scheme providing subsidised food, largely to the urban poor; Ksheera Bhagya, providing 150 ml of milk to school children; and a host of other Bhagya schemes to provide shelter to poor SC/ST families, etc.

On the whole, the state has seen a gradual slide towards chief ministers less visionary and more populist, and who were guided by political or electoral considerations rather than the interests of the state and its people.

(The writer is Senior Fellow, ICSSR)

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Slide towards populism

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