The murderous attack on Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Vishwanatha Shetty by a disgruntled complainant is symbolic of what the state government has done to the institution set up to fight corruption. Justice Shetty, a former judge of the Karnataka High Court who became Lokayukta last year, survived the attack, but the institution he heads has been condemned to a slow death by the government over the last few years.
While attempts to politicise the incident cannot be entertained, there’s no ambiguity in the demand that the government must answer for its failure to ensure the safety of the Lokayukta, who enjoys the status of a High Court judge. That an assailant is allowed to walk into a government building located next to Vidhana Soudha in a high-security zone carrying a knife, enter the Lokayukta’s chamber and stab him repeatedly is telling of the security, and the importance, the government has accorded to the institution.
After the attack, it emerged that the door-frame metal detector at the Lokayukta office has not been working for long and the government had consistently ignored demands to fix it. Preliminary investigation revealed that visitors to the office were not being frisked, which should have been done in the absence of a working metal detector. The attack exposed the lack of security there. Not surprising, considering that the Siddaramaiah government has been trying to weaken the institution since taking over.
After its initial move to take away Lokayukta’s grievance redressal powers failed due to public uproar, the government created a separate Anti-Corruption Bureau in 2016, depriving the Lokayukta of its police wing that once made it a strong corruption-busting body. Justice Shetty presided over a weakened Lokayukta—eroded by the corruption within and political machinations outside—but did all he could to restore its image and people’s faith in it. The government must own up to its lapses, and make sure the institution gets the prominence it deserves.