BENGALURU: Whether herding their own legislators from the State for ‘safekeeping’ or playing hosts to legislators from other States, parties in Karnataka have become experts when it comes to resort politics. So much so that Karnataka is taunted as the tourism hub of political mergers and acquisitions.
This has now trickled down to the grassroots level. It is now aspirants of Gram Panchayat president and vice president posts who are whisking away newly elected members of gram panchayats on junkets. In some instances, even family members of the elected representatives are being taken on pilgrimages, temple runs, or a mini-vacation. The absence of code of conduct that prohibits such junkets post-election is giving aspirants a free run.
Leaders of both Congress and the BJP in Kalaburagi district agree that the president and vice president aspirants in more than 80 % of the GPs have taken off with elected panchayat members to different places --- as a means of ensuring their vote during the election to these two top posts. For example, some 10 members of Hasargundagi GP of Chincholi taluk were taken on a tour on the day of the panchayat poll results and they were brought back only on February 5 -- the date of elections for the posts of president and vice-president.
“Members supported by Congress of Chittapur taluk have gone on tour just to protect themselves from the pressure being brought by BJP to vote for the saffron party- supported candidates,” alleged Syed Maheboobsab, Block Congress President of Chittapur taluk.
Many GP members in Gadag and Dharwad too are chilling in resorts outside the State like Goa and Maharashtra. While they anticipated that elections for the top two posts would be held earlier, the delay in reservation list threw their plans a little off. “I have come here to enjoy after my win. Now the reservation list is in my favour and I want to become president, but some people are hijacking my team. So we have come here, we are staying in a hotel in Goa,” said a GP member from Chabbi village in Gadag.
The phenomenon is common to candidates backed by all parties. “In a GP president election, every vote is crucial. During the DCC bank polls, I was forced to take away members backing me because BJP joined hands with MES and had already herded off his supporters and even poached a few of my supporters. I cannot be playing football while the opposition is playing cricket,” said Anjali Nimbalkar, Khanapur MLA, who took 28 members of cooperative societies during DCC bank polls last year to a resort in Maharashtra.
While many are on tours under the guise of temple runs or visiting relatives, others are being subjected to “God promise” -- a local method of swearing allegiance to a candidate with God as a witness. A video of JDS MLA from Arsikere K L Shivalinge Gowda asking newly elected GP members from his constituency to swear their support to him as God as a witness at the Guru Jenukal Siddeshwara Swamy hill temple went viral earlier in January. In some cases, like in Koppal, it’s the children of elected members being sworn on instead of God before packing their bags to Dakshina Kannada and Udupi.
“The trend of taking elected members on junkets is not correct. It must be stopped. Elected members should not be whisked away from their constituencies. We do not endorse it,” said N Ravi Kumar, general secretary of the BJP, when asked about candidates backed by his party too herding members away.