The Siddaramaiah government’s efforts to extricate Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe in the disproportionate assets case has kicked up a political storm. It is likely to engulf the winter session of the state legislature and keep the political atmosphere charged ahead of the Lok Sabha polls early next year.
The state government’s contention that the then BJP regime had not taken the Assembly Speaker’s consent before permitting the Central agency to probe the case, will be subjected to legal scrutiny as the issue is already before the courts. But, on the political front, both sides are preparing for a long and sustained fight. It will be one of the key issues around which the political discourse in the state will be centered in the run-up to the LS polls.
The entire cabinet, including the Chief Minister, rallied behind the DyCM who is also the president of the state unit of the Congress party, while the opposition BJP is going all guns blazing as it sniffs a potent issue to put the Siddaramaiah government on the mat over corruption and probity in public life. The Siddaramaiah government will also be accused of setting a bad precedent by attempting to stall the probe with retrospective effect.
The Income Tax Department conducted raids on Shivakumar’s premises in 2017. Based on that, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) started its investigation. Following the ED investigation, the CBI had sought sanction from the state government to register an FIR against Shivakumar under the Prevention of Corruption Act. In 2019, the then BJP government headed by BS Yediyurappa gave consent for the CBI probe, and Shivakumar challenged it in the court. Now, the government has decided to withdraw the sanction accorded to the Central agency.
Given the sensitivity of the issue, the Congress leaders are showing swiftness and aggression in defending the government’s stand. The party came to power on the promise of providing a clean and transparent administration. It cannot take the BJP’s allegations of trying to subvert the system to protect a leader facing serious charges lightly.
In his first stint as the CM, from 2013-18, Siddaramaiah was accused of attempting to weaken the Lokayukta. His government had defanged the anti-corruption ombudsman institution headed by a retired judge by establishing an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) headed by a police officer. Only after the court’s intervention, the ACB had to be disbanded and Lokayukta’s powers were restored. It was one of the issues in the 2018 assembly polls.
In Shivakumar’s case, legal nuances aside, Congress will be more concerned about the BJP’s attempts to build a narrative against the state government on the issue of corruption. If the state Congress leaders fail to handle the issue deftly, it can pose a threat to the party’s larger plans of taking the “Karnataka Model” of governance to other states, and could even undo the gains accrued by implementing the guarantee schemes.
For now, the Congress leaders seem to be adopting a combative strategy to thwart the BJP’s attempts to gain control of the narrative.
On its part, the BJP, under the leadership of newly appointed state president BY Vijayendra and Leader of Opposition R Ashoka, is showing similar aggression. Their efforts will be supplemented by former Chief Minister and JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy who is going ballistic with his attack on the CM and DyCM, almost on a daily basis.
It will be the first big test for Vijayendra and Ashoka to take everyone in the party along in their fight against the Congress, both within the assembly and outside. Their challenge is to make it a national issue to target the Congress’ central leadership and keep up the momentum till the Lok Sabha polls.
The issue could even lead to an uproar in the winter session of the state legislature starting from December 4 in Belagavi. Unfortunately, the session might end up being a platform for expressing growing animosity between the ruling and the opposition parties, instead of debating issues concerning the people of the state.
Long after the May 10 assembly polls, the political atmosphere in the state continues to be fully charged up. It will further intensify once the focus shifts to the Lok Sabha polls after the assembly elections in Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram.