Scam, Lok Sabha poll results put Congress on backfoot in Karnataka

After all, it is not always Congress versus BJP or the ruling party versus opposition. Taking people into confidence is more important.
A file photo of a Congress supporter waving the party flag during a rally.
A file photo of a Congress supporter waving the party flag during a rally. (Photo | PTI)

There are hardly any signs of celebration in Congress over its Karnataka government recently completing one year in office. On the contrary, it is suddenly facing a flurry of uncomfortable situations.

The image of the government and the party, which came to power on the anti-corruption plank, has taken a severe beating after the resignation of Scheduled Tribes Welfare Department Minister B Nagendra over corruption charges. The alleged irregularities in the Karnataka Maharshi Valmiki Scheduled Tribes Development Corporation Limited, a government undertaking, exposed the brazenness with which crores of public money meant for the welfare of Scheduled Tribes was diverted to private accounts.

The multi-crore scam was exposed after an official working with the corporation ended his life by suicide on May 26. A death note left behind uncovered the irregularities. It led to the suspension and arrest of top officials at the corporation, the formation of a Special Investigation Team, and eventually the resignation of the minister.

The prospect of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) taking up the probe based on a complaint filed by the bank, from which money was transferred, seems to have compelled the state government to initiate damage control measures. However, the developments have emboldened the BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition to continue the anti-corruption campaign against the Siddaramaiah government. After the minister’s resignation, the opposition is targeting the CM and demanding a probe into the role of other ministers.

Politics apart, the manner in which the ST Corporation’s funds were diverted could shake public confidence in the system. The state government needs to take concrete and visible measures to restore it. The alleged irregularities in the Corporation raise several questions about the functioning of other such establishments. How different is the system in other corporations? Are they also vulnerable to such irregularities?

It may not be correct to view all of them with the same lens. However, it will be prudent for the government to make all financial transactions of such organizations public by putting them on their websites. That can help bring transparency and restore public faith in the system.

After all, it is not always Congress versus BJP or the ruling party versus opposition. Taking people into confidence is more important.

On the political front, the ruling Congress suffered another setback earlier this week. It fell short of the party’s expectation of reaching a double-digit number in the Lok Sabha polls, despite the government channeling all its focus and a big chunk of resources on implementing its guarantee schemes.

The guarantee schemes were one of the main poll planks and Congress central leaders spoke about replicating the ‘Karnataka Model’ in other states, but it’s not clear if the guarantees impressed voters in a national election.

Although the party may take comfort that its numbers increased from just one in the 2019 elections to nine now, it failed to do well in Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy CM DK Shivakumar’s Old Mysuru region. Five out of nine seats came from the Kalyan Karnataka region — AICC president Mallikarjuna Kharge’s home turf — and only two from the Old Mysuru region.

Even in the just concluded Legislative Council Elections from the Teachers and Graduates constituencies, Congress failed to do well in the Mysuru region, although it did well in the state capital. The council elections helped Congress improve its tally in the 75-member Upper House. But it needs to wait a few more months to get a simple majority in the Council, where the BJP-JDS coalition outnumbers the ruling party.

On its part in LS polls, the BJP too suffered a setback in the Lingayat heartland in north Karnataka. The party secured 17 seats, while its alliance partner JDS won 2, taking the NDA numbers in the state to 19.

In 2019, the BJP had won all 14 seats in North Karnataka. But this time around, it lost seven out of 14 seats. That raises concerns within the party over a section of the Lingayat community drifting towards Congress, despite the BJP’s emphasis on the Lingayat leadership.

However, many leaders in the party believe that local issues played a major factor while the Lingayat community continued to back the party. According to them, the party could have won three more seats — Bidar, Raichur, and Koppal — if the top leaders considered local leaders’ suggestions in the candidates’ selection.

BJP and Congress will eventually do a postmortem of the results to take corrective measures. The JDS, which till recently appeared to be facing an existential crisis is showing all signs of bouncing back. With its leader HD Kumaraswamy likely to make it to the Union Cabinet in Modi 3.0, the regional party will have some reasons to celebrate.

Ramu Patil

Assistant Resident Editor

ramu@newindianexpress.com

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