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As Dharam Singh fights to keep his chair, Deve Gowda calls shots in Karnataka

Deve Gowda vs Narayana Murthy. Deve Gowda vs S M Krishna. Dharam Singh vs S M Krishna. The Dharam Singh-Deve Gowda (Congress-JD-S) governmen...

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore |
October 21, 2005

Deve Gowda vs Narayana Murthy. Deve Gowda vs S M Krishna. Dharam Singh vs S M Krishna. The Dharam Singh-Deve Gowda (Congress-JD-S) government vs the IT industry. Karnataka’s main power wielders are currently engaged in a virtual slugfest.

Former PM and JD-S chief Deve Gowda is battling for the rural voter’s mindspace; Infosys chairman Narayana Murthy is fighting for better governance and infrastructure; ex-CM and Maharashtra Governor S M Krishna is fighting corruption allegations and for his own political future; CM Dharam Singh is fighting to keep his seat.

Like all political dramas in the state—since the coalition government came to power in March 2004—Deve Gowda, seen as the de facto CM and Opposition leader, is in the thick of the action.

Cleverly using his position inside and outside the government to further the interests of his party, he has intermittently charged the previous S M Krishna-led Congress government of corruption and is often accused of meddling with the coalition to win brownie points for the JDS.

Over the past four months, however, Gowda was silent—busy in setting his own party in order following dissent. In private, he traced the dissent to the Krishna faction of the Karnataka Congress and accused them of trying to topple the coalition.

Last week, local polls announced for December, Gowda was back. Quoting a 2004 World Bank report on the investment climate in India, Gowda pointed out that Karnataka ranked highest in terms of corruption as impediment to investment. The JD-S leader said the report pertained to the period when the Krishna-led Congress government was in power and that it indicted the previous government. Dharam Singh said an inquiry would be ordered.

S M Krishna, who was in Bangalore at the time, stated that he could have ordered a CBI inquiry against Deve Gowda for alleged irregularities in the Upper Krishna irrigation Project during the 1994-99 Janata Dal rule. Because Dharam Singh was the PWD Minister between 1999-2004, the probe on the WB report could begin with him since a over Rs 2,000 crore funds were received by Singh’s ministry, Krishna said.

Gowda’s son Kumaraswamy said Krishna had failed as CM by not ordering a probe against his father. Singh retaliated by ordering an inquiry by the state chief secretary into the cost escalation for the PWD’s construction of a government building Vikasa Soudha—seen as Krishna’s baby. He also said he was ready to face any inquiry on misuse of World Bank funds.

Gowda then turned on the IT industry and Infosys chief Narayana Murthy. Smarting from the IT sector’s criticism of the coalition’s neglect of infrastructure, including threats of boycott of the October 26 IT showcase event, Bangalore, Gowda charged Narayana Murthy’s Infosys and other unnamed companies of grabbing agricultural land and doing little for the state.

A hurt Murthy today quit, setting in motion another round in this battle.

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