Political blunderlandshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/political-blunderlands/

Political blunderlands

Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka,once model states,send out sobering signals of ‘New India’

These are trying times for those who have to remember the names of chief ministers for general knowledge exams. Karnataka has a new chief minister yet again and in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh,it is not known when the new one may be replaced. Anxious to extend what may be a fleeting moment of glory,new chief ministers in both these states have never waited more than a few hours to issue full-page advertisements about themselves.

They certainly don’t wish to attract any kind of negative attention with these verbose full-pagers. But if we were to scrutinise the goings-on in AP and Karnataka with the same attention that we usually reserve for the big states of the Hindi belt — considered to embody the pulse of Indian politics — there is no telling how many of us would be able to sleep that night.

Karnataka and AP impinge on the national consciousness in an episodic manner. There is no real sense that they could determine India’s course in as significant a way as,say,Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Much is made of how the Centre is squandering policy opportunities of various kinds. But look around to see how a frightening scenario is actually unfolding in these two states — all the more damning because they were celebrated not so long ago for their dynamism and for what they foretold for India.

Karnataka and AP are model states that have seen their share of sunshine — with the IT boom,expansion in literacy,proliferating government schemes,innovations in governance. In the last two decades,they had it all. But these states have witnessed something else that is unprecedented — a complete failure of politics and governance in the past three years,with no effort from either of the big parties (the Congress and the BJP) to get a grip on the situation.

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The sense of drift in India’s showpiece states is all the more worrying because it has done more than just provide a revolving door for chief ministers. Big business likes to shake its head and blame its woes on the netas. But the reason why these chief ministers are periodically going out or being sent off lies beyond just politics in these industrialised states. Could it be that a new model of crony politics has been elevated to an art in both states,so much so that it is no longer inconceivable that those requiring permits are themselves in the business of handing them out?

There used to be a joke when the mining scam in Karnataka broke that a tunnel in Obulapuram may find its other end in Bellary,with deep pockets leading to deeper connections and eventually leading to popular disenchantment with both big business and big politics,their ability to subvert rules effectively shutting out the electorate that votes them in. And now,with the AP anti-corruption bureau arresting relatives of former Karnataka minister and mining baron Gali Janardhan Reddy under the charge of attempting to manipulate the legal system to secure bail,it is scary that the tunnel talk was not just a bad joke.

Karnataka has seen its third chief minister in Jagadish Shettar in less than a year,and there is no guarantee that even he will be able to last the full term. In AP,each chief minister after Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death has been appointed just to somehow prevent an implosion.

Even more worrying is how the two leading national parties,the BJP and the Congress,with one state each as blunderland,are happy to drift along. They inspire no confidence about even their ability to hold their flock together,much less winning the trust of those they claim to govern.

The state-wise human development report,in its latest version of 2007-08,has Karnataka scoring much higher than the all-India level across all indicators,be it health,income or education. AP too scores well above the all-India number,at least in the overall human development index. But the expected strides in governance,be it in terms of freeing individual enterprise while keeping a watchful eye on equity and sustainable growth,have not happened. Political survival in both states has taken precedence over governance initiative. As the case against Jaganmohan Reddy unfolds,it reveals how favoured businessmen,miners and real estate developers colluded with the previous government,also a Congress one,to make self-serving decisions in the name of the aam aadmi.

In Karnataka,where illegal miners were in the government themselves,the signs are worse. A former chief minister removed from the post ostensibly for lack of “accountability”,continues to call the shots and hold the state government hostage to his whims.

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In the last decade or so,India has seen its states celebrated as theatres of action and engagement with governance. However,the combination of an uncertain policy environment,changing chief ministers and the nexus between those in power and those who preside over illegal businesses fails to inspire confidence.

This outing,of how the state has been subverted by politics acting in tandem with crony business interests,is part of a healthy process. Irregularities that were hushed up so far have finally been allowed to come to the surface. Both Bangalore and Hyderabad were once beacons of new India,exemplars of the “new way”. Today,this means that all those who are powerful,in government and in politics,are happy to collude with one another until someone cries foul. If this is what the new India will look like,the future is indeed grim.

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