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The privatisation of patronage

As the endgame begins for B.S. Yeddyurappa in the Karnataka BJP,a look at the political culture he created and was also nurtured by

Written by Narendar Pani |
October 27, 2012 12:21:50 am

As the endgame begins for B.S. Yeddyurappa in the Karnataka BJP,a look at the political culture he created and was also nurtured by

As B.S. Yeddyurappa moves into the endgame of his battle from within the BJP,the focus will be,among other things,on the damage he can cause his former colleagues in the party. While that will no doubt make for interesting reading,the more serious concern should be the damage his brand of politics has caused Karnataka. And high on this list would be the effects the political change he led has had on Bangalore.

Yeddyurappa’s politics in recent years has been built around two longer-term trends in Karnataka: decentralisation and privatisation of patronage. The state has been a pioneer in decentralisation,with the process gaining momentum in the 1980s,well before the constitutional amendments of 1992. This process created the platform for a number of aspiring,and often ruthlessly ambitious,local politicians.

In the early years of this decentralisation,these politicians grew under the umbrella of state-level leaders belonging to one national party or the other. They provided the grassroots network for state patronage provided by the ruling party. But as the competition among these grassroots politicians grew,it was not possible for any party to absorb all of them. Those who failed to get into the networks of state-level leaders had to find their own resources to provide patronage to their constituents.

With the Reddy brothers in Bellary showing the way,these aspiring local politicians chose to privatise state resources they came into contact with,beginning with government transport and going up to the funds for state schemes. These methods were necessarily illegal,but that was not a deterrent. By the turn of the century,the number of corrupt local leaders was so large that they could not all be accommodated in the Congress and the Janata Dal.

At this time Yeddyurappa was the head of a still-ideological BJP. He had spent a lifetime trying to spread Hindutva with only occasional success. He then decided to merge the ideological BJP with the non-ideological needs of the local,allegedly corrupt politicians. In the process,he seemed willing to go further in wooing ethically ambivalent local leaders than any other politician. This was not only in terms of their financial dealings,but also their larger worldview. When two BJP ministers were caught viewing pornography in the state assembly,Yeddyurappa was not without sympathy for their cause.

The emergence of local politicians willing to generate resources for patronage through fair means or foul had its impact on Bangalore as well. As the city expanded rapidly after 1970,it took over the lands of a large number of villages. In the initial decades,this was a centralised process with the Bangalore Development Authority taking over agricultural land and then selling sites at much higher prices. The spectacular spurt in land prices made the BDA an important point of state patronage.

The phenomenon of state-level politicians making economic and political gains by taking over the land owned by families in villages for generations was bound to generate resistance. And in a more decentralised polity this resistance could not be ignored. By the 1990s,the BDA began to lose much of its authority,to be replaced by farmers converting their land into layouts. This was originally meant to be a well-regulated process,with clearances needed at several stages.

But the landowners who created new layouts found that working within the political environment of 21st-century Bangalore made it quite unnecessary to scrupulously follow norms. Construction norms were ignored when building to meet the growing housing demand. They did not hesitate to build on public land and even on what were meant to be drains.

The tendency to ignore norms proved to be quite contagious. One administrator even estimated that 95 per cent of buildings in Bangalore had broken one norm or the other. And the political solution has been to quite simply reduce this figure by regularising the irregular. Once the bill that has been prepared for this purpose is passed,it will consolidate the widespread belief in Bangalore that fools follow norms while the wise profit from breaking them.

In the midst of this growing acceptance of irregularity,the political class built an even more effective instrument of private resource generation from public projects. More land would be notified for major projects than was necessary. When the project took off,the value of that land would increase manifold. Selected plots within that land would then be de-notified for a price. Since the de-notified land would depend on the ability and willingness of the original landowner to share the spoils,it added to the haphazard pattern of land acquired for infrastructure.

The problem with this polity is not just an ethical one. The irregularities in construction are having their impact on drainage in the city. Bangalore now floods at the first downpour. The larger ambience of irregularity also makes it impossible to get citizens to follow basic civic practices. As Bangaloreans refuse to segregate their waste and local politicians from nearby villages ensure there will be no landfills in their vicinity,garbage has been iling up on the city’s streets,threatening an epidemic.

It may not be fair to place this urban crisis entirely at Yeddyurappa’s door,but he has emerged as the symbol of a political trend that could cripple Bangalore.

The writer is professor,National Institute of Advanced Studies,Bangalore

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