Two recent incidents in Karnataka in a span of a few days appear to have diminished the impact of the BJP-led government’s big-ticket announcement of increasing reservation for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities and shifted the focus back on corruption allegations against the Basavaraj Bommai-led administration.
With Assembly elections about six months away, corruption is likely to figure prominently in the political discourse of the state in the run-up to the polls, pushing the BJP on the defensive. The Opposition is expected to raise alleged corruption in the state administration during the winter session of the Assembly that is expected to be held in Belgavi either in November or early December.
A week ago, boxes of sweets were allegedly dispatched from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) for journalists who cover the political beat. While this is a routine practice during Deepavali, this time the sweet boxes were allegedly colour-coded.
Yellow boxes only had an assortment of sweets while red boxes allegedly had a wad of currency notes along with sweets. The recipients of red boxes were allegedly called up by CMO representatives and personally handed the boxes. According to a complaint filed with the state Lokayukta, the reporter of a Karnataka-based newspaper took this up with the paper’s editor and brought the alleged bribery attempt to light.
Another set of boxes was allegedly dispatched from Medical Education minister K Sudhakar’s office. It contained sweets, a bottle of scotch, a watch, and gold or silver coins depending on the recipient’s designation.
Then, on October 27, Small Scale Industries and Municipal Administration Minister MTB Nagaraj kicked up a storm. While heading to the home of Bengaluru police inspector KH Nandish, who died of a heart attack during his suspension, Nagaraj, flanked by policemen, was heard saying, “They collect money left, right and centre and get involved in all kinds of things. This is their tension. They pay Rs 70-80 lakh for posting; this is their tension. They are doing these kinds of things.”
The Congress has demanded a judicial probe into the allegations of attempts to bribe reporters. The party’s general secretary in charge of Karnataka, Randeep Singh Surjewala, has called for a probe into “bribegate”.
The CM on Sunday told reporters that the allegations were “attempts by Congress to manufacture lies” and the “product of the Congress tool kit”. He maintained he did not direct anyone to give such gifts and added, “Someone has filed a complaint with the Lokayukta and it will be investigated. This does not mean that all reporters have received such gifts.”
Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy has questioned Nagaraj’s “cash for posting” comments, saying, “The CM must clarify whether the minister (Nagaraj) is telling the truth or not. If it’s the truth then the entire matter must be referred for a probe.”
The Bommai government has been on the defensive on corruption allegations for the over a year. Last year, the Karnataka State Contractors Association wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) alleging that contractors are made to pay a bribe of around 25-30 per cent of the tender amount to elected representatives and others before starting work.
This April, a contractor involved in government projects who had accused then rural development minister KS Eshwarappa of harassing him for “commissions” was found dead in a hotel in Udupi. The ensuing uproar resulted in Eshwarappa’s resignation from the government. The following month, BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal claimed that people from Delhi had offered him the Chief Minister’s post for Rs 2,500 crore. In August, the Registered Unaided Private Schools Management Association (RUPSA) in the state wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging “rampant” corruption in the school education and literacy department of the state. The school body demanded the removal of Education Minister BC Nagesh.