Updated: April 25, 2022 8:56:55 am
When Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal attended a political rally for farmers in Bengaluru on April 21, one of the issues he spoke about was corruption in Karnataka during the tenures of BJP and Congress-led governments.
“The government before this (Congress) was a 20 per cent (commission) government, the current government (BJP) is a 40 per cent government. In Delhi, we have a zero per cent government,” Kejriwal told the audience.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener touched on what is a growing concern in the state BJP. The ruling party is worried about the repercussions of the corruption allegations — several have surfaced in recent weeks — in next year’s Assembly elections.
“There is a concern in the party that corruption may be a big factor in the Karnataka polls. There is no clarity on how to deal with it — whether serious measures to show a willingness to tackle corruption are needed or whether the status quo will continue,” said a senior BJP leader on the condition of anonymity.
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The leader added that a Gujarat-style makeover of the government — last September, 14 months ahead of the state elections, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his entire Cabinet were replaced by a team led by first-time MLA Bhupender Patel — had not been completely ruled out in Karnataka. A major organisational overhaul is also rumoured to be on the cards.
One of the major corruption allegations against the Basavaraj Bommai-led state government has come from the Karnataka Civil Contractors Association that has accused government officials of demanding a 40 per cent commission for clearing contracts for state-funded projects. While the association did not substantiate its allegation with evidence, civil contractor Santosh Patil, who was found dead in a lodge in Udupi on April 12, left a note making a similar allegation against government officials. Patil alleged that officials demand 40 per cent commissions and blamed senior BJP leader KS Eshwarappa for causing his death by asking for a commission to clear a Rs 4-crore bill. Facing heat over the allegation, Eshwarappa resigned as the minister for rural development and panchayati raj on April 15.
On April 18, Dingaleshwara Swami of the Balehosur Mutt, a religious centre of the dominant Lingayat community, alleged that the Mutt had been asked to pay a 30 per cent commission to officials to access government funds allotted for building a guest house. Dingaleshwara Swami, who is considered to be close to former Chief Minister and Lingayat strongman BS Yediyurappa, received pushback from a few Lingayat ministers in the Bommai government who accused him of levelling the allegations at the behest of the Congress.
This past week, the government also faced allegations of irregularities in the recruitment of 545 police sub-inspectors through an examination conducted in October 2021. A former BJP functionary has been identified as one of the key persons involved in the alleged scam.
According to data the state government recently provided to the Assembly, the state administration has not provided sanctions to prosecute government officials in 72 per cent of the 310 corruption cases registered and investigated by the state Anti-Corruption Bureau in the last five years.
For the BJP state unit, corruption allegations are nothing new. Such accusations have dogged former CM Yediyurappa and his family for years. In 2019, the party formed the government after 17 MLAs from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) switched sides, toppling the Congress-JD(S) government. Yediyurappa and his associates, with the quiet support of the party, were believed to have orchestrated the defections.
“The issue of corruption is deep-rooted in the party in Karnataka and its support organisations, and those who understand the situation have chosen to remain silent due to various compulsions. The communal narrative will not yield results if the corruption issue is not addressed,” said a BJP functionary. Government officials with close ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) echoed the view.
BSY back in the picture
At present, the Karnataka BJP seems inclined to tread the traditional path of relying on the support of the Lingayat community, which is the single-largest caste group in the state (at 17 per cent of the population), along with the amplification of its agenda of religious identity politics.
To keep its Lingayat support intact, the saffron party is trying to keep Yediyurappa happy while also not heeding the former CM’s wish to see his younger son BY Vijayendra in a significant party or government position.
During his visit to the state on April 17 for a state executive meeting of the party, BJP national president JP Nadda said Karnataka was being led into a golden age of development by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bommai, and Yediyurappa. A few days later, Bommai announced that a new airport in Yediyurappa’s home district Shivamogga would be named after the 79-year-old former CM.
Yediyurappa has also been part of a BJP team touring the state to prepare the party for the Assembly elections. “Yediyurappa is not as serious a concern as the corruption issue. The future of his family is at stake and he will not go against the BJP like in the past,” said a BJP insider.
Going after Congress
The BJP has yet to win a clear majority on its own in Karnataka despite coming close in 2008, when it fell three seats short of the majority mark of 113 in the 224-member House, and in 2018, when its tally was 104. In both instances, the party gained power by getting Opposition MLAs to defect.
This time, the BJP has set a target of winning 150 seats. Over the past month, there has been an increase in the communal rhetoric in the state — hijab ban, restrictions on Muslim traders at temple fairs, and calls to boycott halal meat and products — while the BJP itself has focussed on targeting the Congress party for “minority appeasement”.
“There are two contributions of the Congress to this country. One, is it has encouraged terrorism. Who created Bhindranwale? Who allowed Dawood Ibrahim to flee to Dubai? With the same mindset they are trying to encourage riots and are creating anarchy,” state BJP president Nalin Kateel said this past week.
Kateel also accused the Congress of being the most corrupt party in India. “Congress is the Gangotri of corruption,” he added.
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