Karnataka is known throughout India — and the world — for many reasons. The most notable reason is the state’s capital is Bengaluru, the acknowledged Information Technology capital of India. ‘Bangalored’ became a dreaded word in the US for flight of business and capital. The inflow of business and capital made Bengaluru a coveted workplace for young professionals, especially in IT. Karnataka’s rank in per capita state domestic product (in current prices) is an impressive 4 among all states.
A middling state
All these and more should have placed Karnataka among the top five states of the country. Unfortunately, it is not. Look at some Education and Health indicators during 2019-21 (source: The Hindu, dated April 25, 2023):
That is not the end of Karnataka’s woes. After the 15th general election to the Karnataka Assembly in 2018, there have been four short-lived governments whose life-spans were 6 days, 1 year 64 days, 2 years 2 days, and the current one since July 28, 2021 (whose term will end after the next election on May 10, 2023). The villain of this sordid nataka (drama) of instability is, without dispute, the BJP.
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No reasoned debate
The consequences of unstable and short-lived governments were predictable.
In the people’s perception, the current government is the most corrupt government in the state’s history and is deservedly called the ‘40% sarkara (government)’.
That phrase was taken from the Karnataka Contractors’ Association’s official letter accusing the government of demanding and accepting 40% commission or bribe for every decision of the government. Moreover, there is a long list of broken promises of the BJP spanning agriculture, education, healthcare, employment, infrastructure and the economy. Besides, the social and political discourse in the last four years has centered around useless controversies like hijab, halal, love jihad, the anti-conversion Bill and even Tipu Sultan who ruled between 1782 and 1799!
One would have expected that the debate during the ongoing election campaign would revolve around the real issues that concern the people and which are thrown up in every survey or opinion poll — unemployment, inflation, infrastructure and corruption. 2,58,000 government posts are vacant. Since 2020, 1,258 companies have shut down. 13 PSUs are non-functional. There are multiple allegations of scams.
Sadly, the debate has been surreal. When a reference was made to an allegedly corrupt chief minister, it was portrayed as a charge that the entire Lingayat community to which the chief minister belongs was corrupt. The Union Home Minister warned the voters that if the Congress was elected to power “there will be riots in Karnataka”. Leading lights of the BJP (which has not fielded any Muslim candidate in the 224 constituencies) openly declared “we do not want the votes of Muslims”. A statement in the Congress’ manifesto to the effect that decisive action would be taken under law against hate-mongering by organisations like Bajrang Dal and Popular Front of India, including a ban, was distorted to mean that worshippers of Lord Hanuman (Bajrang Balis) would be thrown into jail: the prime minister magically transformed Bajrang Dal (a right-wing organisation) into Bajrang Balis (devotees of Lord Hanuman)!
More shocking was the appeal of the Union Home Minister to the people of Karnataka to “hand over the state to Mr Modi”. Notwithstanding a federal system, will the prime minister rule every state, municipality and panchayat? The BJP’s manifesto promised to push the idea of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Both issues have divided and polarised many states in northern and north-eastern India. The Congress party, in its manifesto, gave “five guarantees” that would cost, additionally, `30,000 to 35,000 crore a year. Not to be outdone, the BJP’s manifesto promised three subsidised gas cylinders a year to coincide with three Hindu festivals; one-half litre of milk daily to every BPL family; and a subsidised canteen scheme serving a meal (pictured) consisting of a bowl of rice, dal, sambar, curd and six cups of vegetables! Meanwhile, the prime minister warned against the ‘freebie’ culture!
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The top two leaders of the ruling party — PM and HM — made no attempt to defend the record of the state government. They were silent on the real issues that concerned the people; the silence was certainly not golden. Their speeches became shriller by the day and the campaign was entirely about the ‘abuses’ suffered by the prime minister; about Lord Shiva; about Lord Hanuman; about Bajrang Balis. The scene looked like a battleground from the pages of history going back to the era of the Mahabharata where an entrenched ruling class was challenged by the former rulers. Will history repeat itself?