Karnataka Election 2018: A Vote For Change?
The Congress government has failed to live up to many of its key promises in the state. Does this make the BJP the obvious choice?
Here is a comparative assessment of the performance of both the parties in Karnataka.
As Karnataka goes to the polls in a few days from now, it is time to cut through the polarising rhetoric unleashed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and focus on his promises from the 2013 manifesto that remain forgotten and unfulfilled. Whether it is the promise of 24/7 power supply to every farmer, 75 per cent subsidy on solar pumps, a super-specialty hospital in every district, a sports stadium in every taluk, a veterinary hospital in every panchayat, Rs 50,000 crore worth of irrigation projects for the Krishna basin, connecting every farm with pucca roads under “Namma Hola, Namma Raste” project, or refrigerated storage kiosks in every marketplace, the current Congress dispensation has resoundingly failed the Kannadigas in every which way.
There are no prizes for guessing that capital city Bengaluru has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The 15,935 potholes on its 14,500km road network, only 10 per cent of sewage water being treated, 45 per cent of the city's garbage being dumped into the city’s 262 lakes, no rehabilitation of the 97 polluting entities that have converted Bellandur lake into a toxic dump yard that is poisonous enough to crack and rip through car windshields, 44 per cent of drinking water not reaching its water-starved citizens due to supply leakages – these are only some of the endemic problems that have converted erstwhile “garden city” into “garbage city”.
Who else is to be blamed for this pathetic state of affairs, where the time to travel by road from Devanahalli to Electronic City, all of 41km, during peak hours, is more than the flight time from Delhi to Bengaluru, all of 2,154km?
In the Chief Minister’s home district, the situation is dire, with Mysuru recording the highest number of farmer suicides last year. Even as Siddaramaiah tries to whip up the cultured, warm, hospitable, and politically discerning Kannadigas into a frenzy by playing the divisive cards of north versus south, Lingayats versus Veerashaivas, Lingayats versus Vokkaligas, Hindus versus Muslims, Dalits versus Brahmins, Gowdas and Vokkaligas versus Kurubas, Mudaliars versus Gounders, the state has moved from one crisis to another.
Siddaramaiah, who pays lip service to the cause of the backward castes, has no explanation for the fact that his party, the Indian National Congress, blocked the Narendra Modi-led government's move to grant constitutional status to the Other Backward Class Commission. Again, while Siddaramaiah doles out Rs 50,000 per girl under the “Shaadi Bhagya” scheme for Muslim brides, his party, in a classic display of how little they truly care for the social emancipation of Muslim women, blocked the abolition of the triple talaq bill in Rajya Sabha.
Even as large parts of central Karnataka were plagued with recurrent power cuts, his government used its veto power (under Section 108 of the Electricity Act, 2003) and forced Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC), a largely autonomous body, to charge Rs 4.5 per unit and not the negotiated Rs 3.74 per unit from wind power developers. A clear example of Siddaramaiah’s interference and misgovernance, this move jeopardised 599MW of wind power projects that could have lit many poor homes grappling with darkness, including in his home constituency, Varuna.
In a glaring instance of criminal negligence, records show that the total expenditure by the Siddaramaiah government last year barely crossed the halfway mark. Around 23 departments did not spend even 50 per cent of their funds. Against its estimated expenditure of Rs 178,385 crore by 31 March 2018, the government spent only Rs 99,774 crore till the end of December 2017. And of the estimated capital expenditure of Rs 33,640 crore, only Rs 14,585 crore was spent in the last financial year.
Under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Manmohan Singh, Karnataka received funds of Rs 88,583 crore via the Thirteenth Finance Commission, whereas under the Modi government, the state received an allocation of Rs 219,506 crore. Despite the Modi government's allocation of Rs 39,000 crore under the Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency (MUDRA) Yojana, Rs 9,600 crore for Smart Cities, Rs 4,900 crore under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) scheme, Rs 2,100 crore for building new toilets, and Rs 1,600 crore for urban infrastructure, funds are lying idle in the state government’s kitty.
More than 3,781 farmers have committed suicide in the last four and a half years as farm loan waiver amounts never reached them. In many cases, farmers have abandoned their standing crops too, out of sheer frustration at the Congress government's apathy.
The irony is that the drought in many parts of Karnataka is not merely due to the paucity of rains but also due to illegal sand mining. The government has chosen to turn a blind eye to the ill-effects of illegal sand mining that has destroyed river beds and greatly affected replenishment and water retention capacity of the groundwater tables. Seawater has intruded into river beds due to sand quarrying, turning the water saline and hence unfit for irrigation.
It isn’t a law-and-order situation to be proud of when the government is just a mute spectator when two of its senior officers, Deputy Commissioner of Udupi Priyanka Francis and Assistant Commissioner Shilpa Nag, are attacked for taking on the sand mafia at Kandlur in April last year (2017).
The mysterious suicides by senior cops M K Ganapathy and Kallapa Handibag, the suspicious death of Indian Administrative Service officer D K Ravi, and the forced resignation of Deputy Superintendent of Police Anupama Shenoy are only a few examples of how the Congress government singularly failed its upright officers.
In fact, if there is only one reason for which the Kannadigas should unequivocally reject any Congress dispensation, with or without Siddaramaiah, it is the rising crime graph. As per the 2016 National Crime Records Bureau data, there had been 14,131 crimes committed against women, but the conviction rate was a dismal 4.7 per cent. It was even lower, at 3.5 per cent, in Bengaluru, where only 32 of the 921 cases saw conviction.
It is worse for the marginalised sections. While Dalits/Scheduled Castes (SCs) make 18 per cent of the population, the Scheduled Tribes (STs) account for 7 per cent. But the conviction rate for these two sections of society is alarmingly low at 2.8 per cent and zero per cent respectively. Incidentally, with 1,741 crimes in 2016, Karnataka accounted for 30 per cent of all crimes against SCs/STs in India. But not like that makes any difference to the Chief Minister, who thinks he can woo the Dalit voter by distributing laptops under his “Laptop Bhagya” scheme.
What the Kalaburagi District Human Development Report reveals is yet another instance of the sorry state of affairs. The Human Development Index (HDI) scores for Kalaburagi and Chincholi, for instance, can put the state to shame. Chincholi Taluk, with an HDI score of 0.252, Child Development Index of 0.386, Gender Inequality Index of 0.072, and Food Security Index of 0.330, is worse than the poorest Sub-Saharan and African nations.
Wonder if the citizens will forgive the self-confessed agnostic Chief Minister who simply chose to ignore the incident when self-proclaimed rationalist K S Bhagavan publicly burnt the sacred Bhagwad Gita and lampooned Rama, Krishna, and Adi Shankara, hurting the sentiments of scores of Hindus. None can miss the hypocrisy of Siddaramaiah, who slashed funds allotted for the Dasara festivities, and splurged taxpayer money on the infamous Tipu Jayanti celebrations, and then went visiting the Banashankari and Chamundeshwari temples, seemingly to seek blessings.
Contrast all of this with what the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Yeddyurappa government achieved when it was at the helm, and the numbers tell a story of progress. A record 30,735 farm ponds were built across Karnataka, more than 30,000 fishermen were given financial aid, houses were built for more than 11,000 fishermen, and fishing harbours were built at Koderi, Honnavar, and Mangaluru. The state saw 1,750km of highways built during the BJP rule, which is more than double the length of the highways that the current Congress government has built. While the BJP government strengthened the state with 7,800MW of renewable energy capacity, the Siddaramaiah government has not even achieved a third of it, with the addition of only 2,000MW.
More importantly, what the Congress will not tell you is that Karnataka has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mudra Yojan, with more than Rs 24,894 crore disbursed to more than 27.29 lakh beneficiaries. Nor will they acknowledge that around one crore bank accounts have been opened in Karnataka under Jan Dhan Yojana. Of the Rs 1.3 crore beneficiaries of Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, more than 9 lakh belong to Karnataka. Also, under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, 2.25 lakh households have benefited in Belagavi alone.
The central government under the leadership of Modi has initiated many such developmental projects for the state, whether it’s laying the foundation stone for the six-laning of the Mysuru-Bengaluru highway, electrification of the Mysuru-Bengaluru railway line in February 2018, kick-starting the 160km-long Belagavi-Kagwad highway project, or four-laning of the Belagavi-Khanapur section of National Highway 4A.
The Centre has also given its approval for setting up a port at Belikeri, and for the 23.60km-long Shiradi Ghat tunnel linking Hassan/Bengaluru to Mangaluru port, at a cost of Rs 10,000 crore. It will also be undertaking 41 works covering 3,726km at a cost of Rs 85,000 crore under Bharatmala Pariyojana. It has launched the Humsafar Express between Mysuru and Udaipur and, last but not the least, its commitment to spending Rs 1.45 lakh crore to develop national highways in Karnataka showcase the government’s commitment to development over all else.
While Siddaramaiah abandoned Kannadigas in his quest for appeasement-based, vote-grabbing politics, the Modi government has stood by the people of Karnataka with its participative approach. It is now up to the Kannadigas to make a choice, on 12 May.
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