Election fever has gripped Karnataka and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been going all out to put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the back foot. In a slight departure from Congress' time-tested divisive social engineering model of keeping the caste cauldron in the state simmering by pitting the dominant castes against a conglomeration of other castes that goes by AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits), a brazen effort was mounted to foment the fault lines between Veerashaivas and Lingayats. A motley group of Congress leaders and seers embarked upon a campaign for 'separate religion' for Lingayats.
While this attempt, more or less, fizzled out, another grand strategy has been deployed to whip up pro-Kannada card and corner BJP by projecting it as a 'north Indian party'. A demand was orchestrated for a state flag. The well-reasoned Cauvery verdict might have also dealt a body blow to Siddaramaiah's possible plans to ratchet up the tension over water sharing with Tamil Nadu once again. Despite setbacks to his plans, the Chief Minister has been determined to stay the course.
Unlike Tamil Nadu, where Periyarists and church-backed fringe Tamil nationalists have found limited traction with their secessionist agenda, Kannada exceptionalism is rooted in a pan nationalistic vision and sits comfortably within the larger Indic cultural matrix.
Ironically for a Chief Minister, who is trying to play the Kannada sub-nationalism card despite the ethos of the state not being conducive to it, the powerful 'Kerala mafia' that rules the roost in the Karnataka unit of Congress could prove to be his Achilles heel.
A recent incident involving Mohammed Nalapad, the son of Shanthinagar MLA N A Haris, who was arrested on the charge of brutally assaulting a patron in an upscale Bengaluru restaurant, has brought back focus on political vultures, dubious real estate operators and storm-troopers, many of them who are not even from the state, have come to dominate the political apparatus of Congress in Bengaluru city.
Among them, two stand out as the most prominent faces – K J George and N A Harris. Incidentally, both of them are migrants from Kerala. Along with veteran D K Shivakumar, this duo provides the money and muscle power to the Congress party. That meteoric rise of these two obscure Keralites from modest backgrounds to their current position where they wield enormous power and control the party apparatus in not entirely inexplicable. Even the Congress party insiders, who are embarrassed by their conduct, concede that their clout essentially flows from their proximity to the party high command.
The Rise And Rise Of George
K J George is currently the Minister for Bengaluru Development and Town Planning. He is widely regarded as the real power behind Siddaramaiah . Although he has never known to have any association with Siddaramaiah previously, (the CM himself spent most of his political career in various non-Congress socialist formations), he has now catapulted himself to become the Chief Minister's closest aide in the last five years.
K J George was born to a family of farmers in Kerala and later moved to Kodagu in the 1960s. He began his political journey as a protege of the controversial former chief minister Gundu Rao. Gundu Rao, handpicked by Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to undermine the charismatic Devaraj Urs, was from the nearby Kushal Nagara town. But this was not the first time that K J George played the role of a trusted lieutenant to a chief minister. He was also very close to former chief minister S Bangarappa. His is a typical rags-to-riches story, one that saw a poor son of a farmer turn into a multi-millionaire, who is now seen as the favourite of party’s national leadership, and is said to be very close to former president Sonia Gandhi.
What also helped the spectacular growth was his proximity to Sonia Gandhi’s personal assistant V George. When Congress president Rajiv Gandhi decided to sack the then Congress chief minister of Karnataka Veerendra Patil, a well-respected leader from north Karanataka, and was looking out for a replacement, it was K J George, who played a crucial role in picking Bangarappa as replacement using his influence with V George. When Bangarappa eventually became Karnataka chief minister, K J George was rewarded with a ministry in his government.
Incidentally, it was the Times of India that first broke the story of the S Bangarappa-K J George-V George nexus. It is alleged that V George extracted his revenge many years later when Enforcement Directorate went after Times of India chairman Ashok Jain for alleged Foreign Exchange and Regulation Act (FERA) violations.
K J George's net-worth is sure to give fellow bigwigs like Vokkaliga strongman D K Shivakumar, who was raided by the Income Tax Department last year, a run for their money. He is known to have leased out many buildings to multinational corporations, owning obscene amount of land and some of the high-end real estate in the Silicon City, all of which are alleged to be accumulations from his days when he was holding the lucrative Urban Development portfolio under Bangarappa.
His direct links to a major real estate player in Bengaluru, which was accused of illegal land deals, caused huge embarrassment to the Siddaramaiah government, which for a while was claiming to carry out an extensive crackdown against property encroachments. A little known company owned by his business partner recently emerged as the sole bidder for a proposed Rs 2,000 crore pod taxi project in the city.
The luxurious penthouse he lives in (close to the city's most expensive hotel) has invited a lot of attention for its sheer opulence and grandeur. His connections with the Delhi leadership were said to have gotten him the post of the home minister in 2013, even though he was lying really low in the run up to the state election and was not seen as someone in the reckoning for any important portfolio.
What more proof of his clout does one need than the fact that despite his name popping up in the suicide case of IAS officer D K Ravi as well as an overt mention in the suicide note of DSP M K Ganapati, the party and the Chief Minister stand by him and his refusal to resign even after he was named an accused in the Central Bureau of Investigation FIR. The Chief Minister continues to shield his trusted aide and how.
Running A Mini Empire In Bengaluru's CBD
Those who travel through the central part of Bengaluru are unlikely to miss the posters, cutouts, banners and hoardings erected by the supporters and cronies of N A Harris, who was elected first from the city’s Shanthinagar constituency in 2008. His rise in the Bengaluru unit of Congress was facilitated by his proximity to Kerala Congress leaders, including former chief minister Oommen Chandy. In his official affidavit Haris declared assets worth over Rs 133 crore. Being the managing director of Nalapad Group of Companies, he has moveable assets worth over Rs 93 crore and immoveable assets of over Rs 40 crore.
Last year, his son Mohammed Nalapad was elevated as the general secretary of Youth Congress in Bengaluru city.
The snotty scion of the Nalapad Group, which runs a chain of hotels and banquet halls in Bengaluru, is said to have been throwing his weight around and often extort money from local restaurateurs and pub owners. Given that many high-end areas like M G Road, Brigade Road and the like fall under his father's constituency, he is reported to have used his political muscle to extort money, leaving the owners helpless as the police in the area are reportedly turning a blind eye to his illegal actions.
Last year, Mohammed Nalapad attacked a person named Peter, who was later admitted to Chinmaya Mission Hospital in Indiranagar. Although a complaint was filed, police did not register an FIR. In 2016, Mohammed Nalapad and his three friends attacked a security guard at the Bowring Club. The guard had asked him to move his car away from the parking lot meant only for members.
Not to be outdone, Mohammed's brother Umer was also involved in a pub brawl in 2016.
That police is reluctant to act against the goons of Haris and his sons has been attributed to the close relationship the local police officials share with Haris. He is alleged to be a key player in securing plum postings like Cubbon Park and Ashok Nagara police stations.
That these land sharks and real estate bigwigs contest and win from constituencies, which also house India’s most rich and famous should be a real cause for worry. And if the Congress has any intentions of improving its electoral prospects in the Silicon City, it is time the party cleans its electoral shelf of these rusty trophies.
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