Why three years of Siddaramaiah's rule have been a total failure
This article has been co-authored by Robin Christopher J and N Jayaram.
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Just as PV Narasimha Rao is derisively labelled as the "first BJP prime minister of India" given that he and his party - the Congress - were asleep at the wheel when the Babri Masjid was being destroyed in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, and given their rightist economic policies starting the previous year - Siddaramaiah, leading the Congress regime in Karnataka, is on course to earning the sobriquet of the "fourth BJP chief minister".
To be sure, the state’s BJP leadership and the right-wing elements within the Congress – going by news reports of statements made in the legislative Assembly and at press conferences – hate Siddaramaiah’s government, which completes three years in power today, May 13.
Then again, as anyone familiar with the Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister books and videos from Britain of the yesteryears knows, the reality might be more complicated than that: the Congress, BJP and Janata Dal (Secular), headed by HD Kumaraswamy, the son of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, are "same same, hardly different" in terms of their policy thrusts and more pertinently, as shall be seen presently, their attitude towards the oppressed castes, the minorities and the indigent folk in our towns and cities.BS Yeddyurappa.
Also the villages, hills and forests of the adivasis, or the indigenous people of India, are being taken over with the use of state-sponsored terror favouring moneybags that fill the BJP-Congress-JD(S) coffers. In fact, there are cross-party caste-based kinships among them: the brahmins, Gowdas (Vokkaligas), Lingayats (Veerashaivas), Reddys and others.
A brief background
The JD(S)’s opportunism in forming a coalition government with the BJP in 2006 paved the way for the Sangh Parivar’s ascendency in Karnataka. The JD(S) has since suffered a setback, being limited to certain districts, but it continues to seek an alliance with the BJP. Thirsting for power and making a mockery of what it claims to be – a secular party.
Some of the BJP’s state leaders obviously have problems with each other as well. Which is why we had three of them in a row – BS Yeddyurappa, DV Sadananda Gowda (currently the rarely-heard-from Union minister for law and justice who lives in Delhi where police and assorted Hindutva goons including those sporting lawyers’ robes go about beating up students in court precincts) and Jagadish Shettar.
Recall that former deputy prime minister LK Advani had been instrumental in getting Yeddyurappa out because the latter headed what was seen as a highly corrupt administration. Now Advani – among others – has been put out to pasture by Narendra Modi. And Yeddyurappa, who had founded the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) promising that he would never go back to the communal BJP, thereby splitting the BJP's votes and handing victory to the Congress in Karnataka three years ago, is back as the BJP chief in the state.
But coming back to the performance of Siddaramaiah’s cabinet, which is supposed to represent a secular party that came to power promising to give a sense of relief and security to the minorities, here are a few vignettes of its failure to deliver not only on the economic front but more crucially on the social front:
In 2015 alone, more than 600 farmers committed suicide in Karnataka thanks to the uneconomical size of holdings – typically half to five acres – as well as the vagaries of the weather.
Lack of remunerative prices and of crop insurance and the failure of the state and central administrations to provide timely relief to drought-hit farmers have abetted suicides.
Infrastructure in Bangalore
Some 50 lakh people use buses in and around Bangalore but the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation is run like a typical public sector corporation – a moneymaking company and not as it should be and is in many parts of the world and some other cities in India – a public service.
Buses are woefully inadequate, the routes irrational and the prices of tickets and passes exorbitant given that most bus users are indigent daily workers. Many lakhs of people transit through some of the major bus stations in the city but the monies earmarked for upgrading them are paltry – a few tens of crores of rupees – whereas the airport and the metro are gifted vast amounts running into several thousands of crores (thereby hangs a tale of untold corruption). The Siddaramaiah government has turned a deaf ear to the commuters’ woes.
It has just formed a Bangalore Vision Group made up of corporate bigwigs and has faced flak on that account, just as it has for having stealthily attempted to hand over a prestigious art institution, the Venkatappa Art Gallery, to private companies.
In a further instance of privatisation of public spaces, the famed Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is also set to be handed over to corporates. And the administration has failed to cater to the needs of the Government Film and Television Institute (GFTI), forcing students to go on strike.
It is a matter of concern that the elite Bangalore Vision Group consists of people who have consciously prioritised private profits such as Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who heads Biocon – a company that has polluted three lakes in Bangalore – and are being projected as an answer to Bangalore’s woes.
Violence against workers, street vendors and sex workers
When tens of thousands of garment workers – mostly women – staged a spectacular protest in Bangalore in April this year against the Union government’s amendment of Employees Provident Fund rules (barring workers from withdrawing the employers’ contribution before they reached the age of 58), the local police unleashed massive violence on them, arresting hundreds.
Police and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike regularly harass street vendors by demanding bribes multiple times a day and periodically going on a blitz to clear footpaths of vendors.
Hundreds of vendors have faced police violence in addition to being subjected to foul language. Police also routinely target sex workers on the streets, subjecting them to beatings and abuses and sometimes lodging them in beggars’ homes.
The sex workers allege that the police are in cahoots with dance halls and brothels but target the indigent ones plying their trade on the streets. Entreaties to ministers and other Congress politicians on their behalf have led to no relief so far.
Violence against students demanding reservations
When tens of thousands of members of the Bahujan Vidyarthi Sangha (BVS) staged a rally in Bangalore in February demanding reservations in the private sector – as they have been doing in previous years too – they were severely beaten up.
Nearly 30 students were arrested and booked under false cases. This despite that fact that in February last year the chief minister had assured a BVS delegation that reservations would be introduced in the private sector.
Death of manual scavengers
As many as 46 deaths of manual scavengers have been recorded in Karnataka since April 2008, nine of them so far this year alone. The state government has abjectly failed to implement the Prohibition of Employment As Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Siddaramaiah and his colleagues have taken no interest so far in preventing the recurring deaths of manual scavengers who are almost entirely from the Dalit castes.
Attacks on students and workers from other states and on African students
There have been regular attacks on students and workers from other states, especially those from the Northeast as well as on African students, carried out mostly by local chauvinists.
The police in almost all cases take a do-nothing approach or are openly hostile to the outsiders. The Congress administration seems to take little interest in ensuring the safety of students and workers from other states and of the Africans.
Failure to stem the advance of Hindutva forces
The biggest failure of the Congress government in Karnataka has been its utter failure in checking the brazen attacks by forces linked to the Sangh Parivar against Muslims, Christians, women and secular individuals not only in the south-western part of the state (Mangalore and neighbouring areas) where communalism is rife, but elsewhere too.
One of the chief minister’s first promises was that he would check such attacks but he has failed to change the attitude of the local administration and the police who often connive with the saffron crowd. Instead, one of the Siddaramaiah administration’s first acts was to arrest rationalist writer Yogesh Master and stop the sale of his book Dhundi, as Hindutva elements alleged it contained "objectionable material".
Rationalist scholar MM Kalburgi was was shot dead at his residence in Dharwad in August 2015 but the authorities are yet to book his killers. Right to Information activist Vinayak Baliga who had filed a number of RTI applications including with regard to management of temple funds, was hacked to death near his home in Mangalore in March.
On the other hand, the administration has taken no action against Hindutva elements for their hate speeches and attacks. Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat is known for his hate speeches and in the recent past had emerged as a right-wing figure enjoying absolute immunity from criminal prosecution. The police and administrative machinery has only ensured his free movement. The Congress government had promised it would take action against him but has not moved an inch in that direction.
When Raghveshwara Swamy, a prominent religious head in the state, was accused of rape by two women, the silence of the state government was deafening. The administration failed to make any attempt to arrest him and high court judges recused themselves from hearing the case.
Meanwhile, although the government rolled back amendments made to the cow slaughter act, it has failed to stop attacks by Hindutva gangs on cattle traders.
During the previous BJP regime, education underwent virulent saffronisation but the current Congress one has failed to correct it, merely forming a committee to look into the issue.
The state government has so far failed to move an anti-superstition bill in the legislature. The government announced that it would soon table the bill before the cabinet but offered no explanation on why it has taken three years to do so.
In a recent controversy over an invitation issued to district officer AB Ibrahim in Dakshina Kannada for a temple function, instead of standing its ground, the government caved in and admitted it had erred in inviting a Muslim officer.
Mishandling of Tipu Jayanti
To his credit, the chief minister did stand his ground on the observance of Tipu Sultan Jayanti in the face of organised, and in places, violent opposition from the Hindutva crowd in November 2015.
Bizarrely, however, it was organised by the state government's department of minority welfare, thereby seriously undermining the legacy of arguably the greatest leader from Karnataka. Moreover, the Congress lacked the backbone to name Bangalore’s airport after Tipu Sultan, choosing instead to name it after Kempegowda, who was a local chieftain.
Yeddyurappa, who recently took over as the BJP chief in Karnataka, has been exuding confidence of returning to power in the state elections in 2018. That seems a distinct possibility unless the Congress effects a drastic course correction, which would require Siddaramaiah and other members of his government to give primacy to the interests of the Dalits, OBCs and the minorities, rather than playing safe with their current do-nothing-to-rock-the-boat stance.
Siddaramaiah, from the Kuruba (goat/shepherd) caste, claims to champion the interests of the backward classes. So far there is precious little evidence of it. Rather, he has come across as an arrogant leader unwilling to listen to people’s woes.
Closet Sangh Parivar elements within the Congress have also used the anti-Siddaramaiah sentiment to further their agenda of bringing him down. The need of the hour is for him to effectively take on these right-wing elements within the Congress. He has two years in which to exorcise his administration of the brahminical saffron blight afflicting it.