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The decline of Bangalore
October 21, 2005
Men sitting in Delhi but still pulling strings in their own state. A governor who is itching to get back into active politics. And a once renowned state capital that is rapidly plunging downward as politicians play their mind games.
You may think I am speaking of Patna in the season of the Bihar Vidhan Sabha elections. (And the Election Commission seems bent on ensuring that it will be a full 'Election Season' rather than an 'Election Day'!)
But I am actually speaking of one of the showpieces of the Indian economy -- Bangalore. Bangalore's citizens are increasingly upset with the manner in which their city is going down the tube. Internationally renowned businessmen -- people of the calibre of N R Narayana Murthy and Vijay Mallya -- have been driven to open criticism. And all that Bangaloreans have to divert them from the potholes gaping ever larger is the daily dose of denouncement and counter-allegation from the ruling alliance 'partners.'
I never expected the post-poll shotgun wedding between the Janata Dal (United) and the Congress to be a happy partnership, but I am astounded at the speed at which it is withering. Janata Dal (United) boss, and former prime minister, H D Deve Gowda's camp continues to rumble about the corruption of ministers in the S M Krishna government.
The governor of Maharashtra, as S M Krishna is today, responds with challenges to prosecute so that the truth can come out once and for all.
Most Congressmen privately admit that they have lost hope that Chief Minister Dharam Singh can pick up the gauntlet on behalf of the party. They have already begun pleading with S M Krishna to leave the Mumbai Raj Bhavan and return to 'revive' the party in Karnataka.
Two former ministers in the Krishna council of ministers, D B Chandre Gowda and G Puttaswamy Gowda, went so far as to make their feelings public. The governor of Maharashtra has denied that he harbours any ambition about returning to the chief ministership.
However, he takes care to ensure that the wheels are kept well greased should he want to go back into the arena. A few months ago, he was invited to a function to congratulate newly selected IAS officers from the Vokkaliga community, scarcely an official duty of the governor of Maharashtra! (The Vokkaligas and the Lingayats by far the two most powerful castes in Karnataka politics.)
Meanwhile, H D Deve Gowda is brushing aside the compulsions of coalition politics, losing no opportunity to tar the Congress as corrupt. Congressmen really cannot complain that they are surprised at this behaviour. It took the wretched Dharam Singh well over two months to cobble a ministry together because the Janata Dal (United) chief kept vetoing Congress nominees.
R V Deshapande, D K Shiva Kumar, A Krishnappa, R Roshan Baig, H D Deve Gowda told the Congress high command itself, had to be kept out because they were 'tainted' men. Look at the list of ministers in Karnataka, and you will know who won that round! (It is available at http://kar.nic.in/kla/cabm.htm for the Internet savvy.)
H D Deve Gowda came up with one of the most brilliant explanations ever heard when asked how he could possibly work in alliance with men whom he insisted on denouncing for venality. With an absolutely straight face, he said that he was against corrupt men but not the Congress as a whole. Of course, given that virtually every senior Congress leader in Karnataka has faced the lash of the Deve Gowda tongue, that doesn't leave much of a party.
The gambling sharks in Bangalore must be having a field day at this rate, taking bets on the outcome! When will H D Deve Gowda pull the Janata Dal (United) out of this ramshackle coalition? When will S M Krishna return from his exile in Maharashtra? And which of these two hotly anticipated events will take place first? Mark that I write 'when' and not 'if!'
I don't grudge the politicians their fun and games, but all this bickering is taking its toll on the state. Eighteen months ago, Bangalore was spoken of in the same league as Delhi and Mumbai. It still is, but now people are comparing it to Mumbai after the floods!
And I am certain that the situation in the rural areas must be far worse; friends who have been in and around that side tell me that the unusually heavy monsoon rains devastated the crops. There was some mention of all this in Parliament, but Karnataka's leaders have made the news far more often by pouring garbage on each other than for tackling something as boring as floods.
Younger readers will be astonished to learn that forty years ago Bihar was considered one of the three best administered states in India. A later generation of politicians ruined all that. I pray that history shall not repeat itself in Karnataka.
T V R Shenoy