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'Political corruption in Karnataka is unbelievable'
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | May 29, 2008 18:00 IST
Last Updated: May 29, 2008 21:37 IST
With the Karnataka election ending in the first-ever Bharatiya Janata Party government in the south, distressing facts, that have wider ramifications, are emerging. The influence of money power has shocked the top leadership of political parties and the office of the Chief Election Commissioner.
In the American presidential elections, only leaders who are able to raise millions of dollars can enter the fray. "A similar situation is emerging in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka," says a senior Congress leader.
Another Congress leader, who has been in the party for the last five decades, told rediff.com, " Tell me, who is more dangerous for Indian democracy: The Maoist or the rich man who buys a ticket from a political party and gets to power by spending crores to woo poor voters?"
With states becoming more powerful, unheard of amounts are being paid by politicians to become legislators. Those who own the multi-million industries or have huge agro industries spent vulgar amounts in the just-concluded Karnataka election. And the encroachment of the rich in the political field looks unstoppable.
Mining magnate G Janardhan Reddy and his two brothers and B Sriramulu are known as the money bags of BJP. Their campaigning style was shocking even for the voters. Many voters have accepted that they got Rs 500 and a saree. Congress leaders accept that their candidates were not far behind in 'bribing' voters.
"Corruption among Karnataka politicians cuts across party lines. It is at unbelievable level," said a Karnataka politician in New Delhi.
He said the MLA tag provides security and political power to lobby business interests. "The Congress-Janata-Dal-Secular and BJP-JD-S's coalition lasted in power for less than two years. But from 2004 to 2008, Congress MLAs wealth increased by 1,230 percent! BJP politicians in the assembly got wealthier by 630 percent and JD-S leaders added 522 percent to their wealth."
While reviewing the defeat of the Congress, a senior party leader told rediff.com, "I have seen the election campaigns in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan but I have never seen this kind of money. The role played by the money power of iron ore exporters and land sharks in Karnataka is depressing."
A source in the CEC's office claimed that the money power of the Congress and BJP candidates in states like Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra pales in comparison to candidates from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
During the polls, the Election Commission and local police seized around Rs 40 crore in cash, alcohol worth Rs 25 crore and sarees worth Rs 15 crore from candidates or their men on the campaign trail.
Normally in Indian elections, corruption starts after nominations are filed. But this time it started many months ahead.
In north Karnataka, a candidate allegedly gave Rs 5 crore to the Congress kitty and then, got his name included in the panel prepared at the district level. Normally in all political parities, three names of candidates are short listed at the district level before it goes for final scrutiny and selection by the top leadership. The ability to win is obviously main criteria but it turned out that whoever was able to 'buy' the two remaining candidates dominated the nomination procedure.
In a constituency in north Karnataka, the moneyed candidate bought out the other two candidates who were challenging him. A senior Congress leader from Karnataka told rediff.com, "I wish A K Antony (Union defence minister and party leader from Kerala [Images]) was at helm of affairs in Karnataka. At least ticket distribution would have been transparent and cash-free."
He added, "This time a rich candidate was ready to pay Rs 2 crore to a Congress leader who was also in the short-listed panel. He wanted only his name to be sent to the central committee from the district. This is unheard of."
He says in Bangalore a small but rich community managed to bag five seats from the Congress, though they comprise only 0.5 percent of the population.
The pressure of vested interests with financial clout and not political clout has corroded the entire structure of Congress in Karnataka. A senior leader of the Congress and cabinet minister told rediff.com, "How can a seasoned party like Congress outsource the entire district to rich people? In Bellary and a few other districts rich candidates of the BJP and Congress were behaving as if they are above the party. When people's politics takes a back seat and only money speaks then God save this country."
Oscar Fernandes, Margaret Alva, B K Hariprasad, Dr Parmeshawara and Veerappa Moily are veteran Congress leaders, who have a say in New Delhi. But the Congress's command structure in the state is in disarray. In Karnataka, at the district level there are no office bearers. Prithviraj Chauhan, who was in charge of Congress in Karnataka, had to directly deal with candidates and not through local party's office bearers.
A senior Congressman explained that if the party had put a command structure in place in all the districts and if either S M Krishna or Mallikarjun Kharge had been named chief ministerial candidate and if Delhi's top brass had not succumbed to big business houses and interests at time of distribution of tickets then the party could have won.
But this was not the message put forward before Congress president Sonia Gandhi [Images]. When the Karnataka Congress leaders met Sonia on May 27 at 10 Janpath,l they gave a preposterous excuse for losing the election.
"We lost the second phase because of television coverage of the Jaipur blasts where the cameras kept showing the Hindu temple that was attacked. How can you show the Hindu temple only? What message will go to Hindus of Karnataka?" said a senior Congressman who was part of the team that managed the Karnataka election.
Also after the Hubli bomb blasts on May 10, they argued before Madam Gandhi, Muslims were upset due to their perceived bias of the investigators. They also claimed that price rise affected Congress fortunes in urban areas.
But the fact remains, that the Congress was also unlucky. In around 35 constituencies, the party lost by less than 5,000 margin.
Even Arun Jaitely, BJP leader who has emerged a master strategist after this victory, has admitted that, "The inherent strength of Congress was more than that of the BJP."
One can't beat Congress leaders in their capacity to bungle decent political opportunities.