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Is corruption really an issue this election?

April 23, 2014 08:59 IST

Despite serious corruption charges, this year has seen the resurgence of tainted leaders from across parties and states. Be it B S Yeddyurappa in Karnataka or Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar -- caste affiliation and an individual candidate's credentials matter far more than his alleged involvement in scams, says Anita Katyal.

Is corruption an issue in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls? If the speeches of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Aam Aadmi Party leaders are any indication, it would appear that corruption is a major factor as speakers from these two parties never fail to point to the various scams which surfaced in the United Progressive Alliance regime while promising to crack down on the corrupt if voted to power.

Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, has been targeting the Congress's first family in his election speeches by constantly referring to party president Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra's dubious land deals.

In stark contrast to the high-decibel election campaign seen and heard in the media, an altogether different narrative has been unfolding on the ground. Reports coming in from various states reveal that corruption may be a hot-button talking point in election speeches, especially in the urban areas, but political leaders perceived to be tainted are being welcomed with open arms by the electorate.

Clearly, caste affiliation and an individual candidate's credentials matter far more than his alleged involvement in scams. It is not as if corruption does not matter to the electorate, but people are willing to turn a blind eye to it if a candidate is able to deliver on his promises.

Political parties also tend to overlook this aspect as winnability eventually trumps all other factors in the selection of candidates.

How else can one explain the resurgence of Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, the revival of the Indian National Lok Dal headed by former chief minister Om Parkash Chautala's clan in Haryana and the BJP's improved electoral prospects in Karanataka after the re-entry of estranged leader and tainted former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa?

Having been convicted in the fodder scam, Lalu lost his membership of the Lok Sabha and has been barred from contesting the current general election. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi went to the extent of publicly debunking the controversial ordinance on convicted lawmakers which was being brought by the UPA government with the intention of bailing out the RJD chief.

While this dramatic public denunciation was meant to project Rahul as an anti-corruption crusader, the Congress had no choice but to have an electoral alliance with the tainted Lalu's party in Bihar instead of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United because the RJD was seen to be better placed in the state's electoral sweepstakes.

Latest reports from Bihar suggest that the election is primarily a contest between the BJP and its allies and the RJD-Congress alliance while the JD-U has slipped to the number three spot. The fodder scam, which had once come to define Lalu Prasad Yadav's political identity, has been pushed to the background, as the RJD forges ahead in the race.

Lalu has apparently not lost his touch as he has successfully consolidated the Muslim and Yadav votes in his party's favour.

"People in Delhi regard Lalu as corrupt, but it is not an issue in Bihar. Lalu has regained his popularity as the Yadavs believe he is a victim of an upper caste conspiracy," a senior Congress leader told Rediff.com

The Muslims, he added, believe the RJD-Congress combine is best placed to take on Modi.

The RJD is expected to do well in the Seemanchal region of Bihar where elections are to be held on April 24. The BJP is struggling here as the constituencies of Banka, Bhagalpur, Katihar, Kishanganj, Purnia, Araria and Supaul have a high concentration of Muslims who are showing clear signs of gravitating towards the RJD.

Similarly, the INLD in Haryana appears to be doing far better than expected even though its top leaders Om Parkash Chautala and Ajay Chautala are presently lodged in Delhi's Tihar jail following their conviction in a teachers recruitment scam. The absence of the father-son duo had initially demoralised INLD workers, but they put up a spirited fight after they realised that their party was getting the benefit of sympathy from the Jat community.

Although surveys had written off the INLD, the high voter turnout has encouraged the INLD which believes it will certainly increase its vote share and could even end up winning two Lok Sabha seats. The INLD failed to win a single seat in the 2004 and 2009 elections.

While BJP leaders, especially Modi, have been waxing eloquent about the need of combating corruption, it is relying on Yeddyurappa to boost the party's electoral prospects in Karnataka. Yeddyurappa had left the BJP in a huff after the party asked him to step down as chief minister in 2011 when corruption charges were levelled against him.

The BJP paid dearly for Yeddyurappa's exit as it lost its first state government in the South last year when it was mauled in the assembly polls.

Despite the corruption charges against him, Yeddyurappa continues to enjoy the support of the powerful Lingayat caste in Karnataka and it was this which forced the BJP to draft him back in the party.

The former CM is contesting the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat and is said to be a formidable candidate. It was after Yeddyurappa's return to the party fold that the BJP's chances have improved in Karnataka where it is hoping to do much better than it had earlier estimated.

Then again, former telecom minister A Raja, who was jailed in the 2G scam, and YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy who was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation for having benefitted from government contracts, are said to be ahead of their political rivals in the electoral battle.

Anita Katyal