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BJP's defeat in Karnataka : The high cost of corruption

BJP
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Now that results of election to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly are out, the time has come for some introspection at every level, state and...

Now that results of election to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly are out, the time has come for some introspection at every level, state and national. The Congress party can stop preening that it has won a resounding victory. It has managed to capture 120 seats and is in no need to seek coalition partners. But it was not the Congress that won but the BJP which was defeated. The Congress won by default. The party had long been adrift; it had no leaders worth the salt and it also suffered through internal contradictions.

If it "won", it was because a sick and tired public could find no alternative to depend upon. A good deal of blame lies on B S Yeddyurappa, but three factors contributed to the BJP's failure: caste, corruption and conceit. Yeddyurappa let corruption run riot by allowing the Reddy brothers to rob the State's natural resources -- iron ore � brazenly and openly, but shouldn't one equally blame the Central � UPA � government and the Planning Commission in this regard?

In another 35 to 40 years, the entire world would be exhausted of iron ore and we may have to go back to the medieval era for our transport. Wasn't the UPA Government aware of the fact? Wasn't the Planning Commission? Why didn't the UPA government pass an ordinance to stop iron ore mining? One suspects that Justice Markandey Katju's assessment of percentage of idiots in the country � 90 percent � holds equally well to the UPA Government and the Planning Commission.

Yeddyurappa supported the Reddy Brothers openly; he even took two of them into his Cabinet which was an insult to the State. Both have now lost their seats, but the point is that the BJP's defeat must to a large extent be attributed to them and to their patron, the then Chief Minister. By the time Yeddyurappa was deposed by a decent BJP, the harm was done.

But consider what harm the man did. During his period as Chief Minister, the Prerana Educational and Social Trust belonging to him and his family had received Rs 44 crore from 49 donors � all between 6 September 2006 and March 2011. The donors included Ranagadh Minerals and Mining Pvt Ltd and MSPL Ltd, besides some land developers like Trishul Developers Pvt Ltd and Raghu Construction Company.

According to the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG), 212 acres and 39 guntas of land had also been illegally denotified by the state government between 2007 and 2012. The illegal mining of iron ore in three districts of Karnataka, according to CAG, could have caused an estimated loss of Rs 25,000 crore to the Exchequer. Actually, at the current market rate, the loss would be to the tune of Rs 3414.45 crore.

It was not just the Chief Minister who was involved in corruption. According to media reports, and no explanation is available as to how this took place, legislators' assets 'went through the roof'. As Express News Service (5 April) noted, "the average asset value of MLAs in the 12th Assembly (2004-2008) had 'increased by a whopping 364 percent and that of Ministers by 665 per cent in the span of just four years. Since 2008, the assets of the 179 Karnataka MLAs who were contesting again in 2013 had grown by an average of 88 per cent.

An analysis done by the Karnataka Election Watch (KEW) and the Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) indicated that the MLAs' average assets in 2013 are Rs 19.87 crore, as against Rs 10.59 crore in 2008. Incidentally, the increase in assets was not confined to BJP MLAs. Former Minister D K Shivakumar, contesting from Kanakpura, reported a substantial increase in assets from Rs 75.99 crore to Rs 251.50 crore.

If Yeddyurappa's assets were a mere Rs 5.96 crore (up from Rs 1.82 crore in 2008), 29-year-old Congress sitting MLA Priya Krishna declared Rs 910 crore as his assets. Industries Minister Murugesh Niani's assets grew from Rs 4.95 crore in 2008 to Rs 18.64 crore in 2013. In all, the average assets of MLAs went up by Rs 9 crore.

The Congress can't claim to be clean; only, it was not in power in Karnataka. One Congress MLA claimed assets worth Rs 145.57 crore. Would things have been different if Yeddyurappa had decided not to seek revenge but had maintained a discreet silence? That is anybody's guess. The fact remains that his conceit would not allow him to be discreet. He thought that he could fight back and teach the BJP leadership a lesson, that he could win a sufficient number of seats for his party to be the kingmaker.

Casteism did not help him very much. In all, his party could win only six seats. One suspects that through his behavior he had alienated his fellow cartelists who probably thought that instead of supporting him openly, revenge against the BJP could be achieved through voting for the Congress. Through that, Yeddyurappa's main objective was achieved. But there must have been factors other than corruption that were in operation, judging from election results.

Thus, RV Deshpande, former KPCC chief, won in his Haliyal constituency by 5,939 votes. No big deal. And Syed Yasin, two-time MLA, lost his Raichur constituency by a margin of 7,871 votes. Incidentally, there is general agreement that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi can claim responsibility for defeating the BJP. The BJP had shot its feet all on its own. It was found guilty of poor governance.

In the coming months, the BJP must take the Karnataka loss seriously. It comes as a painful surprise to learn that 10 nominees of the BJP and six of the Congress were involved in serious charges such as murder, attempt to murder and kidnapping as per affidavits of 2008 obtained by the Karnataka Election Watch.

How does that make the BJP a unique party � a party with a difference? The BJP is still the best national party, but between now and the coming general election, it must put the lessons provided by the Karnataka elections into practice. Money alone does not win seats. At least not always. A The BJP must redesign itself, if it wishes to take on an already damned Congress in the coming general elections. It can, and it should.

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