Karnataka politics has touched a new low with all pretences of a model conduct or propriety being thrown to the winds. When it comes to such issues, the difference between one party and another is that between tweedledom and tweedledee.
Nothing brings out the cynical disregard for principles better than the case of Anand Singh, the Vijaynagara MLA, who, until recently, was with the Congress and has now switched camps to the BJP in a blatant show of rank opportunism.
The starkness of Singh’s greed for power is borne out by the manner in which he bargained with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to become the forest minister. Singh, in his election affidavit, has claimed that he has about 15 cases against him, some of which are under the Karnataka Forests Act.
This was a clear case of conflict of interest but Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, who had earlier allotted Singh the food and civil supplies portfolio, was pressurised to assign Singh the forest department, probably after the Vijaynagara MLA threatened to withdraw support to precariously-balanced BJP government in Karnataka. It appears that Yediyurappa was unprepared to risk the life of his government and chose the easy way out.
Last month, a Hindu seer had warned Yediyurappa of consequences if the sentiments of the numerically-strong Lingayat caste were not factored in. The reference in effect was to inducting a legislator as a minister in Yediyurappa’s Cabinet. At that point, the Chief Minister had threatened to quit in a weak show of bravado.
This development in Karnataka is a reflection of the decadence that has permeated the party. It is also reported that though the party leadership delayed, it finally approved the names for Yediyurappa’s Cabinet expansion. Whether Singh’s name raised eyebrows or not is difficult to say, but the fact remains that the high command chose to go ahead with it. Without any doubt, such a decision bodes ill for the national party.
The BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP President JP Nadda, must realise that such acts are distancing the people from the BJP, and are doing great damage to the party’s anti-corruption image and its credibility of being a party with a difference.
After a big win in the general elections in 2019, the party has already lost elections in three states, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi. With assembly elections to Bihar later this year, and in West Bengal among other states in 2021, the BJP must introspect and change if it has to bounce back into public favour.
Singh was arrested in 2015 by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka Lokayukta on charges of illegal iron ore transportation.
In 2013, he was arrested in connection with the alleged illegal export of iron ore from Belekeri port. In the latter case he was acquitted in September 2019.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the proportion of legislators in Parliament and assemblies with criminal cases against them has been rising over the years. If in 2009 it was 15 percent of Parliament, in 2014 it went up to 17 percent, and in 2019 it became 19 percent. This clearly demonstrates the enormity of the problem of criminalisation of politics in India. An estimated 13 percent of the candidates who contested the election in 2019 were accused of heinous crimes that included murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, rape and other crimes against women.
Yet, political parties have shunned initiatives to reform the system to exclude those with criminal background from contesting elections.
Despite entreaties by the Election Commission of India and by public bodies and individuals, there is no serious effort to exclude those charged with crimes from contesting elections.Kamlendra Kanwar is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.