As the election scene hots up in Karnataka, the commentariat is swinging into action.
“Over the past decade, Karnataka has acquired the dubious distinction of being among the most corrupt states, competing with the likes of Jharkhand. Yet, discomfort over the issue of corruption has been restricted largely to the English media, and possibly some upper-class activists. Why, then, has corruption not become a core electoral issue, despite the nationwide anti-corruption campaign in recent times.
“Consider this: corruption is no longer a visible act, like bribe-taking or collecting commission on state projects. Rather, it has become broad-based manipulation of public policy for private profit and hence, invisible. Notions of the public good are absent from policymaking, as the politician-entrepreneur has taken centrestage.
“Perhaps this was true even two decades ago, when politicians began establishing capitation-fee-paying medical and technical institutions, or started mining granite. But now the scale of profits, especially from mining (iron ore in Bellary and surrounding districts), as well as the real estate industry in Bangalore, has transformed political culture and policymaking.
“Note that the beneficiaries of this new corruption aren’t the old elite from the landowning castes, but upstarts from all caste and economic backgrounds. Invariably, they have entered politics to consolidate their burgeoning business interests and mould public policy for their benefit. Janardhana Reddy is perhaps the best known example of this new breed of politician.
“If there hasn’t been vocal opposition to such manipulation of public policy, the reason is simple: this new corruption is often justified as a victimless crime, since only the natural resources owned by the state are being exploited, and no single individual is victimised. More significantly, the spoils of this new corruption are generously shared and percolate to different sections of society. Sharing the wealth of these illicit activities has become the basis for a new political populism in Karnataka.”
“If there is to be a barometer of India’s soaring aspirations — and its grim political and administrative realities — look no further than Karnataka, a microcosm of emerging India, which goes to the polls next month and could serve as a precursor to next year’s national elections.
“If corruption was institutionalised by successive Congress governments, the state’s first BJP government made it a way of life, with more heart than it did Hindutva, its Hindu-first ideology. So it is that B.S. Yediyurappa, the former BJP chief minister who handed out crores to Hindu religious institutions (the latest budget sets aside more than Rs. 182 crore) and shut out minorities from his Cabinet, declares that his new outfit, the Karnataka Praja (People’s) Party, is strictly secular.
“If Narendra Modi showcases his administrative acumen, his party in Karnataka represents a baser, corrupted, caste-ridden avatar. Even if Modi, who is popular in urban Karnataka, campaigns for the BJP, the state may dump his party.”
Photograph: A dry borewell opposite the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore (Karnataka Photo News)