As Karnataka is ready to go for polls this summer, Congress will face its biggest electoral test as it is the only large state where it is in power. While Rahul Gandhi may have latched on to the agenda of questioning development under the Modi government, governance seems to be the Congress’ Achilles heel in Karnataka. With almost 5 years of a stable government, Congress had failed to deliver on almost all fronts and will most likely face the ire of the electorate over the missed opportunities.
For all the Congress’ rhetoric on farmer welfare, farmers in Karnataka have benefitted little and lost more. Karnataka now has the dubious distinction of being in the top 3 states of India with an extraordinarily high farmer suicide rate. Over 3515 farmers committing suicide in the past five years, almost 2 suicides every day. Between 2014-15 and 2015-16 alone, the number of farmer suicides jumped by 305%. In a state with less than 31% irrigated agricultural land, the lethargy of Siddaramaiah government has led to several important irrigation projects in Singtalur, Mulawad, Bellary-Nala and Koppal to remain incomplete. Less than 11% of the drought relief funds provided by the Central government have been actually distributed to the drought-stricken farmers. The ostentatious announcement of the loan waiver in 2017 turned out to be an eyewash as many farmers were denied the benefit due to stringent eligibility criteria. North Karnataka and Hyderabad Karnataka regions are traditionally water scarce but they have also seen woeful neglect. The Congress government has not even spent the entire amount of the Rs.10,492 Crore it has allotted to the region since 2013-14. Few missed the insensitivity of the government towards the farmers when in the hot summer of 2016, 5000 litres of water was used to “settle dust” on the travel route of the Chief Minister when he visited the drought-affected Bilagi taluka.
Similarly, under the Congress government, Karnataka’s cities have worsened. The persistent traffic problem in Bengaluru remains unmitigated with the situation of roads reaching their rock bottom. In 2015-16, the Siddaramaiah government claimed to have spent Rs. 2000 crore to rid the city of potholes, however few in the city would claim any better experience on the roads. Less than half of the private properties in the city are connected to a sewage disposal system, with a large volume of untreated waste being dumped into the city’s lakes. The results invariably are frothing of the lakes which have now become an almost annual phenomenon. Nor is the city safe anymore. In 2015, Bengaluru had the 3rd highest number of cognizable crimes amongst Indian cities. In 2017, instances of major crimes spiked by 28% in Bengaluru. Bengaluru has also seen an increase of 186% in rape cases in 2017.
Throughout the state too, criminals have had a free run under Siddaramaiah. The recent case of the violence perpetrated by the son of a Congress MLA is only one example of the failure of law and order in the state. Out of the 686 cases of gang-rape registered in the state in 2016, not even one has resulted in a conviction. Karnataka has also reported the second highest number of political and communal riots in the country. In 2017, the instances of riots increased by 40%. The slow progress in investigating the murders of Hindu activist is being seen by many as symptomatic of a communal bent which the Congress government has encouraged in criminal investigations.
The Congress dispensation has also been marred by a series of corruption scandals and scams. A study by the Centre for Media Studies flagged Karnataka as the most corrupt state in the country. Ministers in the state cabinet have been tainted with corruption scandals, land grabbing allegations and giving undue favours. The CAG blamed the Public Works Department (PWD) for misusing Rs. 76 crore out of the allotted Rs 250 crore for fraudulent payments for the road work in Magadi. Another scam amounting to Rs. 39 Crore in the Minor Irrigation Department involving fake bills was uncovered by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The honest bureaucrats who opposed such immoral syphoning of public money have been hounded with transfers. Some like D.K. Ravi and Dy SP Ganapathy have been driven to suicide after being allegedly harassed by corrupt ministers.
This misgovernance has taken its toll on the development prospects of the state which had a robust IT industry and investments to be proud of. The rate of economic growth in the state (6.9%) has consistently remained below the national rate of growth (7.1%) over the last five years.
With clearly apparent misgovernance and few achievements to showcase, the Congress has little to go back to the electors. The poor performance of 5 years has managed to alienate almost all social groups in the state, a situation which Siddaramaiah failed to correct in his last budget too. This weak footing on the governance agenda could well cost Congress its last remaining government in a big state.