There are few states that are as blessed as Karnataka located in the South West of India. Adi Shankara visioned this more than twelve centuries ago when he established first of the four Amnaya Peethams at Sringeri.
With an extensive coastline, fertile land, moderate climate and rich mineral resources in the north, Karnataka historically gained from its location between the financial hub of Mumbai and the industrial landscape of South India. Not surprisingly, Bengaluru emerged as the Indian IT hub (or so-called “Indian Silicon Valley”) and preferred investment destination for major IT giants. Two of India’s largest software firms: Infosys and Wipro, are headquartered in the state capital. Bengaluru receives the third highest FDI equity inflow behind Mumbai and NCR.
In the last two decades, Bengaluru has emerged as a major destination for Indian youth. This fuelled the city as the new growth center of rapidly modernizing India. Bengaluru ultimately evolved as the first Indian city that could rival the growth of Mumbai and Delhi. Public safety and economic opportunity became the two wheels of this progress. But this expansion is now thwarted and the upcoming assembly elections hold the key for the future of Karnataka and Bengaluru.
For the last 5 years, Karnataka is ruled by Congress government under sixty-nine-year-old Siddaramaiah. The regime of CM Siddaramaiah has seen a prodigious surge in corruption, deplorable law and order, deterioration of public services and environment and worst of all: State-sponsored divisive agenda to divide citizens using language, flag, religious/caste affiliations and what not in order to hide the collapse of governance. An analysis of the state government’s performance confirms this assertion. The Congress government has failed on every parameter of development.
The number of reported farmer suicides in the land of Krishna-Kaveri crossed over three thousand five hundred in the last five years. Of these, more than two thousand suicides happened in the last three years. And this is just the official data. The entire rural economy of Karnataka has been neglected and rural communities suffer from low income lacking access to basic farming machinery and technology. In a state where more than half of the workforce is engaged in agriculture and related activities, only one-third of total land under cultivation has access to irrigation. Women are increasingly withdrawing from the rural workforce in Karnataka at a speed higher than other states and twice that of neighboring Tamil Nadu.
The health care under CM Siddaramaiah failed to deliver too because of poor investment in healthcare and difficulty in accessing health centers. Karnataka makes one of the lowest fund allocations for public health in India at 4% and even the majority of that is spent on salaries. Overall health outcomes in Karnataka still lag behind neighboring states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The analysis shows that the number of community health centers (CHCs) have actually decreased and now there are just 204 operating CHCs (compared to 325 in 2007–08) for a population equal to that of France. There is a tremendous lack of doctors and health staff in rural areas as a result of the state government’s policy of only allotting contractual posts. More than 36% of children below the age of 5 years face stunting in Karnataka with stunting rising over 50% in northern districts. In the latest NITI Ayog health index Karnataka dropped from 7th to 9th place in 2015–16 compared to 2014–15. This was a consequence of a rising proportion of low birth weight (<2.5 kg), dwindling sex ratio (939 girls to 1000 boys) and poor health infrastructure support. As per the available data, not a single individual has been convicted for female foeticide in Karnataka in the past 14 years.
In the education department, the government pushed ahead a policy of dividing students based on their caste and religious affiliations. While Rahul Gandhi can dodge the question of students on communalizing education in Karnataka, he can not dodge facts.
As government schools struggle for basic infrastructure, Siddaramaiah government distributes Rs 20 lakh per annum scholarship to non-Hindu students. So much for secularism!
The Annual Status of Education Report (2017) showed how half the children aged between 14 to 18 in Mysuru were unable to read or understand written instructions. Several surveyed children could not even tell time. As per the latest data from data of the District Information System for Education (DISE), 35% government schools in Karnataka have three or fewer classrooms and around half of the school teachers in Karnataka are not even graduates.
As per the data from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), crime has peaked to an unprecedented level in Bengaluru. Same data also illustrate how Siddaramaiah’s ‘Karnataka model of development’ falls flat on safety when compared to Gujarat. Karnataka witnessed seven times more incidents than in Gujarat where criminal force was used with an intent to disrobe a woman.
Reported rapes in Congress-ruled Karnataka were almost twice that in Gujarat despite similar population structure. Karnataka recorded the highest number of violent incidents against SC/STs in India (1741) in 2016 which is 8 times higher than in Gujarat. Karnataka has one of the lowest conviction rates for crimes against women and Bengaluru is now rated among the most unsafe cities of India behind Delhi and Mumbai. Bengaluru ranks 3rd among Indian cities when it comes to assault on women, molestation, robbery, and kidnapping.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for the state comes from the coastal regions where Islamic fundamentalism from Kerala is seeping into Karnataka. Rampant Muslim appeasement by Congress government meant that Karnataka has emerged as the most communally sensitive state in South India. There has been a huge expansion in the number of Madrasa-Mosque in the three coastal districts (Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada) funded by the return of many Beary Muslims from Gulf countries.
When last year Karnataka-born IS operative Mohammed Shafi Armar was declared global terrorist by the US, it only confirmed the deep roots of Jihadi extremism in the state. Now Islamic extremists of Popular Front of India (PFI) are working alongside banned SIMI operatives and Indian Mujahideen while Siddaramaiah government drops communal cases against Muslim accused. A political outfit by the name of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) with a clear Islamist ideology and close links with PFI has gained much following among the local Muslim population in coastal Karnataka.
And this is not it. While the Congress government used flag politics and Lingayat issue to further divide the citizens right before the elections, the entire state administration and police system are soaked in corruption.
And this corruption has links all the way to the top of the state administration in the form of CM office. While CM Siddaramaiah was able to save his position when he was caught wearing a 70 lakh diamond-studded Swiss watch, his infatuation with luxury items is only the tip of the iceberg.
In a survey held last year, Karnataka was ranked as the most corrupt state of India. Every department and political office of the state is suffering from this state-sponsored corruption and loot. The Congress government never implemented the Santosh Hegde report on illegal mining (a demand it made while in opposition) and weakened the office of Lokayukta by forming an Anti Corruption Bureau working under the state government.
The recent brutal assault case involving Mohammed Nalapad, son of powerful Congress MLA NA Haris was a perfect demonstration of the growing disdain for the rule of law in the state. The way entire police and state administration stood beside Mohammed Nalapad showed the extent to which CM Siddaramaiah is dependent on such criminal elements.
Nalapad and his family have deep real estate links in the Middle East with properties spread across Karnataka. Mohammed Nalapad has been accused of running an extortion racket on the behest of his MLA father under patronage of Congress administration. Even Congress President Rahul Gandhi avoided speaking on the brutal assault by Mohammed Nalapad while making tall claims of a ‘Safe Karnataka’. Such is the audacity of power-drunk Siddaramaiah that Congress again declared NA Haris as its candidate from Shantinagar seat.
What Karnataka needs is a fresh impetus on growth and development. A model of development that recognises the immense role of Bengaluru but in sync with equitable distribution of public services, health and quality education in rural Karnataka. Cities like Mysuru have much growth potential and a rapid metro connectivity with Bengaluru can help ease the pressure on the capital city.
Karnataka’s growth story has been heavily dependent on Bengaluru while other tier-II cities remain far behind. Between 2012–16, Karnataka (7.68%) remained behind Gujarat (10%) and West Bengal (8.30%) in terms of state GDP growth rate. The benefits of growth have not reached to all sections of the population. Somehow they are ‘eaten up’ in the process. Karnataka owes much of its progress to foreign investment and private sector that leads the IT industry, biotech, and private educational institutes. Besides the capital Bengaluru, the rest of Karnataka has missed this development.
There exists a stark inequality in terms of economic and social opportunities across the state. The natural resources rich North Karnataka with its rich mining districts has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Historically marginalised groups like SC/STs and agriculture labour make the bulk of this extreme poverty. In a nutshell, Karnataka except Bengaluru urban region remains as one of the least developed state surrounded by some of the most developed states of India: Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Karnataka is indeed the last bastion of the UPA II proudly brandishing its high walls of scams and abuse of public funds. The biggest causality has been the governance and growth of the state. The city of Bengaluru that was destined to be a “global city” is now mired with poor civic infrastructure, bus connectivity and lack of proper walking space. In the last 5 years, power situation in Karnataka only deteriorated alongside the water woes. The long power outage is the new normal in capital Bengaluru. Karnataka now has one of the highest peak time power deficit among all the states of India. Karnataka’s power-generation stations produce less than half of their installed capacity of around 9,000 MW which itself is far below the demand of 12,000 MW in the state. The failure of CM Siddaramaiah and Congress is also reflected in stalled growth prospects of the state too. Not surprisingly, in last three years, FDI to Karnataka halved to just over 2 billion USD and now stand behind both Gujarat (3.36 billion USD) and Tamil Nadu (2.22 billion USD).
The city of Bengaluru became a victim of unplanned urbanisation where builder mafia close to the ruling party made big gains while flouting all civic regulations. The peace of Bengaluru was replaced by chaos, poor construction and haphazard expansion. The burning of Bengaluru’s largest Bellandur lake is the new poster for once “garden city” that seems more like the “City of burning lakes” under the Siddaramaiah government. Less than one-fourth of Karnataka is now under forest cover far below the 33 percent coverage prescribed in the National Forest Policy. It will take decades to correct this environmental destruction of Karnataka’s natural resources.
In the next few days, people of Karnataka will have to make a decisive choice. Congress currently holds power in just two more states: Punjab and Mizoram. No wonder Rahul Gandhi is using all his force in this election campaign despite a strong anti-incumbency against the Congress.
Multi-millionarie Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge also comes from Karnataka and so does the notorious Reddy brothers of “Republic of Bellary” from where Sonia Gandhi once started her political journey. This is how important Karnataka is for Rahul Gandhi led Congress. While it is certain that CM Siddaramaiah and his government will get the boot, it is pertinent that he gets a rather strong one.
In many ways, the last two years of Congress rule in Karnataka have a strike resemblance with the fall of Akhilesh Yadav be its false claim of development, using PR branding campaigns or roping in Rahul Gandhi. In reality, CM Siddaramaiah is more like a hybrid version of Lalu Prasad, Akhilesh and Mayawati put together in one. While mainstream media portrays the Karnataka elections to be a contest between PM Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi, it is rather an election for the future of Karnataka and its economy. Let there be no doubt: Bengaluru will be reduced to Patna under Lalu Prasad unless Congress party is kept away from power.
The criminalization of politics has reached dangerous levels in the state and it is for the Kannadigas to fix that by using their power to vote. Because if political goons like Mohammed Nalapad are allowed to roam free on the streets of Bengaluru yet again, the next victim might be a common resident and it won’t matter if she or he speaks Kannada, Tamil or English.