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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

Barkha Dutt

Southern discomfort
Barkha Dutt
July 22, 2011
First Published: 22:06 IST(22/7/2011)
Last Updated: 22:12 IST(22/7/2011)

It's a matter of some irony that this was the week in which the Karnataka government sought to propagate the mandatory teaching of the Bhagavad Gita in schools across the state. The minister for primary and secondary education went so far as to argue that those who opposed this and embraced "western" influences instead should simply leave the country.

Now, one has to wonder whether the morality and philosophy lessons need to first begin at the state secretariat.

In a week when Karnataka's main anti-corruption watchdog has said it has "substantive evidence" to implicate chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and key colleagues in the multi-crore illegal mining scam, the state government has continued to hide behind opaque excuses and obfuscation that seek a tenuous distinction between "illegality and immorality."

The mealy-mouthed response to the justice Santosh Hegde report on the politician-businessmen mafia that controls mining licenses in the state is  a long distance from the notion of duty immortalised in the Gita, in which among the many pithy observations on duty and obligation, Krishna tells Arjuna that for one who has been honoured, "dishonour is worse than death."

But neither disgrace nor dishonour seem to dent the stubborn survival instinct of the Yeddyurappa government. Even more startling has been the BJP's reluctance - rather its abject inability - to make a clear intervention in Karnataka.

It seems commonsensical that the sullied governance record of the Yeddyurappa government is the weakest link in the BJP's otherwise hugely successful anti-corruption political crusade against the Manmohan Singh-government. But if perception problems and prima facie proof was enough to demand and secure the scalps of a slew of leaders - from A Raja to Ashok Chavan - why aren't the same parameters applicable to Karnataka?

Ironically, it's the BJP patriarch LK Advani who first went on record to say that he was deeply concerned about the "state of affairs in Karnataka." But when I asked party president Nitin Gadkari to react to those comments, he sidestepped the controversy, insisting that that there were no corruption charges against the government and the recent by-elections were proof of "victory and popular support". Of course, this fall-back on electoral arithmetic was the exact argument employed by the PM in Parliament during a debate on corruption. At the time, it had enraged the BJP enough to say that judicial and moral accountability did not end at the ballot box.

Gadkari did concede the fact that the chief minister used his discretionary quota on land allotment for his family members was "not to be appreciated." But he maintained that while "immoral", the decision was "100% legal". Despite several public outbursts by Justice Hegde against the attempts to squash his inquiries into both land allocation and iron-ore mining, the BJP party president said that Hegde had so far not submitted any written report against the state government.

This was before the explosive findings of the lokayukta on illegal mining had made their way into the public domain and also before the high court threw out a petition by Yeddyurappa's son-in-law challenging the investigation against him in the contentious land allocation case.

Notwithstanding all the sophistry, the BJP is no longer left with too many reasons to protect either Yeddyurappa or the 'Bellary brothers' who stand charged of running the mining mafia with a 'zero-risk strategy'. Sure, the BJP can and will call out the double standards of the Congress in failing to react with similar urgency to the lokayukta's findings against members of the Delhi government. And yes, no one looks upon the Karnataka governor as an effective or honest arbiter of public morality. If anything, his clumsy and extra-constitutional efforts to push president's rule in the state is what has given Yeddyurappa the most ironic halo of a victim in the past.

More than 500 officials, past and present, are said to have been implicated in the report on illegal mining. The width and scale of the scam has been acknowledged by the lokayukta who says at least 43 mining companies were being illegally controlled by ministers in the state government. Justice Hegde has also been plainspoken in warning against political one-upmanship, declaring that almost every political party has someone with "his hand in the till." This includes former chief minister

HD Kumaraswamy as well as Congress MPs like Anil Lad.

But the hypocrisy of others is no excuse for the misdemeanours of the BJP. The report virtually accuses its chief minister of taking a bribe by arguing that mammoth donations to Yeddyurappa's family trust by a mining company were clearly part of some "collateral" arrangement for getting a license. So was the audacity with which the chief minister's son and son-in-law sold land to another mining company at 20 times the market value. And the lokayukta believes that the enforcement directorate needs to investigate whether money made on these deals by other ministers was transferred to tax havens outside India.

True, losing Yeddyurappa, an influential Lingayat leader, is possibly tantamount to losing the entire state. For a party that has spent years trying to grow beyond the Hindi heartland, Karnataka was crucial in the BJP's aspirations as a party with national presence. But at the moment its choice is between electoral presence and national credibility. On the eve of a Parliament session where the Opposition should have had the upper hand, Karnataka could prove to be the BJP's undoing.

Justice Hegde says if he were the chief minister he would stop going to work. The BJP doesn't even need to turn to the philosophical complexities of the Bhagavad Gita to read the writing on the wall. It's time to say Goodbye and Good Luck to BS Yeddyurappa.

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

The views expressed by the author are personal


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