Karnataka’s year of elections, defections and meltdown worries

December 31st, 2008 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Dec 31 (IANS) After nearly four years of political instability, Karnataka voted for a near stable regime in early 2008 but defections, scandals, terror attack and the impact of global financial meltdown came as a dampener.The year began with the state in election mode, following the collapse of three coalition governments in three and a half years.

In an unusual coincidence this New Year also begins with the state’s attention once again on polls, though this time on the general elections to Lok Sabha, expected in April-May.

The year gone by will certainly be cherished by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it came to power in the state and in south India for first time, though with the help of independents.

As 2008 drew to a close, the party’s dream of being in power on its own strength was fulfilled as it won five of the eight by-elections to achieve majority - 115 seats - in the 225-member Karnataka assembly.

In the May 2008 elections the BJP had won 110 seats and formed the government with the help of independents. It launched ‘Operation Lotus’ (Lotus is the party’s election symbol) to win over Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) legislators. Four JD-S and three Congress legislators crossed over to the BJP after resigning from the assembly.

In the by-elections necessitated by their resignations, BJP bagged five seats to rule Karnataka on its own strength.

The eighth by-poll was caused by the death of a JD-S legislator. JD-S retained this seat and also won from two other assembly segments.

For the main opposition Congress party, the year was disastrous as it not only failed to regain the power it lost in 2004 but did not win even a single seat in the year-end by-elections.

BJP’s rule, however, began on a tragic note.

Two people were killed in police firing on a group of farmers agitating over fertiliser shortage in a north Karnataka town within days of the party assuming power May 30.

In July Bangalore was hit by a series of eight low intensity explosions killing one woman and injuring 15 other people.

This was the second major terror strike in the city after the December 2005 attack on Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in which an emeritus professor of Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT) Delhi, M.C. Puri, was killed.

Power shortage in the capital and India’s tech hub Bangalore and other areas of the state continued to torment people. Scheduled and non-scheduled power cuts left people grumbling and bearing the disruptions with a frown.

Through the year the three main political forces in the state - Congress, BJP and JD-S - provided the people with lot of talking points by hurling corruption charges against each other.

Towards the end of the year BJP’s first chief minister in the south B.S. Yeddyurappa filed a defamation suit against his predecessor H.D. Kumaraswamy of JD-S for charging him with taking money from a land developer.

The Congress suffered a huge embarrassment as the state anti-corruption body found its senior leader Dharam Singh was allowing illegal mining of iron ore when he was chief minister of a Congress-JD-S coalition government in 2004-2006.

Dharam Singh has contested the finding and asserts he is innocent and the report is politically motivated as the government made it public just ahead of the eight by-elections.

Amidst these power games, the impact of the global financial meltdown is being felt visibly by the hospitality industry and not so dramatically in the IT and ITES sector.

Tourist arrivals in Bangalore, both foreign and domestic, have fallen by nearly 70 percent.

With well-paid techies worried about their jobs in the New Year and trying to save every penny, luxury hotels, which thrived on organising exotic year-end parties with charges upwards of Rs.10,000 per couple, have either scaled down or cancelled the shows.

“It’s the economy, stupid” is a popular saying in the election year in the US.

Never in the past have US economic problems had such a direct impact on Karnataka and particularly on Bangalore.

Ironically, the fallout of the recession in the US economy is being felt in Bangalore when electoral prospects of BJP, dubbed more friendly to the US than any other political party in India, appears to be on the upswing in the state.

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