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More misses than hits as Siddaramaiah completes four years as Karnataka CM

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-05-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru: On 13 May, Siddaramaiah will complete four years as chief minister of Karnataka. During his term, the backward classes leader pushed the welfare brand of politics, focused on social justice, but was short-sighted in his approach towards infrastructure and big-ticket projects, couldn’t push agriculture and land reform and was unable to overcome legacy issues he once challenged, said urban experts, farmer leaders and political analysts.

The chief minister maintains that he has been able to provide a stable political atmosphere, fulfil over 125 of the 165 promises in the party’s 2013 manifesto, and helped backward classes with flagship schemes like Anna Bhagya (distribution of food) and Ksheera Bhagya (milk for schoolchildren), among other measures, that will see the Congress retain power in the state.

Siddaramaiah’s term is also considered more stable when compared to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government which saw three chief ministers in its five-year term and was voted out due to allegations of illegal mining and large-scale corruption.

And because of these reasons Siddaramaiah should have worked to create good infrastructure, said R.K. Mishra, founder-director of the Centre for Smart Cities, an urban infrastructure advisory body. He added that the chief minister could have focused on infrastructure investment in the first two years, but instead got caught up with his image as an AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) champion.

“Had he done this (invest in infrastructure in the first two years), his government would have reaped the benefits when his term ended,” Mishra says.

Four years into his term, Siddaramaiah is saddled with deteriorating government machinery, crumbling infrastructure in cities like Bengaluru, garbage crisis, polluted lakes, corruption and sex scandals, issues that raise questions on his style of functioning, apart from allegations of impropriety against his family members.

The infrastructure—or the lack of it—in Bengaluru has also given fodder to the opposition as well as proactive citizen groups to take up issues online, attracting political vagabonds to capitalise on civic issues.

Bengaluru, which contributes over half of the state’s gross domestic product, has been left wanting with polluted lakes, pothole-ridden roads and growing urban poverty that is yet to be addressed by the government.

Mishra said that controversial infrastructure proposals like the Rs1,800 crore, 6.7-kilometre steel flyover was given political backing but the 44-km metro line, that has a better chance to decongest the city, remains incomplete.

Narendar Pani, political analyst and professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, however, said the present government has brought the focus back on Bengaluru and credits the chief minister for improving infrastructure like linking highways and industrial zones in tier II cities like Tumkur. He added that the government has also looked at other cities and regions for industrial investment, unlike his predecessors.

North Karnataka, the second-most arid region in the country, does not see the same level of investment, interest or dedication from Siddaramaiah or his predecessors—a grouse that people from the region hold against the more prosperous south Karnataka.

With a stronger hold over north Karnataka, BJP has been trying to make inroads into the Cauvery basin in the south only to be brushed off by Siddaramaiah and his growing influence in the region minus the farmer community.

“He has failed the farmers. If anything, farmers are worse off today. This government has good plans but nothing happening on ground,” Kurubur Shanthakumar, farmer activist and president of the Karnataka Sugarcane Growers Association told Mint. “Siddaramaiah, of all people, should have done better,” he added.

Shanthakumar and Harish Ramaswamy said Siddaramaiah is a pale shade of his 1980s self when he was known for his firebrand style of politics, socialist approach and an astute sense of finance. Siddaramaiah, the elected representative from Varuna in Mysore, has presented 12 budgets in his over-three-decade political career. Pani said the chief minister has shown good financial prudence and innovation, like increasing state excise and removing VAT (value-added tax) to insulate itself from any negative impact of goods and services tax (GST).

Ramaswamy listed more successes including pushing through populist measures, including all sections of society, presence in the legislature and maintaining a firm grip on his government despite the dissent and upheaval from within his own party ever since he took office.

Many within the Congress party see his growing influence as a problem and still consider Siddaramaiah an “outsider”.

Senior Congress leaders and legislators from the Congress have openly questioned Siddaramaiah’s style of functioning which some of them call “arrogant”. More so after the June 2016 cabinet reshuffle which saw 14 senior minister replaced by first-time legislators.

Agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda said the government under Siddaramaiah has been largely unsuccessful in communicating the good work to the population. He added that the government has to work towards better delivery of last-mile administration to bring services closer to people.

Despite growing calls for his ouster, Siddaramaiah has only grown in stature, especially after the drubbing of the BJP in the Nanjangud and Gundlupet by-elections in April.

Heading into his last year, Siddaramaiah has been in a hurry to push for more welfare measures, irrigation projects and backward classes welfare, among others, in what analysts call a last bid attempt to reverse his preceding four years “which has more misses than hits”.

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