Touted as efficient, bold, incorruptible, when he took charge, the CM's image has taken a beating since February 2015

Reeling under successive scams Siddaramaiah government shaky at third anniversaryPTI
news Politics Saturday, May 14, 2016 - 19:49

On Friday, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress celebrated three years of rule in Karnataka. From being touted as an ‘efficient, bold, incorruptible leader’ when he assumed power in 2013, to being tagged as a lethargic CM after a spate of lacklustre schemes, Siddaramaiah has had a colourful journey. And since the beginning of 2015, the Chief Minister and his government have been dogged by a series of controversies.  

In February 2015, Siddaramaiah found himself entangled in a land denotification scandal, which revolved around illegal land transactions and de-notification of plots in Arakavathy layout in particular. Even as he defended himself saying that the de-notification fell under exceptions marked out by the court, BJP leaders consistently pressed for his prosecution. The case is still being probed by the Karnataka Lokayukta as well as the Justice Kempanna Commission.

More recently, another land denotification scandal hit the Chief Minister in April 2016, when a complaint was lodged by advocate Natraj Sharma before the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) regarding the denotification of 1 acre and 37 guntas of land at Rachenahalli village in Bengaluru.

Earlier in 2016, Siddaramaiah’s expensive Hublot watch became the point of an extended controversy. The Opposition repeatedly stalled proceedings in the Legislative Assembly, demanding a probe into the ‘watch controversy’, as Siddaramaiah’s assets clearly did not indicate his ability to afford a watch that cost around Rs 70 lakh.

Rubbishing the Opposition’s claims, Siddaramaiah said that the watch had been ‘gifted’ to him by a friend, and was hence a second-hand watch hardly worth Rs 7 lakh. He eventually declared it a state asset and deposited it with the state secretariat.

Almost as soon as he wiggled out of this controversy, he found himself facing charges of nepotism. In mid-April, the contract to set up a CT and MRI lab within the government-run Bengaluru Medical College and Research Institute was awarded to Matrix Imaging Digital Solutions, a private diagnostics firm. With the firm headed by Dr Yathindra, Siddaramaiah’s younger son, charges were leveled against the Chief Minister of favouring his son in a government contract.

Claiming his son won the tender fair and square, Siddaramaiah went on to say that he had no idea his son’s company was even bidding.  Finally, Yathindra quit  his post at Matrix on April 15..

While Siddaramaiah courted controversies at his personal end, his government was not spared from criticism either. One major criticism was regarding the setting up of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in March, effectively weakening the Lokayukta. The government has constantly borne the wrath of the High Court in this regard, with the latter slamming the hasty move to set up the ACB and for not restoring power to Lokayukta police. Recently, the HC ruled that all cases submitted before the Lokayukta police has to be investigated by them alone.

In the latest scandal, Irrigation Minister Shivraj Tangadagi suspended 26 engineers in relation to a Rs 34 crore scam in the development of minor irrigation tanks. While 17 officials belonged to the irrigation department, others were from various other departments. This controversy comes soon after Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister cancelled tenders for 46 water testing laboratories across the state, and ordered a CBI enquiry into what he admitted was a Rs 190-crore scam. 

The government’s image has also taken a hit following the explosive garment factory workers strike in Bengaluru, the Pre-University exam paper leaks, as well as the drought conditions across the state.        

Party high command Sonia Gandhi and other prominent leaders in Delhi have reportedly been unhappy with Siddaramiah's performance in Karnataka, particularly after the nepotism controversy. However, Siddaramaiah has been trying to convince leaders and public alike that he will remain the Chief Minister till the end of his five-year term. 

But if the government cannot climb out of the shadow of its many scams thus far, the next two years could be an uphill task.