When the Bharatiya Janata Party deployed G.Janardhana Reddy, accused in a ₹35,000 crore-mining scam, as an election campaigner in Karnataka, there were howls of protest from the opposition.
There has been noticeably less outrage in the case of the Congress's D.K. Shivakumar, an accused in at least four cases of corruption, forgery and criminal conspiracy. Less than a year ago, the MLA from Kanakapura was accused of destroying evidence in connection with multiple tax evasion cases. While IT officials claimed to have unearthed somewhere between ₹10 to ₹300 crores in undisclosed income from his residences, the former energy minister of Karnataka insisted that he was being targeted by the Modi government.
His declared assets have increased from ₹251 crores in 2013 to ₹840 crores.
Last week, Shivakumar went from a fat cat tainted by illegal land and mining scams to the hero of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance in Karnataka. The 55-year-old has emerged as a master strategist, who outsmarted the BJP president Amit Shah, outflanked Reddy, and ensured that not a single MLA from his party defected to the rival camp.
Observers agree that Reddy and Shivakumar, two of the richest and most powerful men in the state, both accused of serious crimes, have been key beneficiaries of the election.
Shivakumar has the advantage of being on the winning side, but whether the scam-tainted lawmaker can elevate himself in the government and within the party remains to be seen. Despite the lead he took in securing the alliance, Congress sources say that his advancement isn't a done deal.
The blatant use of money-power has some feeling a bit soiled.
"We all know the kind of money power that Janardhana has," said T.J. Abraham, a prominent anti-corruption activist in Karnataka, referring to the mining baron. "Now, if Janardhana failed to lure people then you can imagine the kind of power Shivakumar has. He was able to beat Janardhana."
Abraham, who has taken Shivakumar to the Supreme Court over a land grabbing case from 2003, added that people have become indifferent to crime and corruption in their leaders. "People ask me why are you after him for just four acres of land. They say it is nothing. These days it needs to be 2,000 acres for people to have any interest. The common man is used to a corrupt world," he said.
Now, if Janardhana failed to lure people then you can imagine the kind of power Shivakumar has. He was able beat Janardhana.
Despite the furore around the Reddy's presence, the former minister campaigned for the BJP, while his kith and kin were given tickets to contest the election. On May 3, while campaigning in Ballari, where Reddy allegedly carried out extensive illegal mining of iron ore, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared a stage with his elder brother, Gali Somasekhara Reddy.
Not all of his associates emerged winners in the election, but Reddy's family staged a definitive comeback. Reddy's brothers, GS Reddy and Gali Karunakara Reddy, won by margins of 10,000 votes from Ballari city and Harapanahalli respectively, appending political clout to their considerable money and muscle power in the southern state.
Not only were the Reddy brothers expected to deliver the 23 Assembly seats from their stronghold of Ballari, once called the "Republic of Bellary," observers said that the BJP had relied on GJ Reddy to find the lawmakers they needed to form a majority. The Congress, last week, released an audiotape in which the party claimed that Reddy can be heard telling a recently elected lawmaker, "You will make 100 times the wealth you made so far."
The common man is used to a corrupt world.
Difference in criminology
The BJP fielded the highest number of candidates (83) with criminal records in Karnataka followed by the Congress (59). In addition, the Centre for Media studies found the Assembly election to be the costliest ever, with political parties reportedly spending over 10,500 crore rupees.
The rampant criminality in Karnataka politics has analysts splitting hairs to explain the difference between the various configurations.
Tolpady Rajaram, a political science professor at Mangalore University, described Reddy's politics as "exclusivist and crude," while Shivakumar, a seven-time MLA, was a "more rooted politician with popular contact."
"I'm not denying D.K. Shivakumar's criminal record, but his criminology is very different from that of Reddy," he said. "The kind of political leadership that was emerging under Yeddyruppa with financial support from Reddy is far more dangerous than a JD(S)-Congress alliance with Shivakumar as the kingpin."
Rajaram was referring to BJP's B.S. Yeddyurappa, who served as the chief minister of Karnataka for less than 48 hours, last week. In 2011, when the BJP was in power in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa was forced to resign as the CM after he was accused of illegally denotifying land. He was charged with corruption and jailed in October of the same year.
During the course of the election campaign, the Congress had repeatedly cited the example of the Reddy brothers to highlight BJP's hypocrisy when it came to fighting corruption.
In its own backyard, however, the party has not only ignored the fact that Shivakumar is accused of several serious crimes, but repeatedly used his influence and resources to safeguard its own interests.
Ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls, last year, it was Shivakumar who prevented horse-trading by sequestering 44 Congress MLAs from Gujarat in a hotel in Bengaluru.
This time around, Shivakumar reportedly had his fellow MLAs under close observation and they were not even allowed to use their mobile phones.
S.R. Hiremath, an environmentalist who has spent his life fighting land and mining scams, and has called for an investigation by central agencies against Shivakumar, had this to say about his recent coup against the BJP: "It takes a thorn to defeat a thorn."
Hiremath noted that Shivakumar's growing political clout would only make it harder to eventually prosecute him. "I see the writing on the wall," he said.
I see the writing on the wall.
Having proven himself as indispensable to the party, Shivakumar had made a bid for the position of the deputy chief minister in the JD(S)-Congress coalition government.
Shivakumar has held the portfolios for energy, urban development, and prison and home guards, in previous Congress governments in Karnataka.
The reason that Shivakumar is unlikely to get the post of deputy chief minister has little to do with his alleged crimes, and more to do with him being a Vokkaliga, the same community as H.D. Kumaraswamy, the JD(S) president who is slated to be the chief minister.
On Tuesday, Congress's G. Parameshwara, a Dalit, was picked as the deputy CM. The question now is whether Shivakumar will be allowed to continue as the energy minister or given a portfolio of similar standing.
Shivakumar might have secured his position as the party's troubleshooter, but not everyone within the party is happy about the attention he has received. Internal political rivalries are at play. It remains to be seen whether the MLA from Kanakapura can extract his pound of flesh.
Inside the Congress
Inside the Congress, Shivakumar's sudden national prominence has attracted its share of critics.
His detractors say he managed the media optics and took credit for work done by the party high command of party president Rahul Gandhi, senior leader Ahmed Patel and general secretary K.C. Venugopal.
His critics within the party even say that Kumar did a poor job as the chairman of the election campaign committee, which had a wide range of critical tasks, from running political ads in various mediums to finding powerful personalities to speak at rallies.
"That is the reality, how politics works in this country," said a Bengaluru based Congress official." Every party has men like him who may have committed crimes, but they also have the power and influence that is needed."
That is the reality, how politics works in this country.
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