Karnataka mining row and BJP’s dilemma
Ritesh K Srivastava
A political tsunami is waiting to usurp Karnataka the day state’s Ombudsman N Santosh Hegde submits his final and “extremely explosive report’ on colossal illegal mining racket involving the bigwigs of Bangalore politics including Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa.
Although, Hedge’s report on illegal mining pins down big sharks from all major parties including Janta Dal(S) and Congress, but it spells biggest catastrophe for the ruling BJP, which now finds itself cornered on the issue of corruption.
The Lokayukta’s tell-all report, which runs for thousands of pages, has exposed the deadly nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists in the rampant illegal mining and iron ore export from Karnataka.
The voluminous report, which is bound to become a tool for settling political scores among the warring factions in this southern state, has revealed the mining industry’s best kept secret —the names of major stakeholders in the Rs 1800 crore illegal mining business.
Justice Hedge has surely taken the bull by the horns by daring to highlight how important leases were sanctioned to the mining barons of the state at the behest of politicians in the past few years.
The crucial report traces the money trail in the illegal mining business, which runs unabated due to a powerful nexus between mine-owners, politicians and the government staff who handle various operations at Mangalore, Karwar and Belekeri ports in Karnataka and other ports in Goa and Andhra Pradesh.
Justice Hegde and his investigating officers have searched hundreds of documents and permits which revealed how invoices were manipulated, tampered and under-taxed.
The Lokayukta`s team has identified several individuals, who were involved as benami account holders and ran dummy companies involved in illegal mining.
These dubious firms received money in their false accounts, and from there it was transferred from one bank account to another before reaching the real beneficiary.
The state’s mining scam in Bellary, which is being dubbed as mother of all mining violations probably in the country, has dealt a major blow to the ruling BJP, leaving it breathless and without options.
The saffron party, which in 2008 Assembly Elections succeeded in clinching power from rival JD-S and Congress, is finding it difficult to save itself from the intense criticism and embarrassment stemming out of Hedge’s exposure on the illegal mining industry.
In the past three years, Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has faced several allegations of corruption, managed revolts and dissidence within his party and survived acid tests to prove his suitability to the post.
While BSY struggles to counter the allegations, the BJP crisis managers are at work exploring best possible way out.
As of now there is no word from the party high command on dropping BSY as the Chief Minister, it is likely that a decision in this regard is taken once the contents of the report are made public.
The main opposition is spearheading a fierce campaign against the corruption-hit UPA government at the Centre and plans to capitalise on the public anger brewing against the Congress party.
However, the BJP leadership knows that the success of its campaign will depend on how quickly it gets rid of its own taint in Karnataka. This would require the BJP central leadership to take some tough decisions about BSY’s continuance as Chief Minister.
Although, his continuation on the post might come as a major embarrassment for BJP, which will risk losing the moral high ground that it has taken on corruption in Parliament.
Further, the lack of support from the right-wing RSS due to endless stream of scams exposed against the BJP government may worsen things for Yeddyurappa.
However, sacking him will not be easy since he is still the party’s tallest leader in Karnataka and removing him unceremoniously can trigger a revolt by his powerful Lingayat community against the BJP leading to its split.
So the BJP seems to be carefully weighing all options and restraining itself from taking extreme steps until the situation warrants. However, in any case, the high command would also not tolerate any indiscipline within the party emanating from BSY’s blackmail for power in Karnataka.
In a balancing act, BJP can opt for dissolving the legislative assembly early next year and go for fresh elections one year ahead of schedule.
On the other hand, the opposition Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) are hoping the mining report will end BJP’s alleged misrule in the state. The Congress and the JD-S, on their part, have begun preparations for possible early polls and are finalising the list of probable candidates for the 225-member assembly.
With so many scams being unearthed every day, it is clear that politicians will never favour a competent and effective watchdog against corruption.
In this context it would be interesting to see if crusaders like Santosh Hegde can achieve their goal of establishing a corruption-free society and take the fight against corruption to the next level.