Karnataka MLAs - junketing at a time of drought
Bangalore: It's the local variation of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Or politicians enjoying themselves while people suffer.
At a time when Karnataka has been hit by its worst drought in 40 years, affecting the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people across its rural hinterland, several legislators from the three main parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), are on a "study tour" to South America.
The two-week all expenses paid tour of 12 legislators and three officials that will cost around Rs 1 crore was organised to ostensibly study civic facilities in countries such as Argentina, Peru and Chile. However, it is learnt, no appointments have been fixed, leaving the travellers free to "study" the exotic sights of South America.
The three political parties are "united" in condemning their legislators, who flew out of Bangalore last Thursday, some with their families, for ignoring their pleas to abandon the tour but maintained a "studied silence" on the disciplinary action they plan.
The Congress and the JD-S have an advantage over the ruling BJP in the blame game.
They are questioning how Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and Assembly Speaker KG Bopaiah allowed the tour.
Shettar, the third BJP leader to head the party's government in four years, first declined to comment on the legislators, ignoring appeals to postpone the tour by two or three months.
Later, he expressed his helplessness, saying he and the Speaker had advised the legislators against the tour.
People in the state, however, have begun to term the blame game as "match-fixing' since all three political parties, facing elections in the next few months, have kept their legislators happy while making a public display of outrage and pointing fingers at each other.
"This is a typical case of having your cake and eating it too," said M Sadashivaiah, a retired school teacher.
"All parties are fooling the people by blaming each other since they think when elections are held, some other issue will be the hot topic," Sadashivaiah said.
"I see this as match-fixing," added R Sudhindra, a software engineer.
"How can any of these parties claim they could not stop their legislators from going on this tour? No one will buy this plea," he said.
Each legislator has been given around Rs 700,000 for the tour. Expenses of the family members on the tour will have to be borne by the legislators.
Some legislators made matters worse by their response to questions on how they could go on tour when the state was reeling under drought.
Congress legislator BC Patil told reporters at the Bangalore airport ahead of departure that "the world would not end if they go on the tour".
"Has anyone stopped eating and sleeping because there is drought?" he shot back at reporters and argued that "the expenditure of about Rs 600,000 on each legislator for the tour will not make any difference to drought relief".
V Nadagoud of JD-S too was angry. "What is wrong? There is no drought in my constituency," he told reporters.
While the BJP and the JD-S are not yet talking of any action against their legislators, the Congress is looking up to the "high command" for direction.
State Congress chief G Parameshwara told reporters on Sunday that high command would be informed about the three party legislators ignoring the warning and going on the tour.
What would be interesting to watch is whether the three parties will come together to stop two more batches of legislators from going on a tour of Russia and some Scandinavian countries in the next few weeks or allow them to fly out and continue the "match-fixing" and blame game.
For the record, the state government has declared 146 'taluks' or revenue sub-divisions out of the state's 176 drought-hit and has sought Rs 2,000 crore from the Central government for short-term relief measures.
For long-term relief, it wants no less than Rs 11,000 crore.