The invite stated – ‘expected start 6.30 – 6.45 PM’, but when the programme actually started, my watch had ticked over to 8.30 PM. We shouldn’t have expected anything better, with two senior politicians busy in the middle of a pitched election campaign. Most people landed up on time, to see the production crew still setting up the stage and the mosquito repellent machine doing its thing. However, sitting in the open grounds with the beautifully illuminated Bangalore Palace in the background and anticipating a lively discussion made the sizeable audience forgive the delay.
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I was at ‘Yen Heltira Adyakshare?’ a programme initiated by the group SmartVote and organised by the television news channel TV9. The goal of the forum was to discuss the common man’s concerns with party leaders of the Congress, JD(S) and the BJP, and learn whether these were being addressed.
Among the audience were representatives from many non-profit organisations like Daksh, Praja.in, Child Rights Trust, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM), educationists, green belt fans and Resident Welfare Associations. While waiting for the party leaders to arrive, some from the audience introduced themselves. But without a mike, much of what they said was drowned by the TV crew testing their equipment; ‘Vilas, close up, Gopi, camera’ was all I heard.
There was a buzz of excitement as the leaders arrived. KPCC working President D K Shivakumar and ex-CM, H D Kumaraswamy from the JD(S), stood on the dais. The BJP had cancelled its representation at the eleventh hour, much to the disappointment of the organisers. Some in the audience, like Shivanna from Channapatna, were quite livid that the ruling party in the state couldn’t bother sending their representative.
Many were itching to grill the BJP on the performance of the current government, the Cauvery issue, power shortage and horse trading. However, because of the BJP’s no-show, some of the ire was directed towards Kumaraswamy regarding his party’s short-lived BJP-JD(S) coalition, asking him if he wasn’t indirectly responsible for the situation.
Kumaraswamy justified the decision to go with the BJP saying that at that time it was inevitable because no single party had majority, and since the Congress didn’t want to partner with JD(S), they had no choice but to go with BJP. He, however, did not seem to regret the decision.
Dr Balasubramaniam from SVYM asked a pertinent question relating to candidates being selected based on caste, religion and bank account and not on their abilities. He rattled out some damning statistics about only six per cent of the Indian population having access to toilets and only 22 per cent access to clean drinking water. His query was, when would the parties consider developmental work as the criteria for distributing tickets?
Shivakumar admitted that rural India was lacking in basic amenities. However, he also maintained that India has achieved a lot and Bangalore has been put on the global map. He quoted the US President, stating that even Barack Obama has remarked in his cabinet speech that unless the US strives harder, Indians will overshadow them. He assured the audience that his party will try to use the money generated by the cities towards rural development.
Kumaraswamy immediately retorted that Bangalore has achieved its fame due to private investment and has nothing to do with government. He said that during the BJP’s term, there has been no new investor in Bangalore.
Both of them said that they had a lot of questions to ask the BJP representative who could not make it to the show.
Candidate selection, corruption, Swiss accounts
Kodihalli Chandrashekar from the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha remarked that while BJP had failed in the state, it was a known fact that money and liquor were being used freely during the candidate selection process. His question to them was what are the qualities an ideal MP should have and when would parties select candidates based on merit. His question drew a round of applause from the audience.
Both Shivakumar and Kumaraswamy admitted it as the sad truth, but inevitable. Kumaraswamy explained that the political situation today was such that if a candidate wanted a ticket, he would be questioned about his money spending capacity: “Nin bank account nalli yestide anta keltare?” (They ask, how much money do you have in your bank account?) He, however, went on to declare that such a situation exists because the common man has chosen to ignore it. He stated that no candidate without money or political clout would get a ticket. When Hamid Palya of TV9 reminded him that Capt Gopinath is standing for the elections as an Independent, he said he would welcome the decision if the Captain won the seat.
The discussion invariably led to questions on corruption and Swiss bank accounts. Dr Balasubramaniam remarked that the Swiss banks held Rs. 25,000 crores of money from India and asked if that money will ever flow back to the country. Kumaraswamy replied, “Ippataidu savira alla, laksha irbeku” (25 lakh crores, not 25 thousand) and added that during his father Deve Gowda’s short term as the Prime Minister, he had proposed a ‘voluntary disclosure scheme’ for all MPs with black money. But it was canned for lack of support.
Both the politicians were of the opinion that corruption cannot be eradicated only by political parties. They remarked that such a revolution should also come from the citizens. Maybe a case of passing the buck, but this was one of the few issues, during the two hour long discussion, where both parties were unanimous.
Girija Hegde, a school principal, raised a question on the lack of education among MLAs. She pointed out, “Ondu peon agokke at least SSLC pass agbeku andmele obba adyakashire minimum education bedwa?” (The eligibility criteria for becoming a peon is SSLC. Should there not be a minimum education level to become a legislator?) Shivakumar pooh-poohed this, saying common sense was enough. When the question was explained in the larger context stating that the basic education in the country, especially in the rural sector is very low, he modified his answer and promised quality education if voted back to power.
The JD(S) leader remarked that though the government had various schemes for children, the rural economy was so bad that families could not afford education for children. He remarked, “Tinnoke akki ilde iddaga school ge henge kalistare?” (If people do not have food to eat, how will they send kids to school?). The sad truth, but perhaps it is better to acknowledge ground reality, so that something could be done about it, instead of living in denial.
Many other issues were raised by the informed audience, like more power to the Lok Ayukta, regional versus national parties, environmental issues and the poor attendance record of Karnataka MPs in parliament. While Kumaraswamy gave relevant answers on some issues, Shivakumar didn’t seem to be that concerned about some of his replies. He said, “Idella policy matteru, neevu 20 seat namge kodi, naavu toristivi.” (These are policy details, you give us 20 seats in Karnataka and we’ll make the difference) Kumaraswamy ended his talk saying that if JD (S) won, they would deliver results in the first year itself.
At the end of the debate, the general feeling among the audience was that of dissatisfaction. Many like Balu from Praja.in and P G Bhatt, an educationist, remarked that all issues are still being addressed in the same old ways, and politicians, irrespective of party affiliation, are all about promises that seldom see execution.
However, as Shivakumar said, the fundamental right – right to vote – is in our hands. It is perhaps time for all of us to think long and hard, and vote for the right candidate. So think smart, vote right! ⊕