HD Kumaraswamy’s ‘anguish’ over coalition is all about JD(S) survival; Karnataka CM in no hurry to lose power

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Wondering what governance means? Don’t. Just come to Karnataka and find a spanking new definition for it. Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal (Secular) would tell you that a government is an endowment trust, and governance means dishing out charity to vote banks. He may add that, during the intervals between episodes of freebie-distribution, a government may, if it so desires, address press conferences or attend to natural calamities.
With the Lok Sabha election less than a year away, Kumaraswamy finds that the best way to govern is to pass around goodies. Voters will then come rushing to EVMs and press the right buttons, won’t they?
File image of Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. APFile image of Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. AP
Even for Siddaramaiah of Congress, who was the chief minister till Kumaraswamy took over seven weeks ago, this was precisely what governance was all about. The only difference was that he had an eye on the Assembly election in May.
Now that both JD(S) and Congress are part of Karnataka’s ruling alliance, they should be happy that populism has only doubled. Right? Wrong. They have ended up competing in appeasement, as though it’s a game of throwing nets to fish for voters. Competitive populism between rival parties in a state is nothing new, but in Karnataka now, the financially disastrous one-upmanship in phoney socialism exists between parties of the same alliance.
If Kumaraswamy broke down at a party meeting on Saturday, it was because Congress is not letting his populism getting the better of its own.
But there is one problem. Populism begets more populism. Kumaraswamy waived off loans up to Rs 2 lakh taken by 17 lakh farmers till 31 December, 2017. But farmers weren’t happy enough. So on 12 July, he extended the cut-off date to 10 July, raising the number of beneficiaries to 22 lakh. He had first offered an incentive of Rs 25,000 to each farmer who had actually repaid a loan but raised it to Rs 1 lakh after demands.Siddaramaiah was announcing all this the very same day the RBI came out, once again, with a stiff warning that loan waivers would bloat fiscal deficits and raise inflation.
But RBI doesn’t contest elections, does it? Kumaraswamy is also seriously thinking of writing off education loans taken by graduates. And his father and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, who does plenty of backseat driving for the government, is hinting at waiving the loans of women’s self-help groups. Fishermen are now demanding that their loans, too, be written off. You can expect more to join this queue.Congress is clearly suspicious that the chief minister and his party will walk away with all the credit for the coalition’s collective generosity at the time of Lok Sabha polls. They even suspect that JD(S) aims to pick up as many LS seats as possible so that Gowda can manoeuvre himself to become the prime minister once again in case of a fractured result.Congress leaders even claim that the loan-waiver is largely benefitting farmers in the southern districts where JD(S) is strong.