Budget drama: Can Kumaraswamy ignore Siddaramaiah?

Budget drama: Can Kumaraswamy ignore Siddaramaiah?

Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was not at fault when he raised objections for the grandiose plans of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy to present fresh budget proposals for the current fiscal. In the absence of a common minimum programme, why the Chief Minister has rushed to present the budget? If Siddaramaiah, who as the chairman of the co-ordination committee, is yet to be heard on various issues, then why Kumaraswamy went ahead with his plans? If he thinks that he would become darling of the masses by presenting the budget, then he is wrong.

Presenting populist budget year after year did nothing good for Siddaramaiah between 2013-18. However, he raised objections because he did not find any merit in going for a new document as already his party had presented a full-fledged budget. The better reason would have been to have a common goal and vision between the coalition partners before presenting the budget. When they struck the deal on May 15, the common goal was to clip the wings of the Modi-Shah combination.

The JD (S) is not the people's choice. But still Kumaraswamy is the chief minister and that's how the 'number democracy' works. So nothing stops Kumaraswamy from presenting a budget. But is there any need for it? The arguments could go well on both the sides. Anyways, Kumaraswamy is all set to present his budget document on July 5 in the legislature session to begin from July 2. If he thinks he has to bare his mind on public economy like Adam Smith or Kautilya, and then let him go ahead. But definitely the precious time of bureaucrats is not put into best use in the state's secretariat. The way the entire thing has been handled by him has also not sent right political signals to the Congress. Through his choice of former officers, mainly ex-IAS officer S Subramanya, he is getting the budget proposals ready.

At the same time, Kumaraswamy has realised that Siddaramaiah cannot be ignored or taken for granted. Now a meeting of the co-ordination committee has been convened on July 1. Kumaraswamy and his father have to accept the fact that Siddaramaiah cannot be ignored at this stage as he has skills to play his caste card when required. He also has all the potential to rebel. None other than the Senior Gowda knows how he can desert a party. Of course, at this point he is only trying to assert his presence in the Congress failing which he may be moved to political oblivion.

AICC President Rahul Gandhi probably should not have entertained Kumaraswamy when he went to Delhi to seek his intervention to permit the budget. There should have been the presence of State Congress leaders during the meeting. Undermining Karnataka senior party leaders would do no good for the Congress which is already being subservient to the JD (S).

Coming back to the point whether there is a need for a budget when already three months have passed in the financial year - If a leader wants to do good for the people, wants to show his skills for good governance and wants to show his economic acumen, then his actions should speak. Kumaraswamy was sworn in as the Chief Minister on May 23. Till today, forget planning improving infrastructure facilities in Karnataka, even garbage is not being lifted in Bengaluru city. Walk across the capital, you can see mounds of garbage. To activate the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, he did not require a full-fledged budget.

No doubt, Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara visited some lake areas and instructed for the removal of encroachments. But on ground, the work has not begun in full-swing. All the works which were taken up came to a standstill during the election period and the status has not changed. Till the end of monsoon, no civic work would begin and after the monsoon, the Palike would slip into amnesia. Almost all infrastructure work including cleaning drains has stopped in the capital. How these works are connected to the state's budget? If the highly tax generating city is facing these problems, then the plight of smaller towns and villages is unimaginable.

What's the point in holding meetings with the Mohandas Pais, Mazumdar Shas and the likes about garbage processing, when the basic work like lifting garbage from public places on a daily basis is not being done! Why consult N R Narayan Murthy to improve Bengaluru when being a Bengalurean the Chief Minister himself is aware of the basic problems of the city? When he has not been able to handle the garbage contractors' mafia, how does one get confidence that the budget alone would help him to better Karnataka? The JD (S) is a partner with the Congress in the BBMP council. Is he unaware how the city has turned into a garbage capital? He may not walk on the streets of Bengaluru or use footpaths but definitely he can see the crumbling infrastructure even sitting in his luxury SUVs.

What stopped the Chief Minister or his ministerial colleagues to be pro-active in implementing various welfare schemes which are not depending on the State's funds? What special interest the government has shown to implement the Swaccha Bharat Mission or Smart City scheme in different cities or as a matter of fact the Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana? Several roads have become unmotarable and bridges have collapsed due to the recent heavy rains and floods. What concerns the government has shown? It would be a 'festival time' for public works contractors in the weeks to come! Probably a report would get ready to seek funds from the Centre to tackle the aftermath of the floods. Wish the Chief Minister had shown interest in development works rather than focusing on re-posting certain IAS officers or ousting certain officers from the post they held. After all, bureaucrats function if political class does its duty. Getting job done by officers is in the hands of the ministerial team.

It is not that Siddarmaiah had come out with any anti-people measures in his budget presented on February 16 this year. At the most, Kumaraswamy would announce waiver of farm loan with many riders. This would naturally eat into funds for other welfare measures. He cannot exceed the rules under the Fiscal Responsibility Act. He may set aside a couple of crores for Science City in Gauribidanur to please the controversial retired vice chancellor K S Rangappa. He may also make way to ensure flow of funds to Mysuru, Manday, Ramanagara and Hassan districts. Apart from keeping up the poll promise to farmers, and displaying some tokenism, he can do no magic with the tight fiscal position the state is going through.

And, this would be so despite his choice of retired bureaucrats working for him. As Siddaramaiah said the supplementary budget would have been suffice to earmark funds for new programmes. People of Karnataka would have appreciated him better if he had come with a white paper on the state's financial condition and later announced his news plans. It is unfortunate that the people have no say in financial matters except paying tax as demanded by the government.

Many wise men have already prepared several documents giving suggestions to improve Bengaluru and Karnataka. All one has to do is to read and implement at least some of the suggestions. How can farmers' recurring problems be solved if water crisis is not attended to? Karnataka is emerging as a desert with vagaries of monsoon, shrinking space for water storage and poor water management. Isn't it too much to expect shortsighted political class to do anything in this direction? Providing potable water should be the priority. Except promoting short-term measure like installing water filters, what else is being done? MNCs into manufacturing of water filters are having roaring business. In addition, doctors and private hospitals too are becoming richer.

Coming to the present political situation, the JD(S) always finds tough to be accommodative. Going by the past and present, it is obvious that the JD(S) likes to dictate terms and manoeuvre for its advantage. But it may find tough to have its way with Siddaramaiah around. If the Congress isolates and ignores Siddaramaiah then the Gowdas would have the final laugh. As of now the Congress has only sidelined the former chief minister. Siddaramaiah has already embarrassed the party by openly questioning the present dispensation and also keeping off from the all-party meeting on the Cauvery river issue on Saturday.

If power is the adhesive factor in a coalition set up, even irritant factors can cause damage to the image of a government.

Tags:    Karnataka budget