Karnataka polls puncture demonetization's claims

Karnataka polls puncture demonetizations claimsFake currency seized in Belagavi. credit: ANI

Asha Krishnaswamy
Bengaluru: Who has been demonetized? Definitely not any of the prominent politicians of any party in Karnataka. A cursory glance at some of the affidavits filed by prominent politicians who are contesting the upcoming assembly elections only reveals that their wealth has swelled. This is the first major election the state is going through since the demonetization.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is the sixth richest among his counterparts in India, had an overall assets worth about Rs 13 crore in 2013. His affidavits filed in the Chamundeshwari constituency this time show he is worth Rs20.36 cr, on paper. He has become richer by Rs 7 crore in 5 years. A moderate growth indeed.
Interestingly, his son Dr Yathindra, the Congress candidate for the Varuna constituency, has declared that his movable and immovable properties are worth Rs 23 crore. He completed his MBBS in 2005 and MD in 2009, as per his affidavit. So in just about 8 years, the doctor has been able to outsmart his father in terms of richness. He owns two 2 commercial spaces in Bengaluru and a BMW. Remember, he is a pathologist who is into medical business.
Another politician who has become richer in the last 5 years is JD (S) state president H D Kumaraswamy. He and his wife jointly own a little more than Rs 162 cr. This is an increase by Rs 30 cr compared to 2013. His wife Anitha has invested nearly Rs 89 crore in Kasturi Media. A point to be noted is that Kumaraswamy had declared Rs 16 cr in 2013 and this time he is worth Rs 43 cr. How? One will not get an answer because the modus operandi of increasing wealth need not be explained in an affidavit.
BJP state president B S Yeddyurappa's declared assets worth this time is Rs 5.8 cr against Rs 4.09 cr in 2013. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he had declared asset worth Rs 6 cr. Difficult to believe but there is no document to disprove him at this point. So, among the three chief ministerial candidates, the mannina maga's son Kumaraswamy, who is also a film producer, turns out to be the richest.
Congress' ever controversial businessman-cum-power broker Minister DK Shivakumar can only grow richer, it looks.
His entire family is worth Rs 840 cr. He is the custodian of nearly Rs 619 cr-worth properties. In 2013, he had declared his assets worth Rs 251 crore. So his family has become richer by nearly Rs 600 cr. In 2008, he had declared that he had properties worth Rs 75 cr. Wish he can give tips to people as to how to increase wealth by several folds without getting into legal problems or outwitting the I-T officials!
His daughter Aishwarya, who could be less than 25 years, owns nearly Rs 102 cr. He seems to have made his family partner in all his business, be it real estate, granite or media. He owns several agricultural lands around Bengaluru. Thankfully, he doesn't call himself a humble farmer but a social farmer.
G Somashekar Reddy, brother of Janardhana Reddy, who was the beneficiary in the mining loot, has increased his wealth by 47% in last 5 years. He is now worth Rs 42.29 cr. Believe it or not, B Sriramulu, another mining beneficiary, has built records to show that he is poorer by 41% since 2013. His declared wealth now is Rs 25.6 cr. One can only sneer at such claims.
The list of wealthy politicians in the fray can go on. No well-known politician has declared that he/she has gone pauper, post-November 2016. And, a majority of them are businessmen.
For politicians and businessmen November 8, 2016 came as hard blow because Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped two high denomination currency notes. There were many interpretations and theories for this extreme decision.
The scrapping of the currency was a few months ahead of the UP assembly elections. The Congress, the SP and the BSP had slammed Modi saying he was trying to punish his opponents. The BJP had claimed that the scrapping was in tune with its stand on black money. But one thing is certain – no politician has hanged himself for becoming poorer due to the demonetization. No political party has shut the shop. Similarly, the scrapping has not served the stated aim of putting an end to circulation of fake currency or unaccounted money.
The live example is the ongoing elections in Karnataka where every day the police and excise departments are issuing press notes pertaining to confiscation of unaccounted money and liquor. Cash, liquor and gifts are in circulation in very high quantity compared to the 2013 and 2014 elections.
As per the Election Commission's update on April 20, it has seized Rs 34.9 cr. In the entire 2013 assembly election campaign period, the seizure was Rs 13.42 cr and in the 2014, it was Rs 28 cr. By April 23, the cash seizure had touched Rs 38.45 cr.
Voters move and shake when gifts are distributed, it is said. It looks so true with the seizure of freebies worth about Rs 20 cr so far. In 2014, the seizure was not more than Rs 7 cr. Already 14.5 kgs of gold worth Rs 3.71 cr has been seized. In the previous two elections, there was no yellow metal seizure.
Fake notes
This is not the end. Even fake currency notes are in circulation. On April 17, the Belagavi police raided an abandoned government quarters where a hoard of fake and duplicate currency notes were stashed. The face value of the notes were about Rs 7 cr. The police are yet to confirm whether these notes were meant to distribute among voters. By the time the investigation is over, the elections would be completed.
Liquor and Indian elections go together. Not less than 1.92 lakh litres of liquor worth Rs 9 cr seized so far. The authorities could seize 68,000 litres in 2013 and 45,000 litres in 2014, as per the Election Commission.
Another concern raised by the opposition regarding the scrapping of the currency was that it would lead to collapse of job market. No doubt unemployment rate is going up in India. When the country's economy is supposedly growing at about 7%, then why jobs are not getting generated?
The present work culture is - extract maximum work from minimum employees. Hence, the job market either stagnates or shrinks. So it is difficult to relate it to the currency scrapping, according to economic experts such as D K Joshi of Crisil, ratings and research firm.
In case of Karnataka, there is a different trend. Siddaramaiah himself declared on January 2 this year that the unemployment rate has been brought down to about 2%, while the national average is 3.7%. He had said 15 lakh jobs have been created. Definitely all these jobs are not government jobs as their total does not exceed 6.5 lakhs. If scrapping of currency notes had affected industrial investments, then how come job market is expanding?
The nexus
There is no doubt that demonetization was carried out without sufficient preparations to handle the possible aftermath. It caused short-term inconvenience to common man as ATMs went dry. Traders who do unaccounted business are still nurturing grouse against the prime minister.
A visit to commercial hubs like Chikpete and Balepete in Bengaluru clearly shows that unaccounted business is still thriving. Grocery shops, restaurants, beauty parlors of smaller scale refuse to accept payments through plastic cards because they do not want to pay tax. They earn thousands of rupees a day.
No well-intended measure in India will work as long as the less-privileged and the poor are made to be dependent on the web built by venal politicians and greedy businessmen who successfully emerge in elections. Karnataka is no better. The bond between corrupt politicians and greedy voters as well as pseudo-seculars and pseudo-intellectuals is stronger than before.