As soon as he took over, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced several schemes that are doing a world of good to his image, but are bad for his treasury. Replacing a squabbling, corrupt BJP government, the new Congress government has had a happy, trouble-free run so far. But many of its decisions are depleting the exchequer, and it is now time to take stock. Siddaramaiah has waived loans provided for the backward classes and hiked the subsidy for milk producers. He is also giving away rice at a rupee a kilo, as promised in the manifesto.
Health Minister UT Khader has simultaneously banned gutka (tobacco mixed with supari). These decisions have won praise, but look at the balance sheet. The rice scheme costs the government Rs 4,500 crore a year. The loss in revenue from gutka is Rs 350 crore, while the milk subsidy costs Rs 700 crore.
So how is Siddaramaiah planning to make up for the deficit? He is likely to up vehicle tax and commercial tax. He is also looking at generating more revenue from excise (liquor) and stamps and registration. And what does that mean to citizens? We pay more when we buy vehicles. We pay more when we party. We pay more on goods like fans and refrigerators. But then, Siddaramaiah would say, these are minor discomforts, and city slickers shouldn’t complain if they have any social concern!
Whose turn is it next?
Many in the Congress are waiting to enter the cabinet, but Siddaramaiah can accommodate only four more. He had shortlisted three names: DK Shivakumar, Roshan Baig, and Ramesh Kumar. That would immediately leave a bunch of leaders disgruntled. The high command has read the situation closely, and believes this is no time for dissidence as parliamentary elections are coming up in 2014. Siddaramaiah is now saying, “I wanted to expand the cabinet after the budget, but Delhi doesn’t like the idea.” That leaves at least half a dozen of his party leaders gritting their teeth!
A good man’s story
Revenue minister Srinivasa Prasad (64) is among the most respected politicians in the Siddaramaiah cabinet. He jumped into politics inspired by the ideals of Gandhi and Lohia. He shares a long friendship with Siddaramaiah, even when the two were on opposite sides of the fence. Srinivasa Prasad owes his portfolio to his rapport with the chief minister.
Yet, in the last assembly session, he did not respond fittingly to any of the opposition’s charges. Nor did he take part in any significant discussion. His silence is being seen as incompetence, and has embarrassed Siddaramaiah, but he hasn’t said a word against him. Observers say that’s because Srinivasa Prasad is unwell, and Siddaramaiah can’t be harsh on him.
Elected from Chamarajanagar, Srinivasa Prasad has served as an MP for five terms, and knows Delhi politics well. He was the minister of state for consumer affairs during the Vajpayee reign. He has now turned his attention to state politics, winning an assembly seat from Nanjangud. They say politics is no place for decent men. But this decent man needs to get cracking to prove the cynics wrong.
Revanna, CM of Hassan
HD Revanna, son of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, reigns supreme in Hassan district. His party, the JD(S), had hoped to form a coalition government and pitch for chief ministership, but with the Congress winning a majority, its dreams lie shattered. With brother HD Kumaraswamy as the chief minister (2006-07), Revanna was in charge of important portfolios, and held sway in his district. But strangely, even with a Congress government in power, he continues to exercise power over the district’s police and bureaucracy.
The two-month-old Congress government first deployed Minister for Co-operation Mahadeva Prasad as the minister in charge of the district. He did not go there. The next to be given charge was Public Works minister HC Mahadevappa. He didn’t go there either, preferring to call the officials to his chambers in Vidhana Soudha. That leaves the field open to Revanna, who calls the shots in his home district. Whether it is the BJP or the Congress in power, Revanna continues to go strong. Voters are truly puzzled. They can understand Revanna’s control when his father and brother are in power. But how do you explain him giving instructions to the police and the bureaucracy even when his party is crushed?