At least 10 candidates contesting the 14th Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections due on May 5, according to their affidavits, are worth over Rs. 100 crore and come from varied business backgrounds — predominantly real estate, followed by mining, private education, infrastructure and so on.
Almost all of them are sitting members of the Assembly as well and are members of major political parties — Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (Secular). A majority of candidates from these parties have declared assets worth over Rs. 10 crore.
Despite a strict vigil by the Election Commission (EC) and seizure of cash and material meant for distribution to voters, there have been reports of parties and candidates distributing freebies and cash, evading the EC’s watchful eyes.
This atmosphere of brazen money power often finds a reflection in how a voter views electoral politics. Somalingappa, a voter in Yeshwanthpur in Bangalore says: “They [politicians] have looted public money and now are distributing it. There is nothing wrong [in receiving].”
After the 2008 elections, in which BJP was five seats short of simple majority (110 seats out of 224), at least nine candidates from the mining and real estate sectors each got elected to the Legislative Assembly.
BJP went on to increase its strength by launching “Operation Lotus” wherein it got MLAs of Opposition parties to resign from their membership and contest on BJP tickets in the by-election. It is said that the real estate and mining sectors completely funded this operation.
The power of money has risen steadily in Karnataka’s politics, but it was around 2004 that the nature of politics took a decisive turn.
The 2004 Assembly election saw a fractured mandate with Congress winning 65 seats, BJP 79 seats and JD(S) 58 seats. The coalition government of Congress and JD(S) lasted for just about two years and, in February 2006, H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) became the Chief Minister in alliance with the BJP.
This was also the time when the real estate sector in Karnataka, particularly around Bangalore, witnessed a massive surge, mainly due to the boom in the information technology sector. Land prices shot up, making many landholders as well as middlemen affluent overnight.
Even as the real estate sector was mushrooming around Bangalore, the mining sector, particularly iron ore mining, was also on the rise in Bellary and Tumkur districts, thanks to the fallout of the deregulation of permits by former chief minister S.M. Krishna.
It was during the 13th Legislative Assembly elections (2008) that the mining barons and real estate tycoons made a direct entry into politics. Both the BJP and the Congress fielded these businessmen from the mining belt as well as Bangalore. The delimitation of constituencies too helped real estate entrepreneurs make an entry. Bangalore region, which had just 16 Assembly constituencies before this exercise, came to have 28 constituencies.
Keywords: Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections