There’s nothing like a drought to drive an elected representative to distraction. Earlier this year, in the midst of a discussion in the Karnataka Assembly on lack of rainfall in the State, a Minister was caught watching a pornographic clip on a mobile device. His excuse: he was really conducting research on atrocities against women. Six months later, when the State is reeling under the worst drought in four decades, this ardent desire to study is once again on display as legislators from the State clamber aboard planes bound for different points on the globe. Predictably, these jaunts have drawn public ridicule. They have also renewed questions about the quality of governance the first-ever Bharatiya Janata Party ministry in the South is providing. Despite the unfolding calamity that has affected the livelihoods of people living in vast swathes of the State, the Assembly Speaker had no problem sending 13 legislators on a junket to South America — euphemistically called a ‘study tour’ — at a cost to the exchequer of about Rs. 7 lakhs per person for the airfare alone. Felicitously, these eager “students” are drawn from all major parties.
Following the outrage, the Speaker now wants to postpone the visit of another 19 legislators to Russia, Scandinavia, Egypt and Israel for a 17-day trip starting September 27. Each legislator is eligible for a daily allowance of $350 plus $75 for two days of air travel. The 17-day tour will cost the government Rs. 2.97 lakhs per legislator. In addition, the tickets cost Rs. 6.80 lakhs per person. Moreover, the government faces the prospect of having to pay the travel agency a penalty of 40 per cent of the fare for each postponement of the trip. Meanwhile, as part of their course curriculum, the MLAs who are halfway through a 13 day trip, with 2 days in Dubai — have visited Buenos Aires, where they have been on a tour “highlighting the city’s major neighbourhoods and attractions” and taken in a tango performance. From Argentina, they have since moved on to Peru where they have “studied” the Inca palaces in Cusco and the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu. Most of them are accompanied by their spouses, all the better to learn. The BJP government in Karnataka, which was elected in May 2008, has lurched from one crisis to another, and brazened through several scandals. These include a massive mining scam and a series of land scams, which forced its then Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to resign and go to prison. With Assembly elections due soon, the BJP will have to contend with snowballing public disenchantment with its less-than-diligent performance in office.