Pandemic changed the way politics is played

Ensuring social distancing: A file photo of Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa chairing a meeting with Ministers on COVID-19 situation in Bengaluru  

The spread of COVID-19 this year has left its deep impact on the lives of common people and politicians in Karnataka, like elsewhere in India.

It has put unprecedented brakes on the functioning of the political system, causing suspension of political activities, cutting short legislature sessions, pushing political leaders to home isolation, resulting in deaths of some leaders, and even postponement of elections to rural local bodies.

Though the year 2020 began with the presentation of the State Budget, the duration of the session was curtailed as the State recorded the country’s first COVID-19 death. Soon after, the declaration of nationwide lockdown on March 24 and subsequent restrictions resulted in a lull in political activity over the next few months.

As social distancing became the new normal, politicians shunned holding press conferences and used digital tools even to reach out to their voters. As lockdown banned public gatherings, D.K. Shivakumar was sworn in as KPCC president on July 2 through a mega virtual public meeting, which was unprecedented.

Opposition Congress leaders criticised the government over the handling of migrants issue, mismanagement of the pandemic, alleged corruption in procurement of COVID-19 equipment, treatment of patients, lack of testing, and delay in giving test results. Ministers held multiple press meets, sometimes en masse, to reject these charges.

Noting the “crisis of governability” during the pandemic, Muzaffar Assadi, professor of political science, University of Mysore, said, “The sudden lockdown and the subsequent fear psychosis made governing a difficult task in many sectors. All sectors received severe jolt and they are yet to recover,”

The ruling BJP government, however, happily used all the powers under the Disaster Management Act, besides the lockdown, and promulgated nearly two dozen Ordinances related to farm land, agricultural marketing, and labour and industrial laws and later obtained the legislature’s nod. Farmers, who form a major vote bank, opposed amendments to laws on land reforms and APMCs by observing a Statewide bandh.

Rain havoc

While people in urban areas reeled under the pandemic, rain havoc wreaked normal life in rural areas in September–October, causing crop loss running into thousands of crores. Once again, the Congress targeted the State government for non-payment of relief. It accused the Centre of “stepmotherly treatment” provided to the State on releasing GST funds and compensation for crop loss. As the State was starved of funds, it borrowed extensively.

After more than six months of political sledging over COVID-19 and rain havoc, largely on virtual platforms, political party workers and leaders hit the streets in October for the November 3 byelections in Sira and Rajarajeshwarinagar Legislative Assembly constituencies. The Congress and the JD(S) failed to retain their seats, despite highlighting “failures” of the government.

The winter session of the legislature too was cut short, citing elections to gram panchayats. The long-pending issues of Cabinet expansion and alleged attempts to replace Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, which hit headlines on many occasions, are likely to happen in 2021. End of the year also saw signs of the JD(S) and the BJP cozying up, with JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy “going soft” on many issues.

Prof. Assadi said, “While the incumbent regime provided political stability, we had a paradoxical situation of stability and crisis in the year 2020.”

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 12:01:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/pandemic-changed-the-way-politics-is-played/article33413777.ece

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