Kumaraswamy’s second budget reflects the art of micromanaging political interests

The budget has a series of irrigation-related projects, including ones for lift irrigation and filling tanks.

The budget has a series of irrigation-related projects, including ones for lift irrigation and filling tanks.   | Photo Credit: File Photo

After the grand gesture of crop loan waiver last year, Chief Minister Kumaraswamy’s budget for 2019-20 builds on the farmer orientation of his government by focussing on irrigation. The budget has a series of irrigation-related projects, including ones for filling tanks at a cost of ₹1,680 crore, lift irrigation projects worth ₹1,563 crore, comprehensive development work on other tanks at a cost of ₹445 crore, and fresh irrigation projects for ₹477 crore.

The political significance of this move may be even greater than the size of allocations suggest. In keeping with a style of micromanagement of politics his father Deve Gowda made famous, the Chief Minister has made allocations to specific tanks, rather than merely deciding on the criteria for choice of project. It will be no surprise if each of the specified projects serves a particular political interest. There are also allocations to build hostels and marriage halls for specific, politically-sensitive communities.

Where the CM has gone beyond his father’s practice is in borrowing a few of BJP leader Yeddyurappa’s methods. His budget has grants to institutions associated with religious institutions and practices.

Industrial initiatives hit

The resources for this irrigation-plus-community and religious focus have to come from somewhere, and it is industrial initiatives that have been hit. There are large projects that were initiated before the present government came to power and thus had to be continued, like the one for suburban rail services or an industrial node in Vasanthanarasapura in Tumakuru district. But these projects are to be carried out by Special Purpose Vehicles and hence do not affect the budget. There are few other major industrial initiatives here, and those that are there are also politically motivated. The allocation of ₹100 crore for the revival of Mysore Sugar Company Ltd. is part of an overall effort to woo Mandya district.

In other areas, Mr. Kumaraswamy has fallen back on promises to make up for lack substantial allocation. He has promised a new industrial policy that will focus on taking industries to Tier 2 and Tier 3 centres, but this is a promise that has been made before and has not been realised because of structural constraints that the Chief Minister makes no mention of. He has promised to revise Karnataka’s IT policy to take these industries to Tier 2 and Tier 3 centres, but there is no mention of why this has not been possible before and how his government will change those conditions.

For Bengaluru

A similar approach of repeating old and failed promises marks the budget’s approach to Bengaluru as well. There is a promise of a Bengaluru Mobility Plan that will take private vehicles off the roads, increase use of public transport, and create cycling paths. Here, again, there is no mention of why these strategies have not worked in the past and what exactly the present government will do differently.

While the strategy of micromanagement of political interests may have been made an art form by Mr. Deve Gowda, there are clear indications that the Congress has bought into it as well. A sum of ₹25 crore has been allocated for the development of Badami as a “world-famous tourist place”. Badami taluk is also the beneficiary of a ₹300-crore irrigation project. It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that this is also the constituency of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

Mr. Kumaraswamy’s budget reflects a dual approach to the State. At one level, it does launch a widespread initiative to develop irrigation, particularly the filling of tanks. This push is not reflected in his approach to industry. In the current uncertain political climate, and with the parliamentary elections just a couple of months away, preoccupation with politically sensitive areas was perhaps to be expected. But the budget falls somewhat short when it comes to the long-term industrial initiatives the State needs.

(The author is professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru)

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 3:57:12 AM |

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