It was a good augury for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the people of this country and the polity, when the first ever government of the party was ushered in South India with the senior leader of the BJP, Shri BS Yeddyurappa becoming the Chief Minister.
Shri Yeddyurappa, when he was Deputy CM in the coalition, introduced welfare measures that were unheard of in the history of the State and the nation. Shri Yeddyurappa, who was sworn-in in the name of the farmers of the State decided to help them in a big way. The farmers were given cooperative loans at a reduced rate of interest of four per cent, whereas it was much higher in the other states. Lakhs of farmers utilised the loan and reaped dividends in the next three years, till a full-fledge BJP government led by Shri Yeddyurappa assumed office.
True to his style, Shri Yeddyurappa, who also holds the finance portfolio, in his recent budget for 2008-09 further reduced the rate of interest to three per cent, breaking his own record of giving loan to farmers at the lowest rate of interest in the country. He also took a bold decision to waive the cooperate loans taken by the farmers to the extent of Rs.25,000.
The other major decision taken by Shri Yeddyurappa was the abolition of manufacture, storage and sale of arrack, to save the millions of poor people belonging to the scheduled castes, tribes, other backward classes and minorities, both in the urban and rural areas.
Interestingly, this decision not only helped these sections of the people to stop drinking, but also increased the revenue to the exchequer, as it stopped illegal and seconds sale of arrack and liquor. Thousands of crores of rupees of additional revenue that generated in the excise department, on account of this decision, was pumped into the social sector such as Bhagyalakshmi.
Under the Bhagyalakshmi scheme, all girl children born to the below-the-poverty line families in the State have been insured. The girl would get Rs.18,000 when she attains the age of 18 years. Shri Yeddyurappa also introduced a programme for supplying bicycles to all the girl students in the government primary and high schools, investing over Rs.250 crore. This would reduce the drop out in the number of girls in the schools.
The most daring and bold decision which helped millions of poor people was the ban on all types of lotteries including the on-line lottery. The decades of grip of the lottery lobby which broke the back of the poor people was demolished by Shri Yeddyurappa in one go.
Alarmed by the popularity, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shri Yeddyurappa were getting in and outside Karnataka, on account of all these pro-poor welfare measures, the Janata Dal (Secular) thought it would affect the electoral prospects of the party in the next elections. This was enough for the leaders of the JD (s) to swing into action and betrayed the BJP and refused to hand over power to it for the remaining 20 months. It angered the people, who voted the BJP led by Shri Yeddyurappa to power.
Shri Yeddyurappa became the first BJP Chief Minister from south India, which the party and the people of the country think as a good augury and would lead to its victory in the Lok Sabha elections.
Time to deliver on promises
Though BJP has been consistently improving on its strength in Karnataka in successive elections, the seven-day stint of Shri BS Yeddyurappa in November last year as the state'sChief Minister of a shaky coalition with Janata Dal (S) must be surely reckoned as the catalyst that propelled the party in the seat of power on its own. And, now, from the ignominious exit after the seven-day rule following the withdrawal of support by JD(S) in November last year, BJP is all set to celebrate Yeddyurappa regime'sfirst 100 days in office on September 9.
For a party, which began as Bharatiya Jana Sangh in its earlier incarnation with marginal presence in the coastal regions and urban pockets, to grow into a major political force to win 18 seats in the 224-member State Assembly and extend outside support to the first non-Congress Janata Party government headed by late Ramakrishna Hegde in 1983 and sink to a low of 2 seats in 1985 and subsequently rise to 4 in 1989, BJP'spresent growth is truly remarkable.
Shri Yeddyurappa or BSY as he is normally referred to in the media, has been part of BJP'sgrowth in Karnataka right from its inception and ironical, as it may seem, BSY was among the 18 MLAs who got elected in 1983. And, incidentally, BSY became State BJP president in 1983 and led the party for two terms. Putting behind the debacle of 1985 and 1989, BJP slowly but steadily grew to increase its strength to 40 in 1994 and 44 in 1999, signalling its arrival in the state'spolitical arena.
The 2004 Assembly polls marked a turning point in BJP'shistory in the State, when the party emerged as the single largest party with a tally of 79 seats dethroning Congress from its pre-eminent position. The Congress, which unashamedly swelled its numbers to 165 by enticing MLAs from other parties, plunged to 65 in 2004. After the 2004 polls, the Congress managed to stick on to power by reaching an ?unholy? alliance with the JD(S). Following Congress victory in local bodies? elections, the JD (S) withdrew support to form another government with the BJP. And the rest is history.
100 days in office
As the Yeddyurappa regime celebrates its first 100 days in office, it is time to take stock of various achievements even though it is too short a time to judge the performance of a government.
Unlike most governments which enjoy a honeymoon period, sometimes ranging from six months to a year, BSY was not so fortunate. Neither the Chief Minister nor his ministerial colleagues or even the ruling party enjoyed a breathing time to bask in the glory of having the first BJP-ruled government in the south. The government was literally put through a baptism of fire or the proverbial Agnipariksha, when it faced the wrath of farmers in several districts over the shortage of fertilizers and seeds before the onset of monsoon.
With farmers resorting to various forms of protests, which quickly turned violent, the Chief Minister shed tears when police opened fire on agitating farmers in Haveri district claiming two lives, not-withstanding his gesture of creating history of sorts by taking the oath in the name of farmers. That BSY was in no way responsible for the shortages, and the blame, if any, should be borne by Governor Rameshwar Thakur and his political advisors as also the State'sbureaucrats, not to mention the Congress-led UPA regime at the Centre which calls the shots during President'srule.
The monsoon, too, has been playing truant since BSY took over the reins of power. After bountiful pre-monsoon showers, which prompted farmers to commence early sowing, there was a long dry spell fuelling fears of a looming drought in most districts. The power supply also came under tremendous strain forcing the government to resort to unscheduled load-shedding for a couple of hours throughout the State in August. Fortunately for the farmers and people in general, and the government in particular, the rains picked up momentum with copious inflows into most of the State'sreservoirs and the consequent easing of the power situation. It is a sad commentary on the vagaries of the monsoon plaguing Karnataka that several districts, especially in northern Karnataka or in the malnad region, that people are now reeling under flood havoc. Again, who can hold the government responsible for natural calamities of floods or drought which have become a routine feature in the State?
The State was rocked by the spectre of serial blasts in several parts of city in July though without serious devastation as the ones that shook Gujarat with serial blasts in Ahmedabad and Surat soon afterwards. Again, can anybody blame the government for the nefarious activities and evil designs of anti-social or anti-national elements?
But, the Chief Minister, who also holds the finance portfolio and completed the hat-trick in presenting his third consecutive budget?the first two as deputy chief minister cum finance minister in the H D Kumaraswamy regime and the last as full-fledged revised budget for the current year 2008-09?on July 17, has taken several initiatives to fulfill most of BJP'spoll promises. Not just that, he has virtually unveiled blueprint for Karnataka'scomprehensive development by 2020 to transform the State into a model for the entire country.
Redeeming BJP'spoll promise of free power to farmers up to 10 HP IP sets benefitting 15 lakh farmers from August 1, farm credit from cooperative societies at three per cent subsidised interest rates to farmers, increasing retirement age to all government employees from 58 years to 60 years, Rs two a litre subsidy for all milk producers, monthly honorarium to 90,000 GP members, grand plans for the infrastructure improvement of Bengaluru and other cities with huge budgetary allocations, enhancement of the honoraria to old age pensioners, widows, physically handicapped and other vulnerable sections, increase in allocations to Streeshakti groups besides irrigation, power, education, healthcare, housing and urban development are among the highlights of the budget.
Dry land, organic farming
But the initiatives to boost dry land and organic farming, which are perhaps the most pioneering and laudable efforts by a government, merit lot of attention. As Karnataka happens to be the second biggest drought-prone State in the country after Rajasthan with bulk of the State'sfarmers relying on monsoon for agriculture, BSY has embarked upon a novel programme to give a boost to dry land farmers. Each small and marginal farming family in the dry land areas will be provided with Rs 1,000 for purchasing seeds, fertilizers and agricultural implements as one-time gesture. This money is proposed to be directly credited to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries to prevent middlemen or officials from exploiting the farmers.
Though Rs 1,000 is a small amount, it certainly is a welcome measure coming from the government to ?wipe the tears of poor dry land farmers?? as the nearly 50 lakh beneficiaries might testify. The outlay on the programme is a huge (Rs 500 crore). The Government has unveiled a programme to promote production of organic manure and adoption of organic farming by farmers. To start with, farmers in as many as 1,000 villages will be given Rs 2,000 for adopting organic farming. Apart from proposing to set up a State-level board for promoting organic farming, an allocation of Rs 100 crore has been made in this year'sbudget for this movement. Surely, these two initiatives can revolutionise the crisis-ridden agriculture sector if adopted on a wider scale with the Centre taking the lead at the national level.
Though women constitute half the country'spopulation, it is a sad commentary on our present political system and value system that women continue to be the most neglected and even exploited lot. In a male-centric society, women face hardships even before birth and are discriminated against even afterwards. From birth, childhood, adolescence, marriage and later in old age, the plight of women is miserable. They do not get fair treatment or education still remains a distant dream for most of our girls, especially in poor rural families. BSY, who has come up in life the hard way with a rural background and is well acquainted with the hard realities of life, had come out with the Bhagyalaksmi scheme in his first budget as deputy chief minister cum finance minister in the JD(S)-BJP coalition government two years ago. Under the scheme, the government had promised to deposit a sum of Rs 10,000 in the name of girls born in a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family, payable upon the girl attaining 18 years. A maximum of two girls were eligible for the benefit, subject to the condition of the parents sending the girls to schools and desisting from engaging them in child labour or resorting to child marriages. The money deposited by the government would be invested and beneficiaries were to be provided with medical and even educational assistance. It has been fine-tuned into a full-fledged scheme with the government engaging Life Insurance Corporation to manage it and agreeing to pay the money upon maturity in the form of bonds. In the revised budget for the year 2008-09, the outlay to the scheme has been enhanced to a whopping Rs 266 crore and the government doubled its contribution from Rs 10,000 from this year so as to ensure a payment of Rs 1 lakh to the beneficiary girl when she turns 18.
Bicycles not just for girls but boys too!
Education alone could bring about tremendous improvement in the progress of the nation. By distributing free bicycles to schoolchildren, both boys and girls, from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families studying in eighth standard in government and aided schools in the State, the Government has instilled courage and confidence among the children that they can cover long distances to reach schools without anybody'shelp.
Chief Minister himself said ?Providing bicycles is one such effort by the Government in addition to other programmes like midday meals, distribution of free textbooks and uniforms, providing scholarships and many more.? All programme aimed at improving the rate of admission and attendance in classes. Over seven lakh students are expected to get bicycles in the current academic year which will cost the State exchequer about Rs. 100 crore. The programme was started by Shri Yeddyurapa himself in 2006-07 when he was the Deputy Chief Minister in BJP-JD (S) coalition government.
On the health sector, the Government has launched Arogya Kavacha to save untimely deaths by providing emergency care and bringing the critical patients to the hospitals through a network of well-equipped ambulances. Recently an agreement was signed with Hyderabad-based organisation for providing emergency treatment for the rural people.
People have energy and drive to work during their youth. But once they grow old, it becomes difficult for them to retain the same zest. The Sandhya Suraksha scheme has been launched to help people in their old age (above 65 years of age). The beneficiaries will get a monthly pension of Rs. 400 till their death.
The ruling party had to resort to ?Operation Lotus,? woo sympathetic MLAs from JD(S) and Congress and prevail upon them to resign their assembly membership and contest on its symbol, when by-elections are announced, to circumvent the anti-defection law to gain a clear majority of its own. That seven MLAs?three from Congress and four from JD(S) ? have already quit their respective parties giving up their Assembly membership and joined BJP, with many more in the waiting list for the appropriate time, speaks of the success of the operation.
Of course, with the Chief Minister having already filled up the maximum permissible size of the ministry by inducting 34 including himself?being 15 per cent of the assembly'sstrength of 224, the ruling party had to ask some of the loyalists to sacrifice their posts to make way for the new entrants. The Chief Minister'sdecision to induct Belgaum district'sLingayat strongman, Umesh Katti, by asking another ?loyal? Lingayat leader, S K Bellubbi of Bijapur district, even before the completion of 100 days ran into trouble, forcing the BJP to cry a temporary halt to Operation Lotus.
But neither the Chief Minister nor the ruling party can really be faulted on this score, as the exercise appears to be quite justified. Though BJP'sloyal workers, who might feel cheated or even resentful at being asked to make sacrifices or even make peace with their sworn enemies due to the changed political circumstances, may be justified. The opposition parties certainly do not have any moral right to preach what they themselves did not follow.
True, 100 days is too short a time to pass any value judgment on BJP rule. By all accounts, the Chief Minister and the ruling party have been holding out umpteen promises and making the right noises besides taking appropriate measures and policy initiatives to take the State forward. Just as the proof of pudding lies in the eating, the government'sperformance will be judged on how it delivers on the promises.
The coming round of assembly by-elections, arising out of the vacancies caused by ?Operation Lotus?, whenever they are scheduled and next year'sLok Sabha polls are the acid test to Shri Yeddyurappa'sgovernment. The sooner he rolls up the socks and gets cracking, the better it is.
(The writer is a senior journalist and can be contacted at [email protected])