Politics

The Battle Over Pay-offs: War for Karnataka Heats Up way Ahead of Polls

Bengaluru: Pay-offs. Who paid off who. How much was paid. What was the pay-off for.

Fourteen months to go for elections, and these are the questions plaguing Karnataka politics, with both the major national parties accusing the other of facilitating ‘pay-offs’ to their respective high commands.

Late Thursday night, at a hastily convened press conference, BJP MLA and spokesperson S Suresh Kumar demanded chief minister Siddaramaiah’s resignation on moral grounds — as a ‘diary’ that allegedly belonged to a close aide of his, Congress MLC Govindaraju — that apparently details out pay-offs made by Karnataka’s Congressmen to their national leaders.

“The chief minister can’t just brush away these facts saying it’s a closed chapter. There is evidence in the diary that Congress leaders in the State have been instrumental in sending black money as ‘donation’ to the party.

This diary notes amounts ‘arranged’ by different people, including identifying their names with explicit initials like KJG, MBP and DKS,” Kumar hit out. (While he did not spell it out, the reference was to correlate these names to senior ministers in the Siddaramaiah cabinet)

The diary in question apparently refers to a small booklet with some noting in it. In March 2016, when the Income Tax Department raided three MLCs, this was among the documents seized. While it serves no purpose as far as pinning down any tax evasion by Govindaraju, tax officials perhaps felt it could provide leads that could aid investigation by enforcement agencies.

IT officials admit that a copy of the relevant pages, along with a detailed note, was forwarded to the higher-ups in the Finance Ministry “for necessary action.”

Perhaps people realised that a booklet with random letters could never be used in a court of law, unless backed by other evidence. (Just last month, the Sahara-Birla diaries case that alleged pay-offs to ‘then CMs of four States’ was thrown out by the Supreme Court). Perhaps people realised what damage such a piece of paper could do, with right timing.

In any case, details of the diary were leaked. They were leaked by BJP State president B S Yeddyurappa in a press conference last Sunday, who said Siddaramaiah had “mobilised” nearly Rs 150 crore for the party high command. While he did not release any document, Yeddyurappa made a reference to the diary which gives details of who-paid-who.

This, however, raised the over-arching question — how did Yeddyurappa access a diary that was seized during an IT raid? Do MPs of the ruling party get such privileged access to all matters of investigation? Do they get access to documents that are not even presented before any court?

“When the IT raids happened nearly a year ago, why is it that no action has been taken until now (to pursue this case)?” asks AICC spokesperson Dinesh Gundu Rao.

The cat out of the bag, Yeddyurappa refused to be drawn into how he got this information. “It is a fact,” is all he would say, gloating.

The next day — February 13th — however, hit him back with a double-whammy.

Three Congress Ministers and other leaders released a ‘CD’ that purportedly has a conversation caught on camera, between Yeddyurappa and Union Minister and BJP strategist Ananth Kumar. The conversation is a recording during a BJP state executive meeting, when Kumar and Yeddyurappa are talking while Union Minister Sadananda Gowda is making a speech.

An unfortunately- (or fortunately-) placed mic picks up the conversation, which allegedly has Kumar praising Yeddyurappa for having taken up the diary issue.

A Deccan Herald report reproduces this conversation as below:

“You have given it to the high command… I have also given…But I have not given Rs 1,000 crore… As you had given it then, he has also given, it seems. This implies that he (Chief Minister) has admitted it,” Ananth Kumar apparently tells Yeddyurappa.

To this, Yeddyurappa asks: “Does anybody write down what is given?” Then Ananth Kumar says, “Slush rebounds when you throw a stone into it. Nobody will believe if the Chief Minister says he has not given Rs 1,000 crore. Everybody will think that he has given the money.”

Kumar apparently is heard also saying that the CM can keep denying this all the way till the election, but it won’t have any impact.

While Karnataka — being the largest State ruled by the Congress — has always been suspected of being the cash-cow of the party before every election, the candid conversations and diary entries only make it seem as if every party is milking infrastructure projects to fund election expenses.

Of course, the BJP was quick to reject the CD as a ‘doctored’ one aimed at conspiring against it — even sending its MLAs to file a police complaint on this. But the damage had been done. Two could play at this game.

What scored a goal again for the BJP was a rather ill-timed statement by a Congress MLA in Mysore on Saturday (February 18th) — Periyapatna MLA K Venkatesh, who also holds the ‘lucrative’ position of Chairman of the Bangalore Development Authority, told a gathering in Mysore that corruption is inevitable.

“When we come to seek votes during elections, people ask for money. Where do we get this money from?” he is further quoted as asking in the Deccan Chronicle.

A booster for the BJP, of course, considering it began raking up the issue of the Congress pay-offs all over again on Thursday, when images of the diary entries were leaked.

As the poll season gets near, the mud-slinging will only get uglier.

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