Bangalore: Drought-hit Karnataka has become somewhat of an enigmatic place - hardly any discourse on relief measures but a surfeit of tours, at home and abroad, and continuing blame-games on who does better in helping the millions of affected people.
A group of 12 legislators belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) took the cake as they made light of the drought situation and enjoyed exotic sights in South American countries, spending millions of rupees of public money.
Each legislator has been given around Rs.700,000 for the nearly three-week tour. The group is accompanied by three officials, whose expenditure is also borne by the government.
Worse was in store for the state as two more batches, each comprising more than 15 legislators, were to leave later this month and early next month to Russia and Scandinavian countries.
Despite mounting public anger over the visit and Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar's order Tuesday to cancel it, one group decided only late Thursday to abandon the plan while another group followed suit Friday.
The silence of the three parties stems from the fact that state assembly polls are approaching and none wants to act against their legislators fearing rebellion by them, like contesting as independents if suspended/expelled/denied ticket.
Shettar Tuesday announced that he has asked those already on tour to return but so far neither the government nor the legislature secretariat has received intimation that these legislators are complying with the directive.
The legislators, who left Bangalore Aug 30, are likely to return as scheduled on Sep 17 because cancelling the tour now does not save any money for the government as the travel agencies would not return the amount paid for tickets and other arrangements.
Public outrage over the foreign tours, ostensibly 'study tours' to learn how these countries tackle various problems of their people, has been compounded by 'study tour' of political leaders at home "to assess the severity of drought and how effectively relief measures are being implemented".
Factional leaders in the BJP are vying with one another to 'prove' to the people that they are with them in the troubled times.
The way they are going about, however, leaves little doubt that the 'tours' are meant to show to the party's central leadership their popularity, a message that their interests should be protected in the coming polls.
First off the block was the BJP's first chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, whose frequent attempts to regain the post or at least become state party chief have been stymied by the increasing number of corruption cases against him.
Seeing through his game, other leaders in the party announced that two more teams, one led by former chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda and another by party general secretary and Bangalore South Lok Sabha member H.N. Anantha Kumar will also tour the drought-hit areas.
The Congress too jumped into the race - to assess whether the BJP government was properly spending the money given by the central government.
Teams led by state party chief G. Parameshwara, the party's leaders in the assembly and the legislative council, Siddaramaiah and S.R. Patil, are also now touring the affected areas.
The JD-S offensive is led by H. D. Kumaraswamy, former chief minister and son of party president and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.
The refrain of these tours - BJP leaders accuse the central government of not helping the state by releasing Rs.2,000 crore sought for immediate relief; the Congress and the JDS sing "first give an account of the money the union government has given and how you have spent it".
The blame game has become an unwanted misery as nearly 150 out of the 176 taluks or revenue sub-divisions of the state have been declared drought-hit. The people will have to suffer, possibly till the assembly elections are held either in December this year or May next year as due.