Karnataka, a way ahead

Last Updated: Fri, May 10, 2013 13:07 hrs

If the 2013 Karnataka assembly election has to mean anything, the Congress has to think fresh.

Thus far, old habits have been playing out. This, of course, makes the Congress look like it is unprepared.

Claimants to the chief minister's post cannot go around using terms like 'high command' to describe the Congress leadership in New Delhi.

It diminishes the self-esteem of the Kannadigas who voted for them. This loss of self-worth can play out in many ways.

I remember a senior Congressman from Andhra Pradesh who was depressed when YS Rajasekhara Reddy was chosen to head the government in Andhra Pradesh in 2004.

The Congressman said it would destroy whatever little reputation Andhra Pradesh had gained as a state seeking to move on from its laidback and unprofessional past.

YSR's son is now in prison for corruption and a big example of how not to raise children, especially in the Congress party.

Siddaramaiah, the new Karnataka Chief Minister, might need a crash course in new think.

It is possible that he has some ideas but so far he hasn't shared any. If he doesn't have any, he is not likely to learn now – when he is 64 and has announced he will not contest another election.

Thus, the Congress leadership in New Delhi, which means Rahul Gandhi, might need to lay it down.

Whoever heads the government will have to begin with a bang.

The first two things ought to be: an able government that shall punish all the corrupt and making sure that every Kannadiga has the basics: water, power, roads, education and health.

All else must come next.

This is the only way that Karnataka can mean something to Indians outside the state. New Karnataka must show the way.

A good beginning would be in the choice of ministers.

The Congress was expected to win the election. This implies that somewhere in the Congress party must be a plan of action.

There might also be a list of names as ministers in the event of victory – unless Congressmen did not believe they would win.

The choice of chief minister is crucial. Normally, the Congress leadership makes up its mind and conveys this to the team of observers sent to oversee the election of the CLP [Congress Legislature Party] leader.

Unless there’s a revolt, which Jaganmohan Reddy led in Andhra Pradesh, the choice of New Delhi is the choice of the state. As it was in Karnataka.

Therefore, there isn’t much that anyone can do about the chief minister. But there’s plenty of room to pick the ministers.

Picking a great team sends a message. There is talent and intent in Karnataka that the Congress must pick.

Straight up are the following: Girish Karnad, NR Narayana Murthy, UR Ananthamurthy, Ramachandra Guha, GR Gopinath, Azim Premji and Santosh Hegde.

All of them think and speak their mind. They have a sense of Karnataka and have a body of work that merits attention.

All of them are at a station in life when public service ought to be huge motivation.

The seven worthies should be tasked with progress and development in education [primary and secondary], technology, law and justice, culture, the arts and craft, the sciences, finance, business, manufacturing, employment generation and anything else they can do.

Development of scientific temperament ought to be priority because this affects every family and how every child is raised and schooled.

These personalities will balance the regressive choices the Congress will make to satisfy identity politics.

There might even be children of past Congress politicians in the new government, which will irritate people.

The only option then is to choose people with eminence who understand politics but who are outside the Congress set-up.

Santosh Hegde, for instance, is the reason why the BJP was demolished. Hegde’s reports on illegal mining and its political patronage ended BS Yeddyurappa’s stint as chief minister.

Hegde and his team in the office of the Lokayukta brought into the public domain the full extent of politician-bureaucrat-businessmen corruption in Karnataka.

The BJP did not recover after this. Yet, the man who most influenced Karnataka politics over the past four years was barely even mentioned in the election campaigns.

Hegde would be a fine choice. Allow him to clean up, and he will.

Guha has much to say about the state of education. He has a Padma award for services in the education sector. Ask him to reform things, and he should.

Premji is a forward-looking Muslim corporate titan, which is rare. He ought to have a great sense of life as a Muslim and as a businessman. Allow him to modernise the minorities, and he ought to.

Gopinath should by now know exactly how corporate affairs need to be reformed. Task him with it, and he must.

Narayana Murthy has a keen sense of governance. Task him with administrative and police reform, and he will.

And so on. A clear and irreversible message must go that the Congress means business and that Karnataka comes above all else.

Else, Karnataka will remain a quaint, conservative state that seems to like alcohol, computers and corruption.

Remember: Karnataka is the only state whose chief minister died of drinking – JH Patel, of liver cirrhosis.

PS: I haven’t mentioned women because I couldn’t think of any. Readers, please tell us who we’ve missed.

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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.

He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.

Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at vijsimha@gmail.com.