Everybody joins corruption chorus in Karnataka

Bangalore : Karnataka is fast becoming a satirist’s delight with its political heavyweights and public figures engaged, almost every day, in a slugfest over who is a greater fighter of corruption.

Anyone and everyone in power or out of it is busy threatening, taunting, accusing or challenging everyone else. However, they are in agreement on one aspect – all institutions in the country are corrupt.

One man at the receiving end is former Karnataka Lokayukta (ombudsman) N. Santosh Hegde. Taunting him is Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, who himself is the butt of ridicule by opposition parties which call him a ‘daily-wage worker’, ‘part-time chief minister’ and “Yeddyurappa’s puppet”.

Hegde’s indictment of B.S. Yeddyurappa, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first chief minister in the state, in the illegal mining scam led to his resignation and he picked Gowda to succeed him.

Hegde, who has in the past braved severe attacks by the BJP, the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular for various reasons, has now been put in an awkward position by the claims of a senior police official, K. Madhukar Shetty, that the Karnataka Lokayukta is steeped in corruption and he was happy to get out of it.

Shetty was superintendent of police in the Lokayukta till July this year when he went on a sabbatical to the United States. Hegde’s term ended Aug 2. Shetty made the charge in an interview to a Kannada daily.

Hegde has termed the charge as “mischievous” because of the timing of its publication. He believes the interview was done four months back and has been published now.

Though asserting that he did try to check corruption in the set he headed, Hegde, unwittingly perhaps, fell back on the old truth that there is no institution which is free from corruption.

Gowda has pounced on it to tease Hegde.

“Does this mean that Team Anna spearheading the campaign for Jan Lokpal bill is also corrupt? Hegde owes an explanation to the people,” Gowda has been going around saying.

Hegde is a leading member of Team Anna, led by social activist Anna Hazare, which is campaigning for a strong Lokpal bill at the national level to curb corruption.

Gowda has also charged Hegde with being “publicity hungry” for his frequent comments on the state affairs in his home state.

Yeddyurappa has gone one step further. He has charged Hegde with being “power hungry”.

He believes that Hegde targeted him eyeing a top position at the national level.

Hegde, as expected, has challenged Yeddyurappa to produce proof.

As Hegde defends his record as Lokayukta, the Gowda government and Governor H.R. Bhardwaj are locked in a bitter battle over finding a new ombudsman.

The institution is headless since Sep 19, after Hegde’s successor Shivaraj V. Patil quit following a row over acquisition of two house plots from two housing societies in Bangalore.

Bhardwaj has rejected the Gowda cabinet recommendation to appoint former Kerala High Court chief justice S.R. Bannurmath as new Lokayukta as he is also caught in a house site controversy. Bannurmath is accused of building a house in Bangalore on a plot meant for civic amenities.

Bhardwaj sarcastically suggested that the state government search the Supreme Court website to find a non-controversial former judge to head the Lokayukta.

As if this unseemly saga is not enough for the state, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda telephoned a senior police official with the Lokayukta Nov 7 at 10.30 p.m. to tell him that he was behaving like “slave of Yeddyurappa”.

The fault of the official, Jeevan Kumar Gaonkar, additional director general of police, was that he was vigorously pursuing a corruption case against Deve Gowda’s eldest son H.N. Balakrishne Gowda. The junior Gowda was a Karnataka government official and is accused of amassing assets worth Rs.500 crore.

“Gowda is behaving like a street goonda (thug),” thundered Congress Lok Sabha member from Mysore, H. Vishwanath.

Gowda and his sons should be arrested immediately for threatening the senior police official, demanded chief minister’s political secretary B.J. Puttaswamy, Excise Minister M.P. Renukacharya and other ministers.

Gaonkar has since been transferred out of the Lokayukta, which Hegde, Bhardwaj and the Congress see as an attempt to save Yeddyurappa and his kin. The government defends the transfer saying Gaonkar felt embarrassed to continue in the Lokayukta after Gowda’s threat.

Going by the combative mood of all the leading actors, the people of Karnataka can hardly expect the curtains to come down any time soon on this ‘I am better than you’, or rather ‘you are no better than me’ game.

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