Shettar passes first hurdle, bigger battles ahead (Karnataka Newsletter)
Bangalore, Aug 3 (IANS) The Bharatiya Janata Party's third chief minister in four years in Karnataka, Jagadish Shettar, has succeeded in rallying his faction-ridden party behind him to get the state budget passed without a hiccup. He, however, faces bigger hurdles of tackling the worst drought in 40 years and reining in Hindu vigilante groups bashing up girls in the name of protecting culture.
For the first time in decades, even the Bangalore urban district has been declared drought-hit as the truant monsoon has left almost the entire state longingly looking skywards for rains.
With two months of the four-month monsoon that starts in June and lasts till September-end gone by and little hope of revival, the perennially power-starved state is already concerned about the situation in the summer months of the next year.
The government, which had declared 123 taluks (revenue subdivisions) out of the state's 176 drought-hit in June itself, has added 19 more to the list, including three in the Bangalore urban district.
Though Bangalore city too is a victim of monsoon failure, it has not yet joined the list as the central parts have been receiving showers, sometimes heavy downpours, once in a while.
The state government has been appealing to the central government to immediately release at least Rs. 2,000 crore for drought relief works, particularly to provide drinking water to the affected people and fodder for livestock.
There is hope that the central government will respond with adequate money as union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who visited the state Aug 2 as part of his tour of drought-hit states, has himself said Karnataka is among the worst affected.
Efficiently tackling the drought is a must for the BJP and Jagadish Shettar, not only as a matter of duty but also from the electoral point of view.
The assembly elections are due next May but may be held this year-end and Shettar has to ensure efficient handling of the drought crisis for him and his party to have any chance of again winning the mandate to rule the state.
This is all the more necessary for Shettar and the BJP as the first three years of its rule that started in May 2008 were marred by scandals - from rape to corruption and massive illegal mining to land grabbing by its ministers and legislators.
Over 20 of the BJP's 119 legislators led by the party's first chief minister in the state, B.S. Yeddyurappa, have been busy for over a year now fighting cases of abuse of their position for personal gain.
Shettar and the BJP will have to only remember the effect drought had on the Congress and its chief minister, S.M. Krishna, now the external affairs minister, in the 2004 elections.
Krishna led the party to a thumping victory in the 1999 assembly elections and is credited with turning Bangalore city from a pensioners' paradise to an IT hub.
But the monsoon failed successively and Krishna was branded a leader interested only in the development of Bangalore and not Karnataka. The Congress lost.
Shettar has little time on hand as the severity of the drought seems set to intensify in the coming weeks. He is additionally burdened with a scandal-scarred and faction-ridden party.
There were fears that at least 20 of the 119 legislators would create trouble in passing the budget for 2012-13 as they were not made ministers. To Shettar's luck, the budget was passed July 27 by a voice vote amidst an opposition walkout.
Along with providing succour to the drought-affected, Shettar has the immediate task of seeing that vigilante groups do not raise their ugly heads once again in the coastal city of Mangalore.
Managalore, about 350 km west of Bangalore, is the main town of the Dakshina Kannada district which has been known as a model for harmony among people speaking different languages and following different faiths.
The town and the district have people speaking Kannada, Tulu, Konkani and Urdu with Hindus, Muslims and Christians standing by one another to make it a role model.
The district has one of the most revered Hindu places of worship, the Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara temple, in this part of India. The 'dharmadhikari', or head of the temple, is a Jain.
But over the years economic disparities and rise of fundamentalism in matters of faith have badly affected the district, which saw its first major attack in the guise of moral policing and protecting Hindu culture in 2009.
The Sri Rama Sene (army of Lord Rama) activists barged into a pub and mercilessly thrashed young women and men in January 2009.
Last week there was a repetition of the attack.
College-going boys and girls attending a birthday party of one of their friends were thrashed by a group of people allegedly belonging to the Hindu Jagarana Vedike (Forum to Awaken Hindus).
Fourteen people have been arrested and Shettar has promised that none involved in the attack will be spared.
Unlike the 2009 pub attack, this time all colleges in Mangalore were shut for a day July 30 with hundreds of girls and boys holding demonstrations in their college premises condemning the attack.
They would have taken out processions in the town but the police had banned assembly of five or more people as tension was high in the city.
The attack has caused outrage across the state and Shettar and the BJP will have to work hard to stem the rot of marauders overtaking them as protectors of the Hindu religion and way of life.
With the BJP national leadership appearing to be more concerned over retaining its hold on the northern part of the country, the south seems to be again becoming a distant dream for the BJP as its four-year rule in Karnataka draws to a close as an eminently forgettable chapter in the party's history.
(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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