For Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, this budget session may be record-making as he presents the 15th budget for the state – the highest by any chief minister in this southern state, but he will also be in firefighting mode.
In the 10-day budget session of the Karnataka assembly that comes ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Siddaramaiah is all set to face heated exchanges between the opposition BJP-JD(S) alliance and the ruling Congress. Five major issues are expected to dominate the session: budget allocation, corruption allegations, call for a “separate South India”, a religious flag dispute, and a white paper on state finances.
Money allocation for the ‘Five Guarantees’
The chief minister faces the crucial question of whether the state budget has been able to effectively manage funds to fulfil the promises made under the “five guarantees” – Shakti, Gruha Jyothi, Anna Bhagya, Gruha Lakshmi and Yuva Nidhi.
These electoral assurances, now transformed into guarantee schemes, are believed to have contributed to the victory of the Congress in the assembly election in May last year. The BJP has alleged financial difficulties and accused the Congress of misusing public funds.
In the previous budget, Siddaramaiah said the five guarantees will cost Rs 52,060 crore annually, providing financial aid ranging from Rs 48,000 to Rs 60,000 per year to approximately 13 million families on average. Siddaramaiah also mentioned allocating Rs 39,815 crore for the same in the previous fiscal.
But, soon after the announcement, the opposition BJP accused the state government of lacking a budget and undergoing a financial crisis. The solution proposed by the government involved increased borrowings, higher excise duties, and setting ambitious revenue targets for various departments.
Whether these measures were implemented is a question the CM, along with his deputy DK Shivakumar, must address in the ongoing budget session. In a recent statement, union home minister Amit Shah alleged that the Karnataka government’s treasury is empty due to the guarantee schemes of the Congress.
Siddaramaiah countered it, questioning whether the BJP harbours some kind of animosity towards the people of Karnataka. He further challenged Shah, stating, “If this is Amit Shah’s firm opinion, he should take part in a public debate with me. I can prove that our treasury is not empty due to the guarantee schemes; instead, there is an unfair distribution of taxes from the Centre to the state. This is also a challenge to Amit Shah.”
He also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of appropriating the state’s guarantee schemes, including the term “guarantee”, and promoting them under the same name despite purportedly opposing them.
’40 percent commission’
These three words have resurfaced to haunt Karnataka politics. The Karnataka State Contractors Association (KSCA) has once again alleged that the collection of 40 percent commission for public works persists even in this government. They had earlier accused the BJP government under Basavaraj Bommai of the same.
The association’s president, D Kempanna, alleged that just like in 2022, tenders were being given only to benefit a few select contractors and that the collection of 40 percent commission for public works has continued under the Congress government. He further alleged that the problem was the same, and it is just a different set of people who are asking for the commissions.
In the previous poll, the Congress built its election campaign around “40 percent commission” and managed to effectively use it in their favour.
The BJP minister, KS Eshwarappa, had also resigned following the death by suicide of civil works contractor Santosh Patil, who accused him of demanding a 40 percent commission for road works in Belagavi. Despite being cleared by the police, the minister could not convince his party’s high command to reinstate him and or give him an election ticket.
Then in the opposition, the Congress quickly made Eshwarappa the “poster boy of corruption” and launched a campaign against the BJP, alleging that the government demanded a 40 percent commission and people were killing themselves due to such corrupt demands. The Congress built its “Pay CM” campaign around this issue. This time, it is the Congress that will have to defend these allegations.
‘Separate nation’ for South India
A statement by DK Suresh, who is Karnataka’s lone Congress MP, on a “separate nation for South India” is expected to spark a debate on the assembly floor as well. In response to the union interim budget 2024, the MP criticised the Centre for neglecting southern states, especially in fund distribution.
He pointed out that Karnataka contributed Rs 4 lakh crore to the central government but received little in return. He stressed on the need to question this unfairness, warning that if not addressed, it could lead to demands for a separate nation down south.
“We must raise questions about this disparity. If left unaddressed, it may lead to a demand for a separate nation by the southern states,” Suresh said at first.
“As Indians and proud Kannadigas, we have the right to question the injustices faced by our state. Despite being the second-largest contributor to taxes in the country, our returns are abysmal. Given these circumstances, it’s understandable for people to contemplate such ideas. I merely voiced the sentiments of the people, not my own,” he later said, issuing a clarification on his previous statement that it aimed to highlight the north-south divide when it comes to fund allocation and the Centre’s disregard for the south.
Siddaramaiah recently led a protest in Delhi, demanding compensation for Karnataka’s alleged loss of Rs 1,87,000 crore under the 15th finance commission. A senior BJP MLA, however, told News18 that the party will raise these issues on the assembly floor, holding the Congress accountable for withholding development funds and causing suffering among the people.
“Despite the Congress being in power, our development funds for our constituencies have been withheld, leading to immense suffering among our people. Development has ground to a halt. We will hold the Congress accountable and ensure they face the consequences,” the leader said.
Hindu deity Hanuman is also going to be a major topic of discussion in the Karnataka assembly in this budget session, it has been learnt. Before the inauguration of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir in Ayodhya, BJP and JD(S) supporters in Keragodu village raised funds and erected a 108-foot flagpole, hoisting a saffron flag adorned with images of Hanuman on January 19.
Based on a police complaint filed by some local residents, officials ordered for it to be removed. When the district administration moved in to dismantle the flag, residents from neighbouring villages and right-wing activists began protests that led to a minor clash and lathicharge by the police. In a show of resistance, a group of protesters blocked the Mandya-Yediyur state highway by setting fire to tyres.
Leader of the Opposition, R Ashok called it politically motivated and a way for the ruling Congress to provoke the Hindu community. He also accused the party of being “anti-Ram” and “anti-Hanuman”.
Siddaramaiah said it was “inappropriate to fly the saffron flag in place of the national flag”, leading to a further war of words between the BJP and Congress. The BJP is planning to hold a dharna on the floor of the house against this move in Mandya and seek an apology from the Congress.
Siddaramaiah’s ‘white paper’
The BJP and JD(S), who are now in alliance with each other for the Lok Sabha polls, are gearing up to criticise the Siddaramaiah administration, alleging mismanagement of the drought situation, law and order issues among others. The government is also expected to introduce several bills, including one mandating that 60 percent space on signboards for businesses and establishments be dedicated to Kannada displays.
Siddaramaiah, however, to counter the Opposition, has hinted at his government’s intention to release a “white paper” on the state’s finances – a move that could potentially trigger another controversy in the assembly. A counter paper is also being worked on by the BJP, it has been learnt.
Additionally, the caste census, internal reservation within SCs, and demands for increased quotas from specific communities like Panchamasali Lingayats are also expected to be raised and discussed during this budget session.