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People’s mandate vs. the law of the land
The margin of victory for independent candidate B. Sriramulu from the Bellary rural constituency despite being indicted in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining has left both the Congress and BJP stumped. While the verdict questions the government’s commitment to much-needed electoral reforms, many believe it is also lack of options.
Issue Date - 22/12/2011
It was a victory not many could have anticipated. Of the total votes (about 120,000) polled on November 30 in the Bellary Rural (Scheduled Tribe reserved) Assembly constituency, about 300 km from Bangalore, B. Sriramulu secured 74,527 votes. His Congress rival B. Ramprasad got the closest to him securing 27,737 while Bharatiya Janata Party’s P. Gadilingappa could manage just 17,366, less than one-sixth of the polled votes, thereby losing his security deposit. Sriramulu’s victory has obviously left the BJP running for cover and his other rivals stunned. Interestingly, 71% of the total voters turned up for voting and no untoward incident was reported.

While victories and upsets are part and parcel of electoral politics, Sriramulu’s case is unique in more ways than one. Former BJP leader Sriramulu, a trusted lieutenant of mining barons G Janardhana Reddy and G Karunakara Reddy, had quit the party on November 9 this year after the Lokayukta report named him as one of the co-accused in a scam that caused an estimated loss of Rs.16,000 crore to the state exchequer. Sriramulu had resigned from his Assembly seat saying ‘his conscience had been hurt’ after he was indicted by the Lokayukta in its report. He had also stated that he would seek the verdict in the people’s court. While Congress reportedly believed the by-elections (necessitated after Sriramulu’s resignation) would be a close contest between their candidate Ramprasad and Sriramulu, the difference eventually turned out to be a whopping 46,790 votes, a margin that was unexpected to say the least. In fact, the former BJP leader, who contested as an independent this time around, won by a bigger margin than the previous election. In the Karnataka Assembly elections in 2008, Sriramulu had defeated Ramprasad by 25,000 votes as a BJP nominee.

Apart from setting off a political turmoil in the state, the victory also raises some relevant questions. Should the verdict delivered by voters of Bellary (Rural) be construed as rejection of the Lokayukta report on illegal mining over which Sriramulu had resigned from the seat? More importantly, with so much of hype around the anti-corruption movement, which has engulfed the country in the past few months, does it mean a defeat for the entire cause? Apparently not, believes former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, who had tabled the report indicting Sriramulu as a prime accused in the illegal mining case. In an exclusive conversation with B&E, Hegde says, “I don’t think it is right to say that the movement against corruption has been defeated. Such things happen. I believe that it is more important that the objective is not defeated. If some have taken money and voted, then they have their own conscience to answer to.” Though no political party had made the Lokayukta report on illegal mining a campaigning card, it was expected that voters would certainly be influenced by the report. Hegde believes it was a matter of lack of choices for the voter. “The ruling party has been deeply involved in the matter, one party did not contest and the third has almost lost all moral ground,” he says.

Experts, however, have a slightly different tone in their reactions. Their stand vindicates Hegde’s ‘lack of options’ theory. Senior journalist Madan Mohan believes it to be a matter of support that Sriramulu has always enjoyed in the constituency. “It is not a big thing if one contests on the ticket of a national party and wins. But, an independent candidate winning with a huge margin, pushing two of the biggest national parties to trash, is really amazing. Corruption has never become an election issue in our country,” says Mohan. Though the regional party Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) hailed Sriramulu’s’thumping victory after extending tacit support to him and by not contesting in the by-poll, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President G. Parameshwara minced no words in alleging that money power and muscle power played a huge role in the former’s victory. Mohan, however, does not totally agree with this line. “It is difficult to evaluate the victory, as money alone could not have enabled him to garner such a huge number of votes. There could be other dimensions to it,” says Mohan.

Renowned author Chandrashekhar Patil also holds a similar stand when it comes to the question of Sriramulu’s surprising victory despite all evident odds. “People in the state, though late, are realising that the two national parties, Congress and BJP, are doing nothing good for Karnataka,” Patil tells B&E adding that “Yes, Sriramulu has also been indicted in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining. Everybody is corrupt, but the corruption charges on the candidates have not worked. Sriramulu’s honesty, though less, is what has earned him a victory.” It is amusing that almost all candidates seeking entry into the Assembly were mine operators, including BJP’s Gadilingappa. Admitting that entrusting the political and administrative affairs of Bellary to the Reddy brothers over the past three years had cost the party dearly, Karnataka Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda said that though he would not hold anyone responsible for the shock defeat, he would attribute the loss to the mistakes the party committed since it came to power in the state in May 2008.


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