State politics in Karnataka have been shaken with revelations that former chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Kumaraswamy demanded a bribe from a local party leader who wanted to be elected to the Legislative Council, the Upper House in the state’s legislature.
The audio clip of the alleged conversation between Kumaraswamy and Vijaygouda Patil was anonymously released to the media on Saturday. In it Kumaraswamy allegedly demanded Rs. 40 crore ($6.7 million) from Patil to ensure that his party’s 40 members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) would vote for Patil. In the state’s political structure, MLAs elect the new members of the Legislative Council (MLCs).
“Each MLA is asking for Rs. 1 crore ($167,000). What can they do? They have also borrowed money to win the elections. They are paying huge interest on those loans… You pay the money and I will take care of the rest,” Kumaraswamy allegedly said.
According to the Hindustan Times, this conversation took place at a JD(S) meet in Bangalore in early June. Vijaygouda Patil eventually failed to secure the party’s nomination and it is believed that he could be behind the leak of the audio recording.
The JD(S) had nominated D U Mallikharjuna instead, who went on to win the Legislative Council election in June. After his victory, he reportedly took all the party MLAs for a junket to Sri Lanka to celebrate.
This sordid tale of buying votes in a legislature is not new. But what is novel is that Kumaraswamy himself has not denied that the conversation took place. In fact, he has tried to brazen it out, claiming that it had been just a general discussion and since no transaction had actually taken place, he had not committed “a grave crime.”
“I had merely discussed the hard reality of politics,” claimed the JD(S) leader.
“This is the bitter truth of present-day politics. I am not one of those leaders who say one thing on the face and do something else behind the scenes. It is not right to project me as a villain. The other parties have also done the same in these elections. I am ready to respond inside and outside the assembly,” Kumaraswamy told the Hindustan Times.
The expose has sparked off a political controversy, with other parties condemning the JD(S) leader.
“Corruption is corruption. If he (Kumaraswamy) says other parties are also doing it, (that) is not a defence at all,” declared Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of the ruling Congress party.
Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers Ananth Kumar (BJP) demanded a probe to unearth the truth and punish the guilty. He said his party was in favour of amendments to ensure transparency in the Legislative Council elections and to end ‘horse-trading’.
This controversy once again highlights the urgent need to clean up the funding of election campaigns. Since candidates have to spend heavily to win an election, the winners are later under pressure to recover their investment by any means possible, even if that means selling their votes in the legislature.
The result is that it is only those who are rich and powerful can afford to stand for election at the state and national level.
According to Karnataka Election Watch (KEW), the average asset per MLA who won the 2013 Karnataka assembly election is Rs. 23.54 crore ($3.9 million) – an increase of 135 per cent over 2008, when it was Rs. 10.02 crore ($1.67 million).