Congress revels in courting controversies

Bangalore, Oct 11 (IANS) Karnataka's ruling Congress is landing itself in controversies - from ministry formation to promoting minorities' welfare - much to the glee of the opposition parties which were demoralized after their poor showing in the May assembly elections.

The latest row was sparked off by state Congress chief G. Parameshwara's attempt to impress the minorities by stating that loans should be given to them to set up business/industries and it was okay if they do not repay the loans.

Parameshwara made the comment at a recent Congress workshop in Bangalore to discuss schemes for minorities.

Urging the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation and other agencies to offer to members of the minority community substantial loan amounts like Rs.50 lakh and not just a few thousand rupees, he said if the amount was not paid back, it would not make much of a difference to the government.

Parameshwara, who spoke in Kannada, referred to many cases of loan default and said: "Avaru topi hakidaaga, neevu topi haka bahudu" (When they cheat, you can also do the same).

With opposition parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Karnataka Janata Party, attacking him for the statement, the Congress chief has been claiming that his remarks have been "misunderstood".

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah refused to be drawn into the controversy,, saying he did not know the context in which Parameshwara made the statement.

This controversy comes even as one over ministers' appraisal continues to grow and the ministry formation exercise is still not complete. Four vacancies exist in the ministry and the state and central leaders have not been able to finalise the names to fill them. Karnataka can have a 34-member council of ministers, including the chief minister, as per law.

Parameshwara is insisting on quarterly appraisals on the ground that such a practice is in vogue in other Congress-ruled states. Siddaramaiah and most of the ministers are for annual appraisals.

Now, another dimension has been added to the row over who will do the appraisal.

Parameshwara's plan to seek the help of IIM-B (Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore) faculty has come in for sharp criticism from a group of well-known authors, including Jnanpith awardee U.R. Ananthamurthy.

In a statement, the litterateurs have opposed the involvement of IIM-B professors and want the assessment done by "public-spirited people of integrity, ability and honesty, who have some commitment to socio-political and economic causes".

Parameshwara responded saying many in the IIM-B faculty were Congress members and he was, in any case, still finalizing the details of the appraisal. The help of IIM-B professors may be taken, if needed, he said.

Incidentally one of the Congress spokespersons, M.V. Rajeev Gowda, is a professor of economics at IIM-B.

Given these controversies, it is not clear when Parameshwara will have the final appraisal format ready and when the exercise will start, though nearly five months have passed since the party came to power.

The Congress wrested power from the BJP in the May 5 assembly elections and Siddaramaiah assumed office May 13. He inducted his ministers a week later.

With the Congress' central leaders now getting busy with assembly elections in five northern states in Nov-Dec and soon after that with Lok Sabha polls due next April-May, it looks like the appraisal of the Siddaramaiah ministry may come about only after it completes a year in office.

That may well suit the party central leaders also as they would not like the state unit to plunge into more controversies ahead of the general elections.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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