Road traffic mismanagement and chaos witnessed 24×7 on the roads of Bengaluru, the administrative capital of the southern state of Karnataka (pop.64 million), is pervading the state’s politics and all sectors of government. A few decades ago, Karnataka had the deserved reputation of being ranked among the country’s most well-governed states offering a business and industry friendly environment. But since its transformation in the new millennium into the hub of the new ICT (information communication technologies) industry, the garden city has acquired an infamous reputation for political populism, maladministration and widespread corruption. In the Transparency International India index, 2019, Karnataka is ranked #4 for government corruption.
Last November the state’s BJP government was rocked after the Karnataka State Road Contractors’ Association wrote directly to prime minister Narendra Modi’s office in Delhi, alleging that 40 percent “commission” is routinely extorted by government officials for awarding civic contracts and releasing payments after project execution. More recently (August) RUPSA (Registered Unaided Private Schools Association) has also written to the PMO complaining that education ministry officials routinely armtwist them for issuing school recognition and no-objection certificates to promote new schools and release reimbursements payable by the state government under s.12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act, 2009.
Quite obviously, to distract rising public indignation, the BJP government which is gearing for legislative assembly elections scheduled for next summer, has resorted to populist parochial and language chauvinism proclamations that are likely to further discourage investment flow into the state. On September 23, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai announced that the state government has finalised legislation to reserve 75 percent of jobs in public and private companies for Kannadigas, defined as individuals resident in the state for over 15 years and fluent in reading and writing Kannada, the dominant language of Karnataka. Secondly, legislation titled Kannada Language Comprehensive Development Bill under which all government business and communication will be conducted solely in Kannada has been drafted by the BJP government and is set to be enacted in the current monsoon session of the legislative assembly.
Besides being violative of Articles 14 (equality) and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution (to conduct business freely), such sub-nationalist, provincial initiatives are self-destructive because they will inhibit investment and damage industry productivity. Similarly language chauvinism is likely to adversely impact the ease of doing business because E(I)nglish is the language of business and the judiciary. Instead of resorting to desperate populism in the final run-up to the imminent assembly election, the state’s BJP government would do well to address the issue of runaway corruption, ruining the good reputation of Karnataka.