The now out-in-the-open fissiparous tendencies in Karnataka's BJP government can make anybody question whether state politics in Karnataka can ever rise above corruption, in-fighting, inefficiency, ignorance and mindless stone-throwing. In this essay, we argue that there are two inter-related reasons for this mess, each reinforcing the other in a vicious cycle: one, the presence of lower-calibre politicians at the state level; and two, the relative unimportance of state-politics due to half-hearted federalism. We show that the way out of this mess is to have more power to the states and simultaneously for our politicians to grow up.
The high-decibel noise of empty vessels in Karnataka
A basic problem with the politics of Karnataka is that the politicians themselves are often of too low a calibre - often uneducated, corrupt and ignorant. Such politicians in the Vidhana Soudha repel higher-calibre people (who just can't match up to their level of corruption to even get elected) and attract even lower-calibre ones. Not just electoral candidates, but even the general public is repelled from state-level politics because of the bad name which the low-calibre politicians of Karnataka have brought to state-level politics.
Admittedly, state-level politics is more "hands-on" into the dirty mess of casteism and mindless largesses to a population which should ideally be better educated and taught to work instead of expecting those largesses. Karnataka's politicians have been unable to solve these issues to anybody's satisfaction, basically because they lack the necessary grey-cells for doing so. Instead of solving these issues, the inability and ignorance of our politicians makes them exploit the issues to water their own vested interests.
And of course, amidst all the high-decibel noise created by the empty vessels that Karnataka's politicians are, governance has taken the back-seat. The little that the Karnataka government has control over is also mishandled by our low-calibre politicians. With this being the performance of Karnataka governments right from 1956, hearing the word "state-politics" mentioned itself has started to become a nauseating experience.
Karnataka should look up to states like Gujarat
True federalism - as we have argued elsewhere - is the right way for India to progress, since New Delhi simply cannot run a country which has more than a billion people if it continues to poke its nose into state-level issues. New Delhi can never understand the importance of Kannada in Karnataka, or the way in which Kannadigas can progress, or what projects need to be undertaken for Karnataka to progress.
For the record, New Delhi does not speak Kannada (there are many in New Delhi who can't tell if Kannada is a language or a country in North America) - and therefore can never run Karnataka to any degree of satisfaction. Nor should it, for that would be not much different from the British ruling Karnataka - a state of slavery where Kannadigas are ruled by non-Kannadigas. Given this, while the importance of Karnataka's politics is implicit, the half-hearted federalism in India does not explicitly grant that importance to it.
Over and above this, the nauseating state-politics of Karnataka makes one come to the utterly wrong conclusion that New Delhi is better than Bengaluru when it comes to governing Karnataka. That is a disastrous feeling which is doing its rounds in the intelligentsia, and must as such be removed.
While the state-politics of Karnataka is admittedly nauseating, states like Gujarat have retained the sanctity of state-level politics by giving better governance, better utilization of state funds, encouragement given to investments and business, etc. Gujarat is not just the media babe of India, but a true example of what good leadership and high-calibre politicians can do to the very image of state-politics and federalism itself.
Today, while Gujarat is an example of a responsible state which further affirms that true federalism is the way to go, Karnataka brings down the case for true federalism because of its irresponsible, corrupt and non-delivering politicians. It is high time our own politicians grow up, stop being those empty vessels, develop some grey-cells and start delivering like the politicians in Gujarat.
Unimportance waters low-calibre
Why is it that we see less corruption, in-fighting, inefficiency, ignorance and mindless stone-throwing at the central government? Is it that we just don't get to see similar behavior (when it's present in reality)? No, it would be wrong to say so. Admittedly, politicians at the centre are of a higher-calibre than at the state-level. Why is that?
The main reason is that central politics is of relative higher importance. It's simply a better job with better challenges with better people around. The most important port-folios are held by the centre - many of which are nonsensically so held. For example, the states are left with virtually no revenue to run their states, while the centre gets a disproportionately large revenue for the little work that it does. One often sees highly productive states beg the centre for their own rightful share of central budgetary allocations. Karnataka perhaps stands foremost among states which are so cheated.
The point we're trying to make here is - the relative lower importance of state-politics is a very important factor in deciding the quality or calibre of politicians at the state-level. Today, state-level politics is not as good a job as a job at the centre for someone looking to do real work (not mint money and further one's own vested interests). State-level politics is not sufficiently empowered to attract high-calibre talent. As such, unimportance waters low-calibre.
In summary, the presence of lower-calibre politicians at the state level and the relative unimportance of state-politics due to half-hearted federalism have together resulted in a major degradation in the quality of state-politics in Karnataka. Unimportance waters low-calibre, and low-calibre waters unimportance. The way out of this mess is to have more power to the states and simultaneously for our politicians to grow up.