Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar’s affidavit on his assets which he filed in the 2018 Assembly election ran into 87 pages. That wasn’t surprising. The wealth of the man who has earned fame as a political impresario, most recently as a manager of the party’s coalition with Janata Dal (Secular), totalled a whopping Rs 840 crore, which makes him one of India’s richest politicians.
This was thrice the amount he declared in the 2013 election. And what he declared in 2013, again, saw a three-fold increase from what he had declared in the 2008 election. If you are wondering how Shivakumar achieved this financial feat and how he made his money, his business interests include mining, education, agriculture and real estate. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which arrested him on Tuesday after four days of interrogation, may like to add politics to this list.
But even a man of his riches couldn’t explain away the cash of Rs 8.59 crore—seized in his Delhi residence in August 2017 in an income tax raid—as something of loose change left after shopping. This led to I-T and ED investigations, a case of money laundering and finally his arrest.
Shivakumar is no doubt innocent till proved guilty, but possession of so much hard currency, amounting to more than $1 million, would raise curious legal questions anywhere in the world. Was he shopping MLAs? It was no coincidence that the cash was discovered around the time he was herding Congress MLAs from Gujarat in a resort allegedly against poaching by the BJP. This also raises the very valid question of whether the BJP is resorting to witch-hunt, as alleged by him and other Congress leaders, and whether the saffron party is misusing law enforcement agencies to jail him as punishment for his Gujarat enterprise.
That said, it must be pointed out that there is no law which says the guilt of the accuser wipes out the crimes of the accused. And yet, Shivakumar is entitled to his claims of innocence till courts acquit him. But his protestations of innocence impress nobody. The average citizen must be pardoned for considering the acts of stone-pelting and bus-burning to protest against his arrest as nothing more than organised political hooliganism.
No amount of rooftop shouting or street vandalism, accusing the BJP of political vendetta, can answer the questions of very serious nature posed by the ED. Among other things, he is accused of siphoning illicit money to the Congress through hawala channels. The course of Shivakumar’s career and the multiplication of his wealth in no way help him counter the allegations with any degree of credibility.
Political fixer nonpareil
For one thing, he is well-known in Karnataka as a troubleshooter, which is a polite way of saying he is a fixer, an errand boy who criss-crosses India with suitcases filled not just with garments and toiletry, a grandee who can make or break deals at whim. He can round up people for rallies, mobilise voters in elections, muster MLAs to support or oppose no-confidence motions and can generally keep the party’s flock together like a good shepherd keeps his sheep from running away. It’s not because he is a superman with prodigious muscles, or because he possesses a magic wand with mystic powers. It’s because Shivakumar has money — lots of it — by his own admission in election-time affidavits.
Belonging to the dominant Vokkaliga caste, Shivakumar knew from the start the worth of money in politics. It was the 1985 Assembly election which saw him unsuccessfully contest against Vokkaliga stalwart HD Deve Gowda that first brought him into the limelight. But subsequently, he has won election after election to the Assembly — seven times, in fact.
And the Congress, which institutionalised electoral corruption and made a virtue of monetising politics in India, needed moneybags to practise its banana republic brand of democracy. Starting with late chief minister S Bangarappa, who made Shivakumar a minister for the first time in 1991 in return for past services, leader after leader pampered him with posts and clout disproportionate to the positions he held but proportionate to his wealth. It’s no secret that even central leaders of the Congress, who love to dial M for money in case of a “political crisis”, have Shivakumar on speed dial.
Political fallout uncertain
In a country where scams don’t lead to automatic decimation of political careers, the fallout in Karnataka of Shivakumar’s arrest is unpredictable, though the party may miss its go-to man for a while. His own ambition to become the chief minister, already stymied by BJP taking power in the state, may get another knock.
And it’s possible that the BJP wants to jail alleged Congress wheeler-dealers and choke the Opposition’s supply lines, similar to the fashion in which it took to demonetisation in 2016 to fix some regional leaders notorious for selling party tickets and buying votes.
The motives of the BJP notwithstanding, the Congress may be making a colossal blunder by coming to the defence of the likes of Shivakumar and P Chidambaram, also arrested for alleged financial malfeasance. The Congress evidently underestimates people’s perception of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a fighter of corruption, and by defending its leaders accused of it, the party is committing the same kind of hara-kiri it committed by raising the "chowkidar chor hai " slogan in the run-up to the 2019 elections.
The least that the Congress must do, if it indeed wants to lift itself from the dismal depth it finds itself in after the 2019 debacle, is to disown or keep away from tainted leaders till they are cleared of charges. Only that would give the Congress a legitimate right to cry hoarse against the BJP’s own corrupt leaders. But the Congress is evidently in no mood to cure itself of the advanced state of masochism it suffers from.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
Updated Date: Sep 04, 2019 15:33:56 IST