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I-T raids in Karnataka, Delhi: DK Shivakumar became indispensable to the Congress by mastering 'moneybag politics'

Congress leaders never doubted the power of moneybags. They believed that you could "order" an election victory like you call up Pizza Hut and ask for chicken pepperoni. Karnataka’s Congress minister DK Shivakumar, who is being raided by IT officials for the fourth day on Saturday, is one of them.

That’s not a big surprise. The Congress, which presided over India for 55 of the 70 years since Independence, not only institutionalised corruption but even invented, nurtured and depended upon moneybag politics for perpetuating itself in power.

It goes without saying — but it still needs to be said — that though the Congress copyrighted moneybag politics in India, other parties aped it in good measure with the specious logic of fighting corruption with corruption. Yet the Congress remains the mother of it.

DK Shivakumar at his residence during the I-T raids. PTI

DK Shivakumar at his residence during the I-T raids. PTI

Everybody knows the potent power of money in politics. Congress knows it better. Money buys posters, banners and buntings for election meetings. Money buys the trucks and tractors to ferry crowds that turn into what newspapers call "massive" rallies. Money buys the guys who throw tomatoes or stones at speakers. Money buys musclemen. Money buys saris, nose-studs, dhotis, television sets, whiskey and sundry things, edible or otherwise, to bribe voters before polling.

If you fall short of numbers after elections, money can buy loyalties. After elections, if the numbers don’t add up enough for forming a government, money buys new arithmetic. A no-confidence motion? That’s easy. Money can buy confidences.

In the Congress, few have mastered the art of translating money into power better than Shivakumar, who is the "Picasso" of the art of moneybags.

At the very root of moneybag politics is a business principle, which is as plain as the sun rising in the east: you get into politics with money, and you use politics to make more money because no other organised sector offers as high returns on relatively low investments as politics. There is no mutual fund or stock on the planet that pays off as many tax-free dividends as politics.

Hang democracy, money is what oils the political machine, and it is corruption that fills the moneybags.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Shivakumar’s wealth grew three-fold in five years

You could accuse the NDA government of political designs in fixing Shivakumar at an opportune time. The raids came just when he was keeping Gujarat’s Congress MLAs in a Bengaluru resort in to stop them from defecting to the BJP. Yet, you cannot deny the money power Shivakumar possesses and has often used to turn political equations upside down.

In the early 1980s, I watched Shivakumar lurk in the shadows of power corridors of the Vidhana Soudha or outside ministers’ bungalows. A young and bashful Youth Congress general secretary waiting for a chance to talk to the media or have a word with a leader. The man who was shy of entering power corridors soon owned them. Those of us who noticed his shift from the sidelines to the centre stage had some kind of an idea about his wealth but no clue to the immense size of the financial empire he was building around himself.

I heard senior journalists and Congress leaders joke with Shivakumar more than once about his sudden affluence, to which the man would rig up a coy smile and say "Illa, sir (No, sir)" and then ask with great hospitality: "Want some tea, sir?"

Like in most such stories, his origins were humble. From a nobody born into a farmer’s family in Kanakapura, 50 kilometres south of Bengaluru, Shivakumar grew to become one of India’s richest politicians, with his business interests ranging from mining to education, and from agriculture to real estate. From 2008 to 2013, his declared assets alone rose more than three-fold to Rs 251 crore.

Belonging to the dominant Vokkaliga caste, the Congress heavyweight hit headlines for the first time when he contested against the community’s strongman, HD Deve Gowda, in the 1985 Assembly election. Though he lost, he fought the awesome Gowda family head on for many years, often with success. Shivakumar has won the assembly election six times, and he got his brother a Lok Sabha seat.

As it turned out, his political clout rose in proportion to his money power. Everybody made money, but Shivakumar made more, maybe more than what was good for him and his party — as he is no doubt finding now.

Shivakumar’s recipe for success

Shivakumar had understood early on how politics worked, more specifically how the Congress machine worked. He found that, in politics, you don’t talk. You let the money talk because money is the best persuader. A suitcase-full of money can be exchanged for political loyalty in a hotel or a resort with not a word spoken.

All along, Shivakumar had endeared himself to senior leaders with his skills in "organising" from crowds at rallies to MLAs to back a chief minister. The rustle of crisp, mint-fresh currency is music to most Congress ears. He was the master of ceremonies, fair and foul, usually foul.

Only those who failed to understand the economics of politics were surprised why, in 1991, S Bangarappa made him a minister. Bangarappa was grateful for the support Shivakumar mustered for him in the race for the chief minister's post. Then he caught the eye of then chief minister SM Krishna, who made him an important minister in 1999, and then he made himself indispensable to a variety of leaders, including those in the Congress high command.

Money buys everything, does it?

And if it’s the slush money of scams that packs moneybags, corruption is what the Congress nurtured like a baby. That baby imp is now an adult monster.

Corruption is no longer a malignant tumour that can be sliced off body politic with a surgeon’s knife. It’s a banyan that has spread its roots so deep into the political soil that it can’t be uprooted in one fell sweep. Even a raid a day can’t keep corruption away.

Okay, money can buy everything. Or maybe not everything. For starters, it can’t buy a man with unswerving dedication to the eradication of corruption. But intentions don’t, and can’t, always produce desired results.

Can Narendra Modi bring an end to moneybag politics? I am not ready to bet my money on it — not as yet. I’ll wait.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

Updated Date: Aug 06, 2017 08:04 AM

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