Karnataka Politics: “…Treen, Treen; Hello, Hello… I am…Over-Hearing You…”
It is said that History repeats, first as a farce, then as a tragedy. After 31 years, the dreaded telephone tapping scandal has returned to haunt Karnataka politics. The allegations are the same but the actors are different. Ironically, the elements which had levelled charges against those who were in power, are now in the dock facing almost similar charges. Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediurappa was quick to order a CBI enquiry into the controversy. Why will he wait and not do what he did? After all, it was Haradanahalli Dodde Gowda Deve Gowda’s son Haradahalli Deve Gowda Kumaraswamy who is now in the dock – the same father-son dubious duo who had made Yediyurappa’s life miserable during his first stint as Chief Minister between 2008 and 2011.
August 1988. The then chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde, the head of the first-ever non-Congress government in Karnataka, resigned owning moral responsibility after he was charged of ordering tapping of telephones of Opposition leaders, businessmen, cine actors and prominent industrialists. Somappa Rayappa Bommai took over as Chief Minister only to be brought down by none other than H.D. Deve Gowda by his devilish machinations.
August 2019. Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa ordered CBI enquiry into the charges of telephone tapping allegedly by former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy who headed a rickety coalition government that had no electoral legitimacy between May 2018 and April 2019. As many as 65 GB of information has been illegally collected through this nasty exercise of tapping of telephones. What has angered the Congress and put the Karnataka political theatre on fire is that Kumaraswamy is alleged to have ordered the tapping of the phones of almost all top Congress leaders including former chief minister and Kuruba strongman Siddaramaiah and his aides.
It all started with the disclosure of the alleged tele-conversation between Bangalore City Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao and some person who was supposedly well-connected with the top brass in the Congress, both in the state and at the central level. Following this startling revelation, Bhaskar Rao had ordered an enquiry to find out who had authorised whom to tap his phone. The enquiry was conducted by Sandeep Patil, Joint Commissioner of Police and he submitted a report to the DG & IGP Neelamani Raju.
With this unsavoury development, not only the politicians stood exposed but the dark-underbelly among the top echelons of the Police Department came out in the open.
The charge against Kumaraswamy is that he had orally ordered the police to tap the phones of Congress leaders apart from his own party besides BJP leadership to “find out who was what role in bringing down his government” which he had formed with the help of the Congress inspite of having only 38 members in the Assembly. The Congress high command – read Rahul Gandhi – had agreed to Deve Gowda’s proposal to support his son as Chief Minister to “keep the communal BJP out” which was not liked by Siddaramaiah and other state leaders. But helpless they were, they had to mutely watch the “durbar” of the father-sons combination.
It was only when the MLAs of the Congress party started making noises of going out and bringing down the government did Kumaraswamy is suspected to have ordered the tapping of telephones to find out who was doing what. It included Siddaramaiah and his aides, as he (the kuruba strongman) is strongly suspected to have master-minded the rebellion of his own MLAs in order to show HDK the door, once and for all. However, Siddaramaiah has strongly denied this charge.
Strangely, even JDS leader Puttaraju, minister in HDK cabinet, also complained that his phones too have been tapped. Former JDS President and former minister A. Vishwanath, who has fallen out of the favours of Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy too complained that his phone too has been tapped. It goes without saying that the phones of Yediyurappa’s aide N.R. Santhosh and several BJP MLAs were also tapped to “find out what was going on“ in the saffron camp.
This only means that Kumaraswamy had no faith in his own party MLAs apart from his coalition partner. That he suspected the BJP of making attempts to poach Congress MLAs to bring down the government is quite understandable, though Yediyurappa has stoutly dismissed this charge. “Congress and JDS MLAs resigned on their own due to their own internal issues. BJP has no role to play in their resignation. Telephone tapping is a heinous crime. It is against civilised society. Are we anti-nationals and terrorists that our telephones should be tapped?,” chief minister asked angrily.
Independent MP from Mandya, Ms Sumalatha, who trounced Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil, in the 2019 Parliament elections, had also complained that her phone as well as that of her PA were tapped by the state government. It goes without saying that Gowda clan had a running a feud with Sumalatha and resorted to cheap and nasty tactics to defeat her in the hustings. But this widow of Ambareesh, ace kannada actor and Congress leader, Sumalatha who was supported by the BJP, won with a huge margin. That was a resounding slap to Gowda and Kumaraswamy.
This scandal has also brought out in open the differences between senior leaders of the Congress party in Karnataka.
While Siddaramaiah welcomed the ordering of the CBI government by the BJP government, Congress party’s trouble-shooter and Vokkaliga strongman D.K. Shivakumar expressed his displeasure over the development. “Telephone tapping has not taken place at all. This is all BJP’s figment of imagination,” Shivakumar said. That this statement is aimed at protecting Kumaraswamy and Deve Gowda clan is as glaring as the sunlight.
Home Minister in the JDS-Congress coalition government M.B.Patil said he had not ordered for telephone tapping. He was right. He could not have ordered for the tapping, obviously, because the intelligence wing of the state police was with the chief minister Kumaraswamy. It was only the chief minister who had the powers to do so.
What is something significant is that two Sub Inspectors have turned approvers by saying that they received instructions from the chief minister to tap the phones of several prominent personalities including Opposition leaders, Congress leaders, cine artists and important functionaries. But what makes everybody think that this may not reach the logical end is Kumaraswamy’s statement that “he has not given anything in writing” to tap the phones of anybody.
This, ipso facto, means that “he made oral orders” to find out the murky happenings in BJP and Congress camps but not written orders. As such he will not be caught at all. As if to endorse what Kumaraswamy said, Deve Gowda said, “Telephone tapping is not illegal. It is normal and happens every time. It has happened in the past also”.
This reinforces the suspicion that Deve Gowda’s hand is not ruled out in engineering a crisis in the Ramakrishna Hegde-led government in 1988 that ensured the exit of Hegde and subsequent collapse of the Janata Dal government in Karnataka.
But Gowda was miffed when he could succeed Hegde and instead S.R.Bommai, a prominent Lingayat leader from Hubli, took over as Chief Minister. Known for his vengeful politics, Gowda engineering another crisis in the government when he made four Lingayat MLAs to revolt against Bommai which eventually brought down the government headed by Lingayat.
After 31 years, the same scam has re-surfaced. This time Gowda’s son Kumaraswamy is facing the heat. CBI has already initiated the probe. The CBI officers had interrogated several state police officers who were suspected to have been involved in this heinous practice. It remains to be seen if the long-arm of the country’s premier investigating agency will reach the all-time and all-powerful Gowda and his son.
By S.A. Hemanth from Bengaluru