Even amid the COVID-19 crisis, all it not well with the BJP government in Karnataka. As the state makes all efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, ministers in the B S Yediyurappa cabinet are fighting their own battle for power.
Last week, reports of difference of opinion between Health Minister B Sriramulu and Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar emerged, as they sparred over the responsibilities on the coronavirus crisis.
Besides, Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan and Bengaluru city police commissioner Bhaskar Rao entered into a heated argument as the former accused Rao of allegedly taking bribes to give permission to e-commerce companies in the wake of lockdown.
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While both health minister and medical education minister were not on good terms, Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Education Minister Suresh Kumar handled dissemination of information to the public. The chief minister decided to assign roles to others as there were severe discrepancies in the information given out by the duo about the coronavirus crisis.
For instance, On April 1, the health minister tweeted that 342 people from Karnataka had attended the Tablighi Jamaat meeting and they were being monitored. But hours later, the health department said about 1,500 people had attended the meeting.
On March 25, Sriramulu tweeted that a woman from Gauribidanur in Chikkaballapura, home district of Sudhakar, had died of COVID-19. But Sudhakar maintained that the woman’s test results were yet to arrive. He confirmed her death a day later.
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However, Sudhakar denied the reports and said there was no disagreement between the two and it was a political ploy to discredit them. “We are like bothers working for the development of this state. We are not kids to do politics during such crisis times. Behind these lies, there’s a political ploy,” Sudhakar said in a tweet on Saturday (April 4).
“The Chief Minister preferred Suresh Kumar to brief the media instead of the health minister and education minister as they were giving different data,” PTI quoted a BJP insider as saying. Kumar will remain a one-point contact for all COVID-19-related issues in the state, henceforth.
Sudhakar, a disqualified rebel Congress MLA who had won on a BJP ticket and became a minister in the Yediyurappa cabinet in February, aspired to get the health ministry portfolio as he is a doctor. But during the portfolio allocation, Sudhakar got the medical education ministry, to which he later expressed discontent.
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But when Health Minister Sriramulu took leave for his daughter’s marriage, Sudhakar took over the roles of Sriramulu and managed to stay in the media limelight. But as the minister continued to enjoy the additional role, upset Sriramulu reportedly threatened to resign for being sidelined.
Meanwhile, Ashwath Narayan’s unsubstantiated allegations against Police Commissioner Rao has left many shocked. The Deputy Chief Minister also questioned Rao over the police excesses during curfew. Upset over the allegations, Rao had offered to quit.
While the political drama was happening one side, confusions in the administration were going on the other side.
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On March 28, the BJP government said it would distribute free food packets for the poor though the state-run Indira Canteens. But, on April 03, it issued orders saying it would charge people at subsidised rates and stop the free service.
Indira Canteens are subsidised food distribution ventures started by the Congress government in Karnataka, much on the lines of Amma Canteens in Tamil Nadu. The BJP government wanted to scrap the scheme after coming to power, alleging misappropriation of funds and mismanagement. However, with floods in several districts and economic slowdown, the government continued the scheme.
Even as several migrants are stranded across the state and the poor were struggling to get ration supplies, the government’s decision has not been helpful to them. Such orders raise question over the uncertainty of the government as to how it would tackle the issue of poverty and hunger during the coronavirus crisis.