Gauri killing, Infosys turmoil mark 2017 in Karnataka

Bengaluru: The killing of journalist- activist Gauri Lankesh and the boardroom battle at IT giant Infosys marked the high point of various developments from Karnataka during 2017, which also saw political parties sounding the bugle for the assembly polls early next year.

Diary entries by a political aide of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, indicating alleged payments to Congress leadership; IT raids against Power Minister D K Shivakumar and factional feud within BJP against party chief B S Yeddyurappa made political waves in the state.

The Siddaramaiah government also stirred a hornet’s nest as it initiated a move for a separate flag for the state and providing a legal standing for it, which came under severe criticism with some equating it to Jammu and Kashmir, which enjoys a special status under Article 370 of the Constitution.

The demand for a separate religion tag to Veerashaiva- Lingayat faith also surfaced from the numerically strong and politically-influential community.

The year also saw ousted AIADMK leader V K Sasikala’s return to central prison here with the Supreme Court upholding her conviction in a disproportionate assets case. This came at a time when she was staking claim as successor to the legacy of Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister J Jayalalithaa, who died last year.

Alleged preferential treatment extended in jail to Sasikala made national headlines, after senior woman IPS officer D Roopa blew the lid over ‘corrupt practices’.

The year also saw city headquartered ISRO that was on a success spree, taste failure after a long gap, with its trusted work horse, PSLV failing to launch backup navigation satellite IRNSS-1H into the orbit due to technical fault.

2017 began with public outrage over horrific incidents of alleged mass molestation and groping of women in Bengaluru on New Year’s Eve.

The year also saw a spurt in communal tension in coastal districts and incidents of alleged political murders in different parts of the state, raising the political temperature with the BJP accusing the ruling Congress of being “soft” on “jihadi elements”.

The audacious attack by unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants by pumping bullets into 55-year-old Lankesh, known for her left-leaning outlook and forthright views against Hindutva politics on September 5 created a national outrage and rekindled the debate on freedom of expression and free thinking.

Though there are allegations holding right-wing organisations and also Naxals responsible for her killing, police who have released sketches of the suspects are yet to nab the culprits.

Rationalist M M Kalburgi was killed in a similar fashion at his residence in Dharward, in August 2015.

Politically, the year witnessed all three parties – the Congress, the BJP and the JDS – kick start preparations in the run-up to assembly polls early next year, amid efforts to sort out differences among their respective top leadership.

While there is disgruntlement in the BJP between Yeddyurappa and other senior leaders including K S Eshwarappa over the former chief minister’s style of functioning, post the intervention of party’s national chief Amit Shah, all the leaders have embarked on a state wide ‘parivartana yatra’ to “expose the misdeeds” of the Siddaramaiah government.

The Congress too with an intention to retain power has planned yatras across the state amid reports about differences between Siddaramaiah and KPCC chief G Parameshwara.

According to insiders, the party’s old guard including Parameshwara are disgruntled with high command’s announcement that Siddaramaiah will be the party’s face during polls.

The JDS too has its own set of internal issues, most importantly within the family of party supremo and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda over how many members from the family will contest the assembly polls.

There is a growing demand from within the family for tickets, despite Gowda maintaining only his two sons Kumaraswamy and Revanna will contest.

Among the other developments that made national headlines politically from the state include issue relates to a diary reportedly recovered by the Income Tax department from the residence of the chief minister’s Parliamentary Secretary K Govindaraju.

The entries allegedly show a few acronyms similar to the names of some central Congress leaders, indicating alleged payments.

In an action that became a hot political issue for the Congress to target the Modi government, the Income Tax department conducted raids on properties linked to Karnataka Energy Minister D K Shivakumar in connection with an alleged tax evasion case.

Shivakumar at the time was hosting 44 Gujarat Congress MLAs at a resort on the city outskirts to thwart the “poaching” attempts by the BJP ahead of Rajya Sabha polls in that state. Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, was a contestant in the election to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, which he eventually won.

During the IT raids at about 66 places across the country, the department officials claimed they had seized cash and jewellery worth over Rs 15 crore. The IT department is yet to make an official statement regarding the outcome.

The other development that can be marked as important this year is separate religion status demand for Veerashaiva- Lingayat faith. However, there is resentment within the community over projecting Lingayats and Veerashaivas as the same.

While one section under ‘Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha’ has demanded a separate religion status, asserting that Veerashaiva and Lingayats are the same, the other wants it only for Lingayats as they believe that Veerashaiva is one among the seven sects of Shaivas, which is part of Hinduism.

The Veerashaiva-Lingayat community that pays allegiance to the 12th century “social reform movement” initiated by Basaveshwara has a substantial population in Karnataka, especially in the northern parts of the state.

The BJP and several sections of the Hindu community are opposed to the move to give Veerashaiva-Lingayat separate religion status and have accused the Siddaramaiah government of dividing the society to draw political mileage ahead of assembly elections due early next year.

On the business front, Vishal Sikka, the first non- founder CEO of Infosys, resigned amid heightened acrimony between the board and the high-profile founders led by N R Narayana Murthy who had demanded a clean-up at the country’s second largest software services firm.

Over the next few days, the then chairman R Seshasayee and two others also relinquished their positions.

Murthy, along with some former Infosys executives, had alleged serious corporate governance lapses and questioned the high severance packages paid to ex-CFO and others.

Another major contention was the acquisition of the Israeli automation technology firm Panaya by Infosys. The founders citing whistleblower reports had raised concerns about the USD 200 million buyout.

Nandan Nilekani, one of the Infosys co-founders and Aadhaar architect, was brought in as non-executive chairman to restore order at the embattled company, and was tasked with finding Sikka’s successor as the shareholder sentiment was hit by the developments at the firm.

Concluding the three-month high-profile executive search, Infosys earlier this month appointed Salil S Parekh who was a member of the Group Executive Board at French firm Capgemini as its CEO and managing director.

In another development, as a major setback on August 31, India’s mission to launch its backup navigation satellite IRNSS-1H on board PSLV-C39 ended in a failure after a technical fault on the final leg following a perfect launch.

City-headquartered ISRO has said the heat shield did not separate on the final leg of the launch sequence and, as a result, IRNSS-1H got stuck in the fourth stage of the rocket.

The ISRO this year commemorated India’s rendezvous with the red planet as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) completed three years in orbit. The space agency also mourned the passing away of its former chairman Udupi Ramachandra Rao, one of the builders of India’s space programme, at the age of 85.