Congress created ACB in Karnataka, BJP didn’t disband it; HC order embarrasses both

The BJP in 2016 had vowed to disband the ACB when it came to power — and reiterated its stance in its 2018 manifesto.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Aug 13, 2022 | 8:00 AMUpdatedAug 13, 2022 | 5:43 PM

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Governor Thawarchand Gehlot at swearing-in ceremony of incumbent Lokayukta Justice (Retd) Bhimanagouda Sanganagouda Patil. File Photo.

It seems the Karnataka High Court’s order disbanding the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Karnataka has landed the State’s political parties between a rock and a hard place.

Two days after the high court order, the BJP government in Karnataka is still confused on what it should do next.

Should it rejoice that the “Siddaramaiah-era” anti-graft institution has been struck down by the high court? After all, it was BJP’s poll promise to restore the powers of the Lokayukta in “its very first cabinet meeting”.

Of course that never happened.

Between two years of BS Yediyurappa and one year of Basavaraj Bommai as chief ministers, the BJP government in Karnataka has held dozens of cabinet meetings — but restoring the powers of the Lokayukta, which was diverted to the ACB, didn’t feature in a single one of them.

The BJP’s dilemma

BJP's promise on Lokayukta in its manifesto for Karnataka polls 2018. Photo: Anusha Ravi Sood.

BJP’s promise on Lokayukta in its manifesto for the Karnataka elections in 2018. (Anusha Ravi Sood/South First)

Or should the Bommai government appeal against the high court order and protect the ACB? Because the ACB, unlike the Lokayukta, is not an autonomous body. It ultimately reports to the chief minister.

Anti-corruption activists, former Lokayuktas and high court justices have time and again credited ACB’s inability to crackdown on big names to this special feature of the bureau. 

“No political party likes an autonomous and strong ombudsman. The Congress brought the ACB to weaken the Lokayukta. The BJP promised to undo it, but never did,” Justice Santosh Hedge, former Lokayukta and Supreme Court Judge, told South First.

Even as the government is in a fix over its next course of action, the saffron party is going all guns blazing against the Congress, deeming the high court’s verdict a “slap in Siddaramaiah’s face”. 

What the party has conveniently forgotten in its race to taunt the Congress in general, and Siddaramaiah specifically, is its own failure to deliver on its promises on the anti-corruption front.

The party led by Yediyurappa ran a signature campaign calling for the ACB’s disbanding in 2016. In its manifesto for 2018, the BJP had promised to restore the Lokayukta’s powers, set up a 24/7 anti-corruption helpline, enact Karnataka’s own Whistleblowers Act and set up Special Task Force (STF) within 30 days to end “mafia raj”.

The party hasn’t delivered on even one of its promises on the anti-corruption front.


Siddaramaiah as chief minister set up the ACB. (Saurav Kumar/South First)

Congress embarrassment

The High Court’s order has also come as an embarrassment for the Congress which brought in a legislation creating the ACB when it was in power.

Siddaramaiah, who spearheaded the formation of the ACB and the diluting of the Lokayukta police’s powers, said he “respected the high court order”, but not before pointing out that many states across the country had an “independent” ACB which was one of the reasons his government formed one too.

The high court’s order on ACB has put the Congress, which has been beating the BJP with the “corruption” stick in the run-up to the Assembly election, in an awkward position too.

On the backfoot over ACB’s disbanding, the opposition party can neither blame the government for not appealing against the order nor taunt it for accepting the verdict. Having created the ACB, the Congress is in no position to criticise it.

Then in the opposition, Siddaramaiah led a padayatra from Bengaluru to Ballari in 2010 demanding that the Lokayukta report on illegal mining be implemented.

Blaming Siddaramaiah

“He came to power in 2013 and he didn’t implement it. Worse, three years down the line he defanged the very Lokayukta whose report formed the basis of his padayatra,” Justice Santosh Hegde pointed out.

The opposition party, which has been carefully constructing a narrative of corruption, commissions and mismanagement against the BJP in Karnataka over the last few months, has suddenly found itself quiet and guarded over the ACB’s disbanding, almost as if it is hoping for the episode to pass without drawing too much attention to itself.

The high court’s order on Thursday, 11 August, has cemented what anti-corruption activists have been insisting on for years — that an outfit that reports to the government can seldom be trusted to take action against those in power.