JD(S) leader and former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy has levelled serious allegations against the Congress.
He has accused the Congress, which is currently in power in the state, of luring the voters with gift cards in as many as 42 seats in the run-up to last month’s Assembly polls.
The Congress ended up registering a stellar victory by winning 135 of the 224 seats, while the BJP won 66, and the JD(S) was reduced to 19 seats.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, the JD(S) won 37 Assembly seats. Only three MLAs from that lot managed to win in the 2023 Assembly polls.
Even the vote share of the JD(S) saw a dip — by 5 percentage points — when compared to the previous Assembly polls, where its vote share was 18.3 percent.
Though the JD(S) alleged that many Congress candidates bribed people with gift cards, the regional party neither filed a police complaint nor approached the Election Commission on the matter.
A day after chairing the JD(S) Legislature Party meeting in Bengaluru on 25 May, Kumaraswamy came down heavily on the current Congress government and said that the party had come to power because of conspiracies and cheap politics in the state.
Alleging that Congress distributed gift cards in as many as 42 Assembly seats, Kumaraswamy claimed: “The Congress has not defeated Nikhil Kumaraswamy [his son], who contested from Ramanagara Assembly seat, ethically. Instead, it won by luring the voters by distributing gift cards.”
He added: “Each gift card had a QR code. It was worth anywhere between ₹3,500 and ₹5,000. Similar gift cards have been distributed in as many as 42 assembly seats including Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Magadi on the eve of polling day.”
The JD(S) leader also said: “These gift cards have been given to at least 60,000 voters in 42 Assembly constituencies. These gift cards can be used in the shopping centre to purchase materials. We will look into all options to initiate legal action against the Congress.”
Hitting out at the current chief minister, Kumaraswamy said: “Siddaramaiah talks about five guarantees. Keep them aside for a while. For these gift cards alone, they need at least ₹20 crore. Where will they get money?”
He continued: “With no option left, they have to take commissions in every project. Siddaramaiah has to give directions to his MLAs to take commission. Will he ask for 40 percent or 80 percent commission? Will the chief minister investigate such illegal practices?”
Having snuck in a jibe at the BJP as well, he has said the gift cards had the photographs of Congress candidates like Ramanagara’s Iqbal Hussain, Rajarajeshwarinagara’s Kusuma Hanumantharayappa, Magadi’s HC Balakrishna, and Kunigal’s HD Ranganath.
In fact, he said, each gift card reportedly had the picture of and name of the local Congress candidate along with the serial number allotted in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and the QR code at the bottom on the right side of each card.
While running up to the election @INCKarnataka distributed alleged rechargeable shopping cards with bar codes to around 30-60 thousand voters each in many assembly constituencies.
Congress candidates promised the voters of free shopping worth 5000 each if they vote for Congress… pic.twitter.com/OktS6sWsDD
— Prathap ಕಣಗಾಲ್ (@Kanagalogy) May 26, 2023
JD(S) spokesperson Prathap Kanagal told South First: “The use of these gift cards used by the Congress to lure voters should result in the disqualification of those candidates that won because this is a clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct.”
Kanagal, who is also president of JD(S) IT wing, added: “We are collecting such gift cards and other evidence before approaching the court. We will directly approach the court next week demanding legal action against such Congress candidates. These cards have been mostly distributed in the assembly segments of the Old-Mysore region.”
‘Not connected to election’
The Congress’ newly-elected Ramanagara MLA HA Iqbal Hussain refuted the allegations of the JD(S) and said that these gift cards were not connected to the elections, but were instead given during festivals.
In the 2023 Assembly polls, Iqbal Hussain defeated his nearest rival — JD(S) candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy, who is the son of former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy — by a margin of 10,715 votes.
Meanwhile, a video of Hussain talking about gift cards at an event has gone viral.
“We had given a gift card to everyone. On the directions of DK Suresh, we will give an order for gift cards in a month,” Hussain is apparently heard saying in the video.
He added: “I have also received complaints that many people have not received gift cards. After placing orders, I will ensure that the gift cards reach every home. I will guarantee that the gift that has been promised will be fulfilled”.
Responding to the allegations of JD(S), Hussain told South First: “I have money. I will keep spending for the people. I had given similar gift cards five years ago and during the Covid-19 pandemic. The allegations being made by Kumaraswamy are far from the truth.”
He added: “These gift cards were given during festivals and special occasions, including on the 75th Independence Day. It is our tradition to give gifts to people. I am continuing it. I will also give gift cards to my people in the coming days, mainly during festivals. These gift cards are not connected to the elections.”
Hussain continued: “I have also given these gift cards to schoolchildren. Let them go to any court, even approach the Supreme Court. The case will not stand. They don’t have a single piece of evidence to prove that it was I who personally gave gift cards to the voters. Many of my friends might have given such cards.”
He further said: “It is a Kali Yuga. It is difficult to convince voters to support people in the elections. Even Kumaraswamy is wealthy enough to distribute such gift cards.”
He added: “He is not able to digest the loss of his son in the elections. He is making these allegations out of frustration. His case won’t stand.”
The cards presented by HD Kumaraswamy last week to the media, however, shows the candidate’s name, his serial number on the EVM and the party symbol. Serial number on EVM for candidates is prepared only after notification of election and when model code of conduct is in place.
Also read: JD(S) takes 3rd defection hit in a week
Will take it up legally: BJP
BJP former minister and Malleswaram MLA Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, who was also district in-charge minister of Ramanagara in the previous Basavaraj Bommai government, said that his party would also start a legal fight over the Congress’ gift cards.
He told reporters: “The newly elected Ramanagara MLA and others have made a statement that they are going to take care of the gift coupons that they distributed during the elections. Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar and his brother, Bengaluru Rural MLA DK Suresh, are the masterminds behind these gift cards. This is how they have campaigned in the elections.”
He added: “We are going to file petitions against them and demand for disqualification. We will take up a legal fight against such unethical practices.”
It may be noted that the BJP candidate lost her deposit in the Ramanagaram Assembly seat. The party had fielded 39-year-old Leelavathi from the seat. She managed to get a mere 4,871 votes.