Political parties in Karnataka, who are campaigning rigorously for the 10 May Assembly polls, are neck and neck when it comes to the criminal complaints against the candidates they have fielded.
According to a report from the election watch organisation Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the Congress has 31 percent, the BJP has 30 percent and the JDS has 25 percent candidates with serious criminal cases against them, as per the affidavits filed with the Election Commission of India.
The latest ADR report analyses the criminal background as well as the financial, educational, gender and other details of candidates in the Karnataka Assembly Elections-2023.
It states that 69 out of 221 candidates analysed from the Congress, 66 out of 224 candidates analysed from the BJP, 52 out of 208 candidates analysed from the JD(S), and 30 (14 percent) out of 208 candidates analysed from the AAP have declared serious criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits.
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16% candidates with ‘serious criminal cases’
The report said that the overall tally of candidates who have “serious criminal cases” (an offence for which the maximum punishment is five years or more) stood at 404, or 16 percent of all the candidates in the 2023 Assembly election.
This number is at least 6 percentage points higher than that of the 2018 Assembly elections, wherein 254 (10 percent) candidates declared serious criminal cases against themselves.
Of the 404 candidates with cases against them, 49 have declared cases related to crimes against women, one of which is a case related to rape.
Eight candidates have declared cases related to murder while 35 candidates have declared cases related to attempt to murder.
Meanwhile, two candidates contesting in the polls are “barred-entry candidates”.
Vinay Kulkarni of the Congress who is contesting from the Dharwad constituency is barred from entering the segment.
Being accused and out on bail in connection with the murder of Zila Panchayat member Yogeesh Gowda, Kulkarni is not allowed to enter the Dharwad district as per a Supreme Court order.
Though he tried to get a respite from this restriction citing the elections, the Karnataka High Court struck down his request recently.
Kulkarni’s wife and daughter are going door to door to convince voters, while he camps on the periphery of the constituency to support his family in pursuing his campaign through social media.
Kulkarni — a former minister for Mines and Geology — has won twice from this seat, once as an independent (in 2004) and again on a Congress ticket (in 2013).
His wife Shivaleela told PTI, “My husband has been staying out of the constituency for almost three years now. When we lost the support of friends and relatives because of the case, I decided to stand up and spearhead the campaign all alone.”
She added: “I am trying to meet a maximum number of people face to face and convince them to vote for our party. The public response has been good so far.”
She also expressed confidence that her husband would win the election by a good margin.
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Once a confidant, now a rival
Mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy, a former BJP minister who is an accused in a multi-crore mining scam, is contesting the 10 May Assembly polls on a ticket from his newly-formed party, which has been christened the Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha (KRPP).
Reddy has been barred by the apex court from entering Ballari in Karnataka and the Anantapur and YSR Kadapa districts in Andhra Pradesh in connection with the illegal mining case.
Since he is barred from his playfield Ballari, Reddy chose to contest from neighbouring Gangavathi in the Koppal district.
The KRPP leader has fielded his wife Lakshmi Aruna G from the Ballari City constituency against his brother Somashekhara Reddy.
Janardhana Reddy is said to be the man behind “Operation Kamala” — the BJP’s infamous move to poach rival MLAs by offering money and posts.
In the 2008 Assembly elections, the BJP won 110 out of the 224 Assembly seats and fell three seats short of a clear majority.
With Reddy’s help, the BJP managed to convince three Congress and four JD(S) legislators to resign. These seven legislators then contested as BJP candidates in the bypolls; five won and two lost.
Forced to sit out by the BJP, especially Amit Shah, in the 2018 Assembly polls, Reddy decided to go alone this time.
The BJP, which levelled corruption charges against the then Congress government in Karnataka, distanced itself from the mining-scam-accused Reddy, leaving him sulking.
Reddy had been preparing to launch his political outfit for over a year, setting up social media pages and conducting ground surveys. His decision to run from Gangavathi is an outcome of the surveys.
Also read: All about Gali Janardhana Reddy, and why he wants to party alone
Rowdy sheeter with over 30 cases
The BJP is fielding a rowdy sheeter, Manikantha Rathod, who faces more than 30 criminal cases in at least five districts in Karnataka, against sitting MLA Priyank M Kharge, son of AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge, in the Chittapur Assembly constituency.
Rathod has been charged with attempted murder, smuggling narcotics substances, possession of illegal firearms, and illegal transportation of Anna Bhagya rice, etc.
He was arrested in November last year for threatening to kill Priyank Kharge. He issued the threat at a news conference that he would gun down the Congress leader.
Following the threat, the Kalaburagi police commissioner barred him from the city for a year. Rathod, however, challenged the police directive in a local court and received a stay order.
The BJP candidate Katta Jagadish, an accused in an attempted murder case, will be contesting from Hebbal.
Jagadish, son of former minister and Hebbal MLA Katta Subramanya Naidu, and his associates were booked after they had allegedly attacked a few men in Sanjay Nagar on 10 March this year. The attack was following a row over putting up a banner.
Ground Report: Congress and BJP locked in a fierce battle in Chittapur
Accused in IMA Ponzi scam
Besides Rathode and Jagadish, former KAS officer LC Nagaraj, a main accused in the IMA Ponzi scam, too, has managed a BJP ticket.
Former KAS officer and an accused in the ₹4,000-crore IMA Ponzi scheme scandal LC Nagaraj is the BJP candidate in the Madhugiri Assembly constituency, Tumakuru district.
Nagaraju was the first government official to be arrested in the I Monetary Advisory (IMA) scam on 5 July, 2019. It has been alleged that he had received ₹4.5 crore to submit a pro-IMA report, despite an RBI alert.
He was then the assistant commissioner of Bengaluru North.
The case is still pending in court.
Rudragouda Patil alias RD Patil, the alleged kingpin in the Police Sub-Inspector (PSI) recruitment scandal, will contest the Assembly polls as a Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate from Kalaburagi’s Afzalpur Assembly constituency.
There are 111 “red alert” constituencies in the 224 constituencies. ADR refers to those constituencies as ‘red alert’ where three or more contesting candidates have declared criminal cases against them.
In 2018, the number of such constituencies was 56, the organisation said.
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(With PTI inputs)