Sunday, May 11, 2008

Builders turn politicians

In the past politicians used to become builders like Bhujbal, Manohar Joshi and Uddav thackery in Mumbai. Now its the reverse. It goes to confirm the fact that the construction industry and the political industry are hand in glove and feeding off each other. Either way the common man is at wits end in the struggle to make ends meet in an era of high inflation.

R ealtors in Karnataka are diversifying into politics with political parties increasingly looking for candidates who have the resources to fund their own campaigns—and thanks to real estate prices that have tripled in some parts of the state, money is one thing people in this business have enough of.

The hope that money power will attract enough votes in the elections is strongest in Bangalore, where at least 12 candidates across the city’s 28 constituencies are real estate developers. The trend cuts across party lines and for several developers, this is their first brush with politics.

“The disturbing factor is the role of money (in elections),” said Samuel Paul, a former director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, who now heads the Bangalore-based non-governmental organization (NGO), Public Affairs Committee. “Its not just real estate, but mining too.” Businessmen could have a much greater self-interest and they could shift policies to suit them, Paul added.

Mine owners from Bellary, the iron ore-rich district of Karnataka, are a powerful lob by with their influence extending across party lines. Three mine owners were elected to the state assembly in 2004, including Anil Lad of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is now contesting from Bellary City constituency on a Congress ticket; Santosh Lad of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S); and H.R. Gaviappa, an independent in 2004 who is now the Congress’ nominee from Vijayanagar.

One of the candidates dismissed Paul’s claim and said it wasn’t money that mattered, but love. “Money alone won’t win elections,” said Kupendra Reddy, the owner of Primal Projects Pvt. Ltd and Congress candidate from Bommanahalli constituency. Reddy is among the wealthiest candidates with declared assets of around Rs180 crore.

“Only if you have earned the love of people and have the backing of a party can you succeed,” he added.

“It (the trend of realtors turning to politics) is quite similar to what’s happening elsewhere in the country. Unlike in the past, however, when they funded parties, they want to get into (positions of) power themselves,” said S. Trilochan Sastry, a faculty member at IIM, Bangalore, who heads an NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms.

Meanwhile, the realtors have learnt to speak like politicians.

“My vision is clear. I am for development and I do not want to be known as just another politician,” said N.S. Nandish Reddy, a 37-year-old builder who is the BJP candidate in the K.R. Pura constituency.

Reddy said he won’t be a corrupt politician, because his “family has been fortunate enough to be well-provided for”. One of Reddy’s rivals’ L.

Muniswamy of JD(S), is also a land developer. “I’ve been staying in this constituency all my life and I have been doing social work,” said Muniswamy, 65, who quit the Congress recently because he claimed the party had neglected him.

Other developers in the fray include BJP candidates D.U.

Mallikarjuna from Shantinagar, G. Prasad Reddy from BTM Layout and Satish Reddy from Bommanahalli.

M. Krishnappa of the Congress is running from Vijayanagar while C. Manjunath and M.V. Prasad Babu of JD(S) are contesting from Bangalore South and Padmanabhanagar, respectively.

Bangalore will go to the polls on the first day of the threephase elections on 10 May. The other two phases of voting are on 16 and 22 May.

Some of the poll promises by the political parties may benefit real estate developers. In its election manifesto, the BJP has promised to do away with restrictions on conversion of agricultural land for commercial purposes if it is voted to power, saying the restrictions have led to corruption and caused hardship to the farmers.

“I agree that some of them (candidates) have interests in real estate, but that has no bearing on the reforms we are proposing,” said V.S. Acharya, chairman of BJP’s election manifesto committee.

The party’s reasoning is that while a landowner will not sell land that is yielding a good crop, he should also not be prevented from using a portion of it for non-agricultural activity, which will generate revenue and employment, especially in rural areas. ‘The owner is the best judge,” Acharya said.

This will lead to chaos, says R.S. Desphande, head of the Agricultural Development and Rural Transformation Centre at the Bangalore-based Institute of Social and Economic Change. “In any kind of trade, the trader has a higher information base than the farmer who will lose out,” he added.

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