Bengaluru flyover scrapped; public anger melts steel

Insiders say the real trigger for the climbdown was the Govindaraju Diary. After months of turning a deaf ear to the growing anger among the citizenry on plans to build a steel flyover across one of the most beautiful stretches in the heart of the city, the Siddaramaiah government on Thursday, abruptly called off plans to construct the Rs 1800 crore eyesore that was fast becoming a monument to alleged Congress corruption. As Bengaluru's activists and environmentalists celebrated their unexpected victory, and took credit for the government's apparent climbdown, that would save over 800 trees from being cut down, with some saying that a rap on the knuckles by the National Green Tribunal could be the cause, the real reason for the government's backing off may lie elsewhere. Specifically - the 'Diary wars' and the unsubstantiated but nonetheless damaging accusations on payoffs that may have been a little too close to home that was threatening to snowball into a major corruption scandal, a little more than a year before state polls. The Govindaraju Diary, dismissed as "fake" by the ruling Congress was the final straw, as it has a specific mention of the Steel Flyover Project and the monies paid against it. Sources in the party said that the revelations in the diary of the chief minister's parliamentary secretary were deeply embarrassing. The party tried to counter this by releasing a diary, purported to belong to Lehar Singh Siroya, a BJP functionary and MLC. But that failed as it did not grab the attention of the media and public as much as the Govindaraju Diary did. Continuing with his allegations of kickbacks, the BJP state president, B.S. Yeddyurappa upped the ante when when he alleged that Rs 65 crore was paid to family members of the chief minister, Siddaramaiah. This went viral in electronic media. The government tried to put up a brave front before the media and public, but insiders said the BJP's sustained bid to destroy his reputation had deeply rattled the CM camp. The decision to tackle the charges head on was one of the plans but at a hurriedly called meeting, convened by the CM camp of all the city ministers and MLAs at a brain storming session at Bengaluru Development minister, K.J. George's residence on Monday, the issue was discussed threadbare. Those who were present felt the party's image was getting mauled at the hands of an increasingly hostile media and a combative civil society that refused to back off. "If this campaign continued it would be difficult to win back the seats we hold in the next elections. To stymie the opposition's campaign and to retrieve the party's sagging image, it would be better to drop the project," many legislators and ministers including R. Ramalinga Reddy and others proposed to the chief minister. Senior ministers concurred with this idea when it was informally raised with them, after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Thereafter, CM Siddaramaiah told Mr George to announce the scrapping of the flyover project on Wednesday.Instead, Mr. George only announced he was dropping the steel flyover project after he seemed to be paying heed to a group of city MLAs at a meeting on Thursday, where they said they were getting unpopular and stood little chance of being re-elected in the coming polls if the government did not rectify the looming water shortage and the feeling that the steel flyover was a priority over drinking water.