Bangalore, November 8: Karnataka's Congress government is caught up in a row over a scheme to financially aid poor women among minorities when they marry. The opposition has slammed it 'vote bank politics' ahead of the general elections and wants it extended to all the communities.
The government of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has to partially blame itself for the mess as it first gave the impression that the scheme "Bidai" (Urdu for farewell) was meant only for poor Muslim women. His clarification that the scheme was meant for poor women from all minority communities has not satisfied the opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) led by former BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa.
Under the scheme, women whose family income is below Rs.150,000 a year will get either Rs.50,000 in cash or articles like cots and almirah. The bride should be 18 years and above and the groom at least 21 years. Divorcees getting remarried will also get the benefit.
Though Siddaramaiah announced the scheme in his budget presented in July, details were finalized and made public only late last month.
Accusing the government of 'minority appeasement' ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP, the Janata Dal-Secular and KJP are insisting that the scheme be extended to the poor among all communities.
Of the three opposition parties, Yeddyurappa has taken an aggressive stand, launching a 'dharna' (sit in) Oct 31 in the heart of the city till the government extends the scheme to all communities.
This has prompted the BJP to hold public protests. One was organized in Bangalore Nov 6. It plans to intensify the agitation after Nov 17 when it will hold a rally to be addressed by its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.
The JD-S has not announced any public protest though party leader and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has rubbished the scheme as a waste of public money.
The government is also facing flak over the amount earmarked for it for the current financial year - just Rs.5 crore - which will help only 1,000 women.
Yeddyurappa has also threatened to continue the protests in Belgaum in north Karnataka from Nov 25 as the state legislature will hold its winter session in that city from that day.
He and the BJP plan to raise the issue in the legislature.
In spite of growing demand to extend the scheme to the poor women of all communities, Siddaramaiah has so far refused to budge.
He has dismissed Yeddyurappa's 'dharna' as a "gimmick" and sought to counter the opposition attack by asking why they did not protest when he announced the scheme in the budget in July.
Though, in no mood to yield to the opposition, the chief minister has kept the option of extending the scheme to all in due course.
"We will consider extending the scheme to poorer sections from all communities," Siddaramaiah said at a public meeting near Mysore Nov 17.