The demand for the resignation of Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has intensified after two senior police officers killed themselves within three days and a female officer quit the force citing harassment by her bosses and political interference.

Opposition parties have accused Siddaramaiah of letting “anti-social elements” run riot in his home district, Mysuru. Things came to a head last Saturday when K Marigowda, a close associate of Siddaramaiah, allegedly attempted to attack Mysuru District Deputy Commissioner C Shikha, prevented her from discharging her duties, and abused her. He was reportedly “upset that the liquor licence of his family-run resort… was not renewed for the year”. Marigowda, who belongs to Siddaramaiah’s caste of Kuruba, has been absconding since, and an FIR has been filed against him and 30 others under sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Both Janata Dal (Secular) and Bharatiya Janata Party legislators accused the chief minister of shielding his aide and preventing the police from arresting him. It was alleged that Siddaramaiah asked Shikha’s husband Ajay Nagabhushan, who is the deputy commissioner of the neighbouring Mandya district, to get her to withdraw the case. Nagabhushan reportedly refused.

The drumbeat against the chief minister, which started last week, has grown louder.

Accusations on TV

On July 7, Mangaluru Deputy Superintendent of Police MK Ganapathi told a TV channel: “ADGP (Intelligence) AM Prasad, Lokayukta DIG Pranab Mohanty and former Home Minister KJ George should be held responsible if anything extreme happens to me in future.”

A few hours later, he was found dead – an alleged suicide.

Fifty-one-year-old Ganapathi was a national level volleyball player who had entered the police force as a sub-inspector under the sports quota. He was recently promoted as deputy superintendent of police from the rank of police inspector and posted in Mangaluru. According to news reports, he had been suspended once over the killing of a criminal in Bengaluru and faced an inquiry over the 2008 church attacks in Mengaluru when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power.

In a half-hour-long interview to a local TV channel, Ganapathi spoke of how he was harassed and transferred by his superiors. He alleged that AM Prasad, the current additional director general of police (Intelligence) who was inspector general of police (Mangaluru range) when Ganapathi worked as inspector at Khadri station, had asked him to run errands at his own expense.

“I was asked to bring his son studying in a school at Udupi to Mangaluru twice a week and forced to pay the car rentals, which I refused,” Ganapathi said. “This made Prasad nurture a grudge against me and he in turn gave wrong messages to Home Minister George who harassed me mentally.”

KJ George, who is now the Minister for Bengaluru Development and Town Planning, rejected the Opposition’s demand for his resignation. “I am not at all connected with Ganapathi’s death,” he said, adding that he didn’t “know much about this dead official”.

Rebellion in the party

Ganapathi’s suicide came two days after the death of 34-year-old Kallappa Handibag, another officer of deputy superintendent of police rank, who allegedly hanged himself at his wife’s house.

It is alleged that Handibag organised the kidnapping of a person who owed money to his friend, a Vishva Hindu Parishad activist. His father-in-law Siddaramappa, however, maintains that Handibag killed himself because he was unable to bear harassment by Chikmagaluru Superintendent of Police Santosh Babu. Santosh Babu denied the allegations.

Earlier in June, Anupama Shenoy, deputy superintendent of police in Bellary district, resigned, alleging harassment at the hands of superiors and politicians. She was in the news in January when she was transferred, allegedly for putting a minister’s call on hold.

In the wake of these episodes, Siddaramaiah’s own partyman, Dalit leader V Srinivasa Prasad, has accused the chief minister of failing to maintain law and order in the state. “I know that Siddaramaiah has failed utterly to protect the people from anti-social elements and the morale of the police has reached its nadir in recent days.” He added that the cause for this was large-scale corruption in government departments, particularly in the transfer of officers.

V Srinivasa Prasad said that Siddaramaiah’s failure to protect IAS and IPS officers first became evident when Rashmi V, an IAS officer, was attacked by officials of the Administrative Training Institute in Mysuru in 2014. Rashmi had pointed out large-scale corruption in the institute and blamed Amita Prasad, her predecessor and wife of ADGP (Intelligence) AM Prasad.

“The Ganapathi incident has strengthened the demand for the removal of Siddaramaiah to save the Congress from ruin in Karnataka,” said Srinivasa Prasad, a former minister who turned against Siddaramaiah when he was dropped from the Cabinet in the recent reshuffle. “Even now if the Congress high command fails to take note of the situation and bring in a change of leadership in the state, it would be the end of the road for the Congress in Karnataka.”

Morale in the administration

It is not that things were better during the BJP rule. Officials were moved out of posts even then if they offered a differing view. This was initially attributed to the inexperience of the ministers, but, over time, officials felt the pressure. One senior officer described the ministers as “behaving like medieval monarchs”. So, when Siddaramaiah came to power in 2013, the bureaucracy was happy. “At least, we will not be treated in this horrible manner,” a civil servant had said.

Today, the civil servant has a different view: “We don’t know what has happened to him. There have been instances where officials have refused to accept the minister’s suggestions to digress from the decisions taken at meetings held under the chairmanship of the chief minister. And, yet, they have been pulled up before the entire Cabinet. This is not done.”

The state government, desperate to quell criticism, has ordered the Criminal Investigation Department to start a probe into Ganapathi’s death. Hemanth Nimbalkar, an officer of the rank of inspector general of police, will lead the investigation team. How an IGP-rank officer will inquire into the role of his seniors is an issue that is bound to be raised by the Opposition when the Assembly meets on Monday.

As Ganapathy’s body was sent for post-mortem, BJP spokesperson Suresh Kumar said, “The back-to-back suicides preceded by the resignation of another DySP only shows that the morale in the administration has fallen drastically.”