Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar, 57, returned to a rousing welcome at the city airport on Saturday, nearly two months after he flew to Delhi on being summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case, a party official said.
Former Karnataka Chief Minister and Janata Dal-Secular leader H.D. Kumaraswamy and Congress leaders from Kanakapura, Shivakumar's home constituency, were present at the airport.
"About 500 supporters, including state Congress leaders, greeted him at the airport and accompanied him in a convoy to the party office. There he was accorded a hero's welcome," party spokesman Ravi Gowda said.
Shivakumar was released from Tihar Jail after 50 days on Thursday on a conditional bail, granted by the Delhi High Court. He was in custody in connection with a case under the Prevention Money Laundering Act (PMLA) 2002, filed on a complaint by the Income-Tax Department, which had seized Rs 8.6 crore cash from his flat in New Delhi in August 2017.
"The central government misused law enforcing agencies, like the ED, the I-T Department and the Central Bureau of Investigation to harass our senior leader Shivakumar," said state Congress chief Dinesh Gundurao.
The Karnataka High Court on August 29 rejected Shivakumar's plea for interim protection against arrest in the 'hawala' case.
The alleged money laundering came to light after tax sleuths raided his premises in Bengaluru, Kanakapura and New Delhi on August 2, 2017.
Cases were filed against him and four others under sections 277 and 278 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, and sections 120(B), 193 and 199 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Shivakumar was a Cabinet Minister in the previous JD-S-Congress coalition government (May 2018-July 2019) and Energy Minister in the Congress government (2013-2018).
Sporting a peppered beard and a party's tri-colour cloth around the neck, Shivakumar addressed his supporters at Sadahalli gate enroute to the party office in the city centre from the airport at Devanahalli, about 40 km away in the northern outskirts.
"I thank all my supports, party leaders, cadres, friends and well wishers for my early release from the prison. Though I never took bribe or cheated anyone, I was punished for no reason," said an emotional Shivakumar.
Accusing the BJP-led governments at the Centre and the state of conspiring to finish his political career, Shivakumar said in Kannada that his family members and friends were "tortured" by the ED sleuths for no fault of them.
"There is a conspiracy to finish my 40-year political career. This not the end but just the beginning," thundered Shivakumar.
Shivakumar's convoy caused massive traffic jams and grid locks enroute to the city from the airport, stranding even an ambulance at a junction.
The police had to divert vehicular traffic and stop vehicles from other roads to pave way for the 1 km-long convoy of Shivakumar to reach the party office in the city.
There was an emotional reunion of Shivakumar with the party's state unit leaders, including Eshwar Kandre, V.S. Ugrappa, K.H. Patil and C. Ramachandrappa.
The hashtag #DKShivakumar was trending on Twitter in the evening, with several users sharing pictures and videos of him arriving at the airport and other places.