Former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar Joins Congress in Karnataka

Former Karnataka CM, Speaker and BJP state president and six-term MLA Jagadish Shettar on Monday formally joined the Congress

Photo Courtesy: Congress
Photo Courtesy: Congress

Naheed Ataulla

Even Basavaraj Bommai, the sitting chief minister, admitted on Monday that it was a major setback to the party. An understandably bitter Jagadish Shettar, after joining the Congress in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, warned that his quitting the party would cost BJP 20 to 25 seats.

Shettar on Sunday had held marathon meetings with Karnataka Congress leaders DK Shivakumar and Siddarmaiah, both of whom are considered to be contenders for the chief minister’s position. With the entry of Shettar, Congress appears to have a problem of plenty. There are also reservations in a section of the Congress on the induction of the BJP veteran, who has been in the RSS and the BJP from the beginning. But the induction also indicates the growing disillusionment among BJP old-timers in the state.

Why did BJP deny the ticket to Shettar who has never been defeated in an election since 1994? It is said that the RSS wanted a Brahmin, union minister Pralhad Joshi, to be the CM if BJP returned to power.

 With the retirement from electoral politics of the two BJP stalwarts, B.S. Yediurappa and Eshwarappa, and denial of ticket to Laxman Savadi, yet another prominent Lingayat leader in the BJP, Jagadish Shettar was the tallest leader in the BJP. He had also defeated Basavaraj Bommai, the incumbent chief minister in 1994 to make his debut in the Assembly, and has remained undefeated since then in Hubbali-Dharwad Central.

There were no surprises, therefore, when Bommai, Joshi and Dharmendra Pradhan, camped at Shettar’s house till 10 pm on Saturday, in an attempt to placate him. Incensed by denial of ticket to him, Shettar had declared he would contest anyway. The trio conveyed the BJP high command’s offer that he would be suitably rehabilitated, either to the Rajya Sabha or to a Raj Bhavan, and a candidate of his choice would be fielded from his constituency.

But Shettar insisted on being told why he was dropped. He had age on his side, he had no taint of corruption and there was no sex CD involving him, he told the interlocutors. So, why he? The trio had no convincing answer apparently though the BJP grapevine claimed it was to pave the way for Joshi or B.L. Santhosh, both RSS favourites. Shettar would have none of it. Immediately after the interlocutors left, he told the media that on Sunday he would resign from the BJP and the Assembly.

On Sunday, at the Hubballi airport Congress functionary Robert Dadawadi was present to see off Shettar who was flying to Bengaluru. Amidst speculation that the veteran BJP leader was about to join the Congress, Yediyurappa lashed out at Shettar and criticised him for ‘joining a party that he had opposed’. Shettar indeed has been critical of the Congress and made disparaging statements about Congress leaders.

After submitting his resignation letter to the Speaker Visveshwar Hegde Kageri on Sunday, an anguished Shettar said, “I am the one who has built this party. There was a time when nobody would opt for the BJP. It was hard to find candidates even for the zilla panchayat polls,'' he recalled.

As an MLA, Shettar, besides being the chief minister from 2012 to 2013 has been the leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly, Speaker, state party president and minister. His father was the first Jana Sangh Mayor of Hubballi-Dharwad City Corporation in the 1960s. Congress leaders reached out to Shettar almost immediately.

 Senior-most Lingayat leader in the Congress, Shamnur Shivashankarappa, who at the age of 92 years is still going to contest the elections this time, along with campaign committee Chairman M B Patil, also a Lingayat, got in touch with Shettar. It helped because all the three leaders are related to each other through marital ties. Shivashankarappa's granddaughter is married to Shettar's son, while Patil's son is engaged to her sister. 


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