Karnataka: PM Modi’s pick for Dy CM, Laxman Savadi to join Congress?

While the BJP dropped just 15 of the 104 sitting MLAs, its candidate list has triggered a minor exodus. It had not, however, expected Savadi to quit in a huff

Savadi with senior Congress leaders
Savadi with senior Congress leaders

Naheed Ataulla

Laxman Savadi arrived in Bengaluru on Friday afternoon amidst speculation that he would be joining the Congress. Yesterday he had announced his decision to resign from the primary membership of the BJP and also to give up his MLC seat. But after addressing BJP workers, he had hedged his bets while speaking to the media.

Reports from Belagavi that he was accompanied by a Congress MLC this morning when he took the flight to Bengaluru and Congress sources, claiming that he has had meetings with both D.K. Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah since his arrival in Bengaluru seem to confirm the speculation.

On Thursday, however, Savadi had not said clearly which party he would join. “It will be a national or a regional party,'' he had evasively told the media. But he confirmed that he would be submitting his resignation from BJP on Friday morning, and in the afternoon would call on Legislative Council chairman Basavaraj Horatti to resign from the MLC seat. BJP had not expected him to resign even after being denied a ticket because he had five more years to go before his term as MLC will end.

What is more, the 63-year-old Savadi was Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pick for the deputy chief minister's slot in B.S. Yediyurappa’s cabinet from 2019 to 2021. Though Yediyurappa disapproved of having a deputy, the BJP central leadership caught him by surprise on the day Yediyurappa formed his cabinet, foisting three deputy chief ministers on him. Savadi was one of them.

Savadi's elevation to the deputy chief minister's post caused shock in party circles as he had lost the election from Athani in the 2018 Assembly polls. Nevertheless, he became a deputy chief minister without being a member of either house of the legislature till February 2020, when he was eventually elected to the Legislative Council.

BJP sources claimed Savadi had caught Modi's attention when he campaigned in south Maharashtra, which has a sizeable Lingayat population, during the Maharashtra Assembly polls in October 2019. At one time, he was projected as a potential BJP chief ministerial candidate for Karnataka.

Savadi is from the Ganiga Lingayat oil presser community, analogous to the Modh-Ghanchi oil pressers which Prime Minister Modi represents. Addressing his supporters at Athani on Thursday, Savadi said: "I have made my decision. I am not the one who goes around with a begging bowl. I am a self-respecting politician. I am not acting under the influence of anyone.''

Savadi has lost the ticket to Mahesh Kumathalli, who was backed by Belagavi's strongman and MLA Ramesh L. Jarkiholi. The latter had threatened he would not contest the polls if Kumathalli, who had crossed over from the Congress to the BJP in 2019 and was a Panchamasali Lingayat, was not given the ticket. However, Jarkiholi himself had to resign from the cabinet after his name figured in a porn video scandal.

Belagavi district, which has as many as 18 Assembly constituencies, was a BJP stronghold until the untimely deaths of union minister Suresh Angadi and minister Umesh V. Katti, both Lingayats.

The Congress has been on the lookout for a strong political leader in the region, and if Savadi does indeed join, it will give the party a boost.

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