He was one of the BJP’s key Lingayat leaders and became the Chief Minister of Karnataka at a turbulent time for the party in 2012 when B S Yediyurappa left to float his outfit. Now, Jagadish Shettar finds himself in the Congress after being denied a ticket from the Hubli-Dharwad Central seat.
In an interview, the six-time MLA takes on his former party for not having a clear policy on dynastic politics and asks why he was singled out. He alleges that BJP national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh has not worked in the “interest of the party” and expresses confidence that the people of his constituency will back him even though they have been voting for the BJP for three decades.
You have left the BJP after a decades-long association and joined the Congress. How did it come to this?
Jagadish Shettar: First of all, my self-respect was hurt. My seniority was ignored and the way the BJP leadership behaved while denying me a ticket was not acceptable. I have been elected six times here (from Hubballi). If they informed me a week or 15 days in advance that I need not contest and other opportunities will be provided to me, I would have reconsidered contesting. But they told me all of a sudden that ticket is denied and I had to issue a statement (about not contesting) as if they were directing a small boy. This hurt me the most. There is no respect for me even though I have worked for three to four decades for the party and helped it grow.
You protested when your name did not feature in the first list. What happened then?
Shettar: BJP leaders approached me saying that they will give me other opportunities. But, why did they not tell me in advance?
What did they offer?
Shettar: They offered me a Rajya Sabha berth. Now they have started spreading the false news that I was also offered the position of a Union Minister. This was never discussed with me. There is no explanation as to why I should not contest, even though I am only 67. Surveys carried out by the party high command also gave positive feedback about my prospects in Hubli-Dharwad Central. Moreover, I am not embroiled in any scandal and there are no corruption allegations. I asked them why they denied me a ticket when I do not have any black spots. There is no answer to that. They just said it was the decision of the party.
You blamed B L Santhosh after the BJP denied the ticket to you. Did you raise this matter when you met BJP national president J P Nadda? What was his response?
Shettar: Yes, I did. But, he denied, saying that there wasn’t any discussion (about fielding anyone else). He even said the candidature of Mahesh Tenginakayi (fielded by the BJP in the seat) was not discussed at all.
There was a whisper campaign launched a few months before the polls saying I would be denied the ticket. Also, Tenginakayi is the blue-eyed boy of Santhosh. So, looking at all this, I think everything was pre-planned. They decided six months earlier that I will not be fielded. Why did they not bring it to my notice? They could have told me this was my last election for the BJP and the party would offer other chances. They could have asked me to quit electoral politics earlier.
Was there any agreement between you and the party when your brother Pradeep was made the MLC? Did the party hint then that you would not be fielded as there was already one member of your family in the legislature?
Shettar: In Chikkodi, the husband (Annasaheb Jolle) is the MP and the wife (Shahsikala Jolle) is MLA and minister. Two members of a family (of former minister Umesh Katti) were fielded. G H Thippareddy, who is 76 years old, was given a ticket. How many families are given tickets in the BJP? (Former minister) Katta Subramanya Naidu’s son was fielded. On the one hand, the BJP says it rejects dynastic politics. But, their actions are contradictory. Is there any concrete policy about this? No.
Why do the rules of dynastic politics apply only to Shettar? When it comes to my brother, it was with great difficulty he was elected as the BJP was split into three in 2013. I fielded him at a time when nobody was ready to contest. I did it in the interest of the party.
You have said in the past that you were not allowed to speak at the BJP state executive committee meetings for over three months. Is there any major change on the anvil for the state unit?
Shettar: B L Santhosh has taken complete control of the Karnataka BJP. Those selected by him are in the BJP office, the person selected by him is the party president, and those chosen by him are the office-bearers. The entire state BJP is in the clutches of Santhosh and his followers.
Why does Santhosh want to take control of the state unit?
Shettar: I don’t know what his intentions are. But, he should work in the interest of the party. He has not done that.
Is it true that he harbours intentions to become the CM?
Shettar: I don’t know. But, people are talking along those lines. Newspapers are writing about it.
Since 2013, his name has often cropped up during discussions on possible CM candidates. What is the reason?
Shettar: He has followers to carry out such whisper campaigns. They spread such rumours.
The people of Hubli-Dharwad Central have backed the BJP for three decades now. Won’t the voters choose a BJP candidate irrespective of who the Congress candidate is?
Shettar: It was I who helped grow the BJP here. Before 1994, it was a bastion of the Congress and the Janata Parivar. All the candidates who contested from the BJP before 1994 lost their deposits. I organised the party for the first time here and nursed it, due to which I won. I defeated present CM Basavaraj Bommai in my first election in 1994. In the subsequent elections, I got elected by huge margins. I have a connection with my constituents who love and respect me. People wondered why I left the BJP, but they have agreed to back me irrespective of the party I am in.
A few prominent Lingayat leaders have joined the Congress. Apart from good optics for the Congress, will it have any electoral benefits?
Shettar: Definitely. Many Congress candidates from surrounding regions have told me that it would help swing 5,000 to 10,000 votes in their constituencies. They tell me that Lingayat leaders in their constituencies are angry and are joining the Congress.
There were complaints that B S Yediyurappa was sidelined and the Lingayat community was angry.
Shettar: Yes, the community is sad about him being sidelined. He was suddenly asked to step down as CM. Why was he asked to resign as CM? Today, elections are being held under his leadership. Why was he removed then? This is what the community is asking.
Save for some leaders, many senior leaders are sidelined as far as this election is concerned. What were the criteria to drop some candidates?
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Shettar: That is what I asked BJP leaders. What was the logic? Suresh Kumar and Visweshwar Hegde Kageri (both Brahmins) who are 67-68 years old have been fielded. But, Shettar does not get a ticket. An OBC leader like K S Eshwarappa, who is 74, does not get a ticket. S Angara, 59 years, who is a Dalit, is not fielded. But, Kumar and Hegde got tickets.
You have been an RSS man for most of your life. Will joining the Congress have any bearing on you as a politician?
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Shettar: I think ultimately the objective of all parties is the welfare of people. There are some differences over some issues. But, the final aim of all political outfits is welfare.