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Did Corruption Cloud, Hopes of Son Rise Eclipse Position?

Karnataka Elections 2023

Veteran Karnataka BJP leader and five-time Shivamogga MLA KS Eshwarappa’s announcement of retirement from electoral politics may not be a decision taken in haste, but one taken in disappointment, say sources close to the leader.

Insiders say there was a discussion during the poll candidate selection meeting in Delhi to ask him to seek election from another constituency such as nearby Bhadravati.

There was also speculation that the BJP central leadership was considering denying Eshwarappa a ticket in this election as the corruption controversy revolving around his name and the suicide of a contractor who alleged that he had demanded 40 per cent commission for works hit the BJP’s image hard. A tag that the party is still trying hard to shake off in this election.

Writing to BJP’s national president JP Nadda, Eshwarappa said that in the past few elections the party has not been able to get a full mandate from the people of Karnataka and so he would like to work towards bringing the saffron party back to power without having to contest elections.

“I wish to voluntarily retire from electoral politics. Hence, it is my request not to consider my name for any constituency for the assembly elections this time,” the former leader of the opposition in the legislative council wrote.

However, there are a few more issues that led to this decision, News18 has learnt. Eshwarappa has been lobbying for a ticket for his son Kanthesh for the Shivamogga seat. But, in a late-night meeting chaired by the PM, Modi made it clear that the party should decide on moving candidates or sitting MLAs who have won their seat more than twice to another constituency while fresh yet strong BJP candidates should be given a chance. In the BJP candidate list announced late on Tuesday evening, Eshwarappa’s Shivamogga seat did not find mention.

National president of BJP Yuva Morcha and MP for Bengaluru South Tejasvi Surya, in fact, praised Eshwarappa’s “decision to make space for new-comers”.

“The BJP wants to ensure that there is no tag of dynastic politics associated with the party. This a stand that they have taken against the Congress but could come to boomerang if they considered sons or daughters of MLAs in the list. They will pick a candidate only if he or she is capable of winning. The high command was considering moving Eshwarappa to the Bhadravati constituency which was not acceptable to the leader,” a BJP source told News18.

Eshwarappa had also requested the party leaders not to consider his name for any assembly constituency but had been strongly backing his son Kanthesh for his seat in Shivamogga.

In his four-decades-long political career, which began in the early 1990s, Eshwarappa, who will also turn 75 in July, has served in the capacities of deputy chief minister and minister in the various BJP governments that ruled Karnataka. This is the unofficial age bar in the BJP for leaders to contest polls and hold offices of position.

“Just as the unwritten rule of 75 years applies to BJP leaders across the country, it was also felt that standing for an election and then being asked to step down in a matter of months when he turns 75 will become a major embarrassment for the party,” pointed out a close associate of the leader from Shivamogga.

The BJP leader has also been known for courting controversies with his provocative comments. Last month, he had wondered in public, while Azaan prayers were playing from a mosque, whether “Allah is deaf” that loudspeakers are required to call him. There were also tensions in Shivamogga last year over allegations that Eshwarappa called Tipu Sultan a “Muslim Goonda”. He also had run-ins with BS Yediyurappa and had at one point threatened to go on his own with his outfit Sangolli Rayanna Brigade. Both leaders are from Shivamogga.

In 2022, Eshwarappa quit as the rural development and panchayat raj minister as a civil works contractor, Santosh Patil, committed suicide after accusing the leader of demanding a 40 per cent commission for road works in Belagavi. This accusation hit the ruling BJP’s image hard, and then he stepped down claiming he would prove his innocence. The police probe into the case later gave him a clean chit but Eshwarappa was unable to convince the party high command to give him a ministerial berth.

The opposition Congress quickly made Eshwarappa a “poster boy of corruption” in the BJP and launched a campaign against the party alleging its government demanded a 40 per cent commission and lives were lost in the process. This is also further built into the “Pay CM” campaign, which the Congress has effectively used to target the BJP.

“The party high command has been very upset with the way the Eshwarappa-contractor episode gave the opposition the perfect pitch right before the elections,” explained a state party office bearer.

There will be a strong message when the candidate list is announced, said another BJP leader. “Heads could roll and the party will try and avoid giving tickets to those associated with the corruption tag. It could include non-performing sitting MLAs, veteran leaders, influential caste leaders, and anybody. The message of zero tolerance to corruption has to go through,” the leader added.

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