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HomeIndiaKarnataka: Luck Favoured Shettar’s Rapid Rise in BJP, But Can He Emerge...

Karnataka: Luck Favoured Shettar’s Rapid Rise in BJP, But Can He Emerge as Congress’ Lingayat Face?

In the 1999 Assembly Elections, Karnataka BJP stalwart BS Yediyurappa suffered his first electoral defeat from his fiefdom Shikaripura. His then right hand man KS Eshwarappa also met with the same fate in Shivamogga.

One of the founders of the BJP in Karnataka and a Lingayat leader, BB Shivappa, had won from Sakleshpura in Hassan district and the BJP came a distant second to winning SM Krishna-led Congress in the state.

The party met to elect the leader of the opposition in Bengaluru a few days after the election results. Natural choice was Shivappa, who was senior even to BSY. Then, the rising star in the BJP and Union Cabinet minister Ananthkumar, who was also backing the idea of making veteran Shivappa the BJP legislative party leader in public, was secretly planning to install someone else as the Leader of Opposition (LoP) to keep the party in his control.

But an alarmed Yediyurappa went ballistic in the party meeting, and opposed Shivappa’s name tooth and nail. BSY was worried about his political future and did not allow Shivappa to lead the party in the Assembly.

Ananthkumar quietly approved it. Together BSY and Ananthkumar made a surprise announcement making a second time MLA, mild mannered, hitherto unknown Jagadish Shettar as the LoP. Even Shettar did not expect that kind an overnight elevation. In just 24 hours, from a nobody, Shettar became a somebody in BJP and Karnataka politics.

Luck always played a major role in shaping Shettar’s political fortunes in later years.

As the LoP, Shettar was not a success during his first term. His junior position and lack of experience were quiet visible. The SM Krishna government had several stalwarts in the Assembly like MY Ghorpade, KH Ranganath, Mallikarjuna Kharge, HC Srikantaiah, Kagodu Thimmappa and many others. Shettar was a novice.

But Shettar could complete his full term and made a name for himself as a decent man who could rise above party politics.

In the 2004 Assembly elections, Congress lost. The Assembly was hung and the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government came to power under Dharam Singh and Siddaramaiah. BSY had returned to the Assembly and did not want Shettar to continue as the LoP. Karnataka’s political maverick S Bangarappa had joined the party and wanted to be the state president.

Once again alarmed by this, BSY rushed to New Delhi to meet Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani to prevent that. His choice was KS Eshwarappa. But as a compromise between warring factions, party high command appointed Shettar as BJP Karnataka president.

Shettar family’s staunch Jana Sangh background helped him in getting all important posts in the state.

In early 2006, the HD Kumaraswamy toppled his own JDS coalition government and became the CM, joining hands with BSY of the BJP, making him the deputy CM.

Shettar became a Cabinet minister in that government. In 2008, BSY led the BJP to its first victory in the South. With the help of a few independent MLAs, he became the chief minister. But Shettar had a shock. He was expecting an important Cabinet berth, but he was made the Assembly Speaker. An upset Shettar, reluctantly accepted it. A year later, he joined hands with mining barons of Bellary Reddys and led a revolt against the BSY government.

After LK Advani’s mediation, Shettar was brought back as a Cabinet minister. But his relationship with BSY had strained. When BSY was forced to quit as CM in July 2011 on mining corruption allegations, he ignored Shettar, and made DV Sadananda Gowda the chief minister.

Eleven months later, the same BSY unseated Gowda over some serious differences and made Shettar the CM in a coup.

Under Shettar’s leadership, the BJP was routed in the 2013 Assembly elections mainly because of BSY’s Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), which took away 10% of BJP votes.

When Siddaramaiah became the Congress chief minister, a few months later, Shettar became the LoP for the second time.

When BSY toppled the JDS-Congress government in 2019, no one was expecting Shettar to join his Cabinet as a minister. But he lobbied for it and joined. He was kept out of Basavaraj Bommai cabinet and Shettar maintained that it was his decision. But his decline in the state BJP had started with it.

After being denied seventh consecutive nomination for the upcoming Karnataka elections, Shettar held several meetings with his supporters, and, in a shocking move, joined his ideological rival, Congress.

With Lingayats reportedly getting tired of the current BJP leadership, Congress hopes Shettar can be a game changer.

A non-controversial man, Shettar is known for his humility and accessibility.

After joining the Congress, he attacked the current leadership in the state. “Some vested interests have hijacked the BJP in Karnataka. They are destroying the party. It is no longer the BJP, we built”.

Shettar maintains that he still respects Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Ami Shah and BJP national president JP Nadda and Yediyurappa.

Shettar’s uncle was a Jana Sangh MLA in 1967 and his father became the first Jana Sangh Mayor of Hubli-Dharwad in 1977.

Most top Lingayat leaders of Karnataka, irrespective of their party affiliation, are related by marriage. Jagadish Shettar is related to top Lingayat leaders of Congress MB Patil and Shamanur Shivashankarappa. Patil is key in getting Shettar into the Congress folds.

A born RSS and a Jana Sangh member joining the Congress in less than a month before the 2023 assembly elections is the most unexpected development in the Karnataka politics. Shettar has taken a huge gamble, if it pays off, he can emerge as the Lingayat face of Congress.

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