Jagadish Shettar | Loyalist-turned-rebel

The former BJP Chief Minister of Karnataka, who has joined the Congress, says the BJP is trying to build a team of junior Lingayat leaders with ‘herd mentality’

May 07, 2023 01:09 am | Updated May 15, 2023 10:16 am IST

Despite being a leader who occupied the posts of the Chief Minister of Karnataka, albeit for a few months, the leader of Opposition in the Karnataka Assembly twice, and also the Speaker, Jagadish Shettar, 67, has always carried the image of a humble, down-to-earth politician who is accessible to all. However, in the run--up to the Assembly election, the people of Karnataka saw him in an avatar that was contrary to their general belief.

They saw a fiery rebel, who had the gumption to disobey the diktat of the party that he served for nearly three decades. His rebellion ultimately resulted in him quitting the BJP and switching over to a party (Congress) against which he had been fighting relentlessly.

By his switch over, Mr. Shettar no doubt delivered a sudden blow to the saffron party and which has the potential to alter the political equations at least in a few pockets of north Karnataka, where members of his community, Banajiga Lingayats, and the larger community of Lingayats reside. Mr. Shettar’s parting attack on BJP’s national organising secretary B.L. Santosh rattled the party’s high command, which was forced to deploy former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, the party’s Lingayat face, as troubleshooter in order to placate community members.

The developments have put Mr. Shettar in the limelight. The BJP camp is leaving no stone unturned to paint him as villain for betraying the ‘nationalist party’, while Mr. Shettar is playing the ‘hurt’ sentiment, ‘disrespect’ card in what he terms as “fight for self-respect”.

While Mr. Shettar has his own reasons for the decision, the conversion of a loyalist into a rebel has left many of his supporters puzzled, who are in quandary over which side to take.

Jagadish Shettar was born on December 17, 1955, to Shivappa Shivamurteppa Shettar, an advocate, and Basavanemma at Kerur in present-day Bagalkot district. After his primary and high school education at Basel Mission Primary and Higher Secondary School in Hubballi, he graduated in commerce from J.G. College of Commerce, Hubballi, and then completed L.L.B (Special) from JSS College, Hubballi, to choose his father’s profession.

Entry into politics

Born into a family that has been associated with Jan Sangh for long, Jagadish Shettar came into contact with politics from early days. Much before Jan Sangh made inroads in State politics, his uncle Sadashiv Shettar, (whom Jagadish Shettar calls his inspiration) was elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly from Hubballi in 1967. He was the first MLA to be elected from the Jan Sangh in entire Southern India. His father Shivappa Shivamurtappa Shettar was elected to Hubballi Dharwad Municipal Corporation five times in a row. S.S. Shettar went on to become the first Mayor from the Jan Sangh in South India.

However, Jagadish Shettar, although associated with political activities, preferred working behind the scenes. His focus was on his legal profession.

According to Shettar, it was H.N. Ananthkumar (who went on to become union minister under A.B. Vajpayee), who prevailed upon him to take interest in active politics in the late 1980s. His first responsibility was that of heading the Hubballi Rural Unit of BJP in 1990 and in 1994 as BJP candidate from Hubballi Rural Constituency he trounced a former chief minister’s son Basavaraj Bommai (the present chief minister who was then Janata Dal candidate).

In 1991, Jagadish Shettar was to contest the Dharwad Lok Sabha election and was even given the ‘B’ form. But he had to drop out to make way for Chandrakanth Bellad, a senior Lingayat leader from the Janata Parivar. This sacrifice for the party got him an assembly ticket in 1994 and there was no looking back for him from then onwards. After his first electoral win he was made BJP’s state general secretary and his second entry to legislative assembly gave him the post of Leader of Opposition in 1999. After his third win he was made the BJP State President in 2005. In 2006, he became the Revenue Minister in the BJP-JD(S) coalition government.

However, when the BJP came to power on its own for the first time in South India in 2008, Mr. Shettar was denied a Cabinet berth and was offered the Speaker’s post. The denial had more to do with the ‘Lingayat face’ of the BJP, B.S. Yediyurappa, occupying the Chief Minister’s post.

Although he was subsequently made a Minister, he was not the first CM choice of Mr. Yediyurappa when he was forced to step down on corruption charges. Mr. Yediyurappa, obviously did not want another Lingayat leader to emerge as his competitor and chose D.V. Sadananda Gowda instead. However, the CM’s post did come to Mr. Shettar in 2012, making him the 27th Chief Minister of Karnataka, with a 10-month tenure.

By 2013, Mr. Yediyurappa had parted ways with BJP and founded regional party KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha) and another group of BJP leaders formed BSR Congress party. The mining scam had rattled the BJP and as opposition leader Siddaramaiah successfully led his party to a win in the 2013. And Mr. Shettar became the Leader of Opposition for the second time.

The 2018 hung assembly led to formation of Congress-JD(S) coalition government, which was overthrown by the meticulously executed ‘Operation Lotus’. Although the Supreme Court upheld the disqualification of MLAs, it allowed them to contest elections again leading to B.S. Yediyurappa becoming the Chief Minister. Mr. Shettar, an Ex-CM, chose to work as Minister under Mr. Yediyurappa, a decision criticised by many but defended by his followers. But when Mr. Yediyurappa stepped down ‘voluntarily’ with tears rolling down, it was Mr. Yediyurappa’s protégé Basavaraj Bommai who replaced him, leaving Mr. Shettar with no option but to stay away from the Cabinet.

As he was the senior- most Lingayat leader in the BJP, many considered Mr. Shettar as a contender for the post of Chief Minister. This by some is regarded as the very reason for the denial of ticket to Mr. Shettar by the BJP this time. According to Mr. Shettar, the BJP has a “covert plan” to keep Lingayats away from power by systematically sidelining senior Lingayat leaders. He has also raised the issue of preferential treatment to Brahmin leaders in the party. While he has openly criticised B.L. Santosh, of late he has targeted union minister Pralhad Joshi, a Brahmin, who is the lone MP from Karnataka to get a Cabinet berth.

If Mr. Shettar is to be believed, the BJP wants to come out of the dependence on Lingayats for coming to power and the simplest way is to build a team of junior Lingayat leaders with “herd mentality”.

Mr. Shettar knew he had very few options after quitting the saffron party and deciding to launch the fight for “self respect”, aligning with the Congress. He has taken a calculated risk knowing the challenges, and the ‘Lingayat hurt sentiment’ card could prove to be of some relief to him. According to Mr. Shettar, he still has the strength to be in politics for another decade, no matter what happens in the election.

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