Umesh Vishwanath Katti, Cabinet Minister who died in Bengaluru on Tuesday night and was laid to rest on Wednesday, was a leader with a colourful personality who had tested political waters in several parties before finally settling down with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
He was born in 1961 into a land-owning Banajiga Lingayat family from Bellad Bagewadi in Hukkeri taluk in Belagavi district. Umesh Katti studied PU in Raja Lakhamagouda college in Belagavi only to drop out after second year to join his father’s business along with his younger brother Ramesh Katti. He entered politics rather suddenly after his father’s demise.
He was just out of college when he fought byelection from Hukkeri after his father Vishwanath Katti died in Bengaluru in 1989 at the age of 48.
S.S. Mahajanshetty, a candidate who lost the 1989 election, filed an election petition saying that Umesh Katti was ineligible to contest polls as he was just 24 years old. However, senior Janata Dal leaders convinced the petitioner to withdraw his case, recalls former Lokashakti leader Ashok Chandaragi.
He became Minister for the first time in the late J.H. Patel’s Cabinet and served as Minister under four BJP Chief Ministers — B.S. Yediyurappa, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, Jagadish Shettar, and Basavaraj Bommai.
Through many parties
Umesh Katti changed parties several times through his career. He has been a member of the Janata Party, Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United), and Janata Dal (Secular), Congress, and BJP. However, he refused to join Lokashakti or All India Progressive Janata Dal parties started by his mentor Ramakrishna Hegde after the split of 1996.
He joined the BJP in 2008 in a move that has now come to be called Operation Kamala. He had won the 2008 elections from Hukkeri as a JD(S) candidate and later defected to the BJP and fought a bypoll from the saffron party.
He was among the veteran leaders in Karnataka with nearly four decades in the Assembly. He had fought nine elections and won eight of them. In his four stints as Cabinet Minister, he served in important portfolios like Agriculture, Public Works, Food and Forests.
In North Karnataka, he and his brother Ramesh Katti have also dominated the cooperative space. The brothers and their children own or operate two sugar factories.
Known for his controversial remarks, Umesh Katti maintained that Karnataka would be divided into north Karnataka and south Karnataka and that he or his son would become the Chief Minister of northern Karnataka.
Less than a year ago, a controversial audio clip in which a farmer is heard complaining to him on reduced supply of food grains under the public distribution system had gone viral. When the farmer expresses helplessness and asks the Minister how the poor should live with reduced quota of grains, Umesh Katti was heard saying, “If you cannot go on living, then it is better to die.”
However, those in his inner circle argued that he was harsh in his words, but kind-hearted. His childhood friend Shreeshail Hiremath said, “His speech may have been rough but he never held grudges.”