Final nail in Yeddy’s coffin?

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Power equations within the BJP are already changing as BS Yeddyurappa begins his tryst with the courts. Imran Khan reports

Past his prime? The former CM might be confident, but this might well spell his political death knell
Past his prime? The former CM might be confident, but this might well spell his political death knell
Photo: PICS4 NEWS.COM

BS YEDDYURAPPA’S journey from his Race Course residence at Bengaluru to the Parappana Agrahara jail is also the road the first BJP chief minister south of the Vindhayas has travelled in his own party — from that of a saviour to an embarrassing liability.

Opportune time Jagadish Shettar can thrive in Yeddy’s absence
Opportune time Jagadish Shettar can thrive in Yeddy’s absence
Photo: PICS4 NEWS.COM

On 15 October, the former chief minister was sent to judicial custody for seven days by a local anti-graft court in Karnataka over two cases of illegal denotification of land for monetary gain. Even as his arrest sent shockwaves through political circles and threw a spanner into BJP patriarch LK Advani’s anti-corruption ‘rath yatra’, party leaders have publicly expressed their confidence in the fallen leader. “It is a sad development and was totally unexpected. But as far his leadership goes, he still remains our leader,’’ says state Law Minister Suresh Kumar, adding that the courts will prove Yeddyurappa innocent. Private. On 15 October, the former chief minister was sent to judicial custody for seven days by a local anti-graft court in Karnataka over two cases of illegal denotification of land for monetary gain. Even as his arrest sent shockwaves through political circles and threw a spanner into BJP patriarch LK Advani’s anti-corruption ‘rath yatra’, party leaders have publicly expressed their confidence in the fallen leader. “It is a sad development and was totally unexpected. But as far his leadership goes, he still remains our leader,’’ says state Law Minister Suresh Kumar, adding that the courts will prove Yeddyurappa innocent. Privately, however, many BJP leaders — both at the central and the state level — are heaving a sigh of relief at the fall from grace of the powerful Lingayat strongman.

The BJP owes a lot to Yeddyurappa. From a party with virtually no presence in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa, along with state president KS Eshwarappa, took BJP to victory in successive polls through a combination of caste politics, money power and organisational skills. His most significant contribution to this winning formula was the consolidation of the Lingayat vote, a community that forms 17 percent of the five crore population of Karnataka. Once in power, he doled out money to the numerous Lingayat mutts in the state to win them over. In fact, it is the constant eye of the central leadership on the Lingayat votebank that ensured that Yeddyurappa continued in office through the political rebellions and high-profile scams that sullied the party’s national image.

Yeddyurappa’s first taste of power came when he formed an alliance with the JD(S) to topple the Dharam Singh-led Congress government in Karnataka in 2006 and became deputy chief minister. He was also the chief minister briefly before the JD(S) pulled out of the pre-poll power-sharing arrangement. In the elections that ensued in 2008, the dominance of the BJP in Karnataka was established once and for all. In the paradox that is democracy, the party has continued to win every single municipal poll and by-election since then, even as public perception of blatant corruption by the government has continued to grow. A recent survey conducted by Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Study of Developing Societies finds the people of Karnataka consider their state government to be “more corrupt than the Centre”.

Opportune time CM Sadananda Gowda can thrive in Yeddy’s absence
Opportune time CM Sadananda Gowda can thrive in Yeddy’s absence
Photo: AFP

“Since the 1980s, our party has increased its strength in the Karnataka Assembly. Our advantage is that the TINA factor (there is no alternative) is at work here,” a senior BJP leader told TEHELKA.

In an ironic twist, Yeddyurappa was devoured by the Frankenstein’s monster of money and greed he used to build the BJP’s power base in the state. The first challenge to his power came in 2009 from his Cabinet colleagues Janardhana and Karunakara Reddy, whose alleged illegal mining empire fed the party’s electoral machine and helped finance the operation of poaching of rival party candidates. Though he survived that test, it was a downhill ride from there for the BJP strongman. The beginning of the end came when he was indicted in the multi-core mining scam report by the then Karnataka Lokayukata, retired Justice Santosh Hegde. With his position in the party eroded by multiple rebellions from several camps within the state unit, and with the dent suffered by the party to its national image, a reluctant Yeddyurappa was finally forced to step down on 31 July.

But he left no one in doubt about who was calling the shots within the new government run by his handpicked man, Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda. He had famously said as he quit office, “I will be back in six months.” Ignoring him was not an option for the central leadership as Yeddyurappa had threatened to split the party riding on the back of the Lingayat votes.

Eshwarappa, BJP state convener Ananth Kumar, Home Minister R Ashok and Panchayati Raj Minister Jagadish Shettar and Law Minister Suresh Kumar, all of whom nurture chief ministerial ambitions, resent Yeddyurappa’s continued control over the party. When the Lokayukta judge MK Sudhindra Rao unexpectedly rejected Yeddyurappa’s bail application, he altered power equations within the BJP.

Ironically, Yeddy was done in by the monster of money and greed he used to build the BJP’s base in Karnataka

While many in the party were caught off-guard by the arrest of their leader, some observers feel that given the nature of scams he presided over, it was only a matter of time before the whole house of cards came tumbling down. But the timing was unexpected. “Look, every chief minister has been corrupt. In that sense, Yeddy is no different,” says a member of the Congress. “But he is probably the first CM to collect bribes and kickbacks in cheques.’’

That the former CM made no efforts to cover his tracks is apparent in the second mining report filed by the Lokayukta. The report indicts him for taking money from South West Mining Company and JSW Steel as kickback for granting a mining licence. Companies owned by his son BY Raghavendra and son-in-law Sohan Kumar sold land to the company at 20 times the market value for Rs 10 crore. While the corruption was sought to be disguised as a land deal, the conspirators left a financial trail a mile long — the payment was made directly to Yeddyurappa’s Prerana Education Society in Shimoga by cheque.

DOCUMENTS ACCESSED by TEHELKA tell a cumulative account of Yeddyurappa’s nepotism during the 60 months of his rule. From the time he assumed charge as the deputy chief minister in the JD(S)-BJP coalition in 2006, he and his family members have illegally amassed assets worth Rs 600 crore through the process of de-notification of government lands to benefit private players and by taking bribes for awarding government contracts. Documents show that funds collected resulted in income tax evasion to the tune of Rs 340 crore. Most of these deals were carried out in the form of real estate purchases by family-owned companies at dirt cheap prices in return for illegal favours. In more than 20 cases, the property was purchased from big-time developers or contractors in whose favour valuable government land had been de-notified. In other cases, approximately 25 percent of the land cost was obtained in the form of ‘advances’ through companies floated by Yeddyurappa’s children. Money was paid directly into the individual accounts of companies floated by Yeddyurappa’s family and their business associates, amounting to almost Rs 70 crore.

Most of this money came from denotifying land in developed layouts in and around Bengaluru, which government agencies had taken possession of 25-30 years ago. The denotification of plots had been done in the name of the original landowners who were farmers; however, on the date of denotification, these lands were held by real estate developers, businessmen and politicians. Interestingly, the reason for denotification recorded in every order is the same — the petitioners have built houses on the lands and they do not have any other asset or means of livelihood. Considering the petitioner’s request, land was denotified on humanitarian grounds!

The denotified lands are in layouts where the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) has spent crores developing infrastructure like roads, underground drainage, street lights and so on. In some cases, the denotified land had been sold by middlemen at prices ranging from Rs 2,500- Rs 5,000 per sq ft.

The estimated loss to the state exchequer through the process of denotification of lands is to the tune of Rs 3,500 crore. If the total amount amassed is divided by the number of days served in the office by the former CM, Yeddyurappa has averaged a neat Rs 10 crore for every month in office.

During his tenure as deputy CM and CM, Yeddyurappa’s children (BY Raghavendra, BY Vijeyandra, BY Umadevi, BY Aruna Devi and BY Padmadevi) along with sonin- law Sohan Kumar floated five companies — Davalagiri Property Developer Pvt Ltd, Bhagat Homes Pvt Ltd, Sahyadri Health Care & Diagnostics Pvt Ltd, Health Zone Advisors Pvt Ltd and Prerana Trust.

These companies acquired assets through funding from the developers and contractors who have been favoured with denotification of prime lands and awarding of government contracts, through government of Karnataka undertakings.

In addition, Yeddyurappa’s family members and their associates also promoted companies and purchased prime properties in and around Bengaluru that have been denotified through benami holders, relatives and other business links. A list of benami associates shows that even Congress members like BG Channappa (member of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee) were involved in the scam.

While one can never write off the master survivor, his political rivals are sure to gain at Yeddy’s expense

The total value of the properties acquired by Yeddyurappa’s family through companies owned by them or through promoted companies and business partners and benami holders amounts to Rs 176.79 crore in a period of 60 months, the market value of which is close to Rs 642.23 crore. TEHELKA had contacted and sent a written questionnaire seeking a response from Yeddyurappa’s son Raghavendra. Even after 10 days, no response has been forthcoming at the time of going to press.

WHAT DOES Yeddyurappa do now? With the Karnataka High Court adjourning his bail plea till 20 October, he might actually have to spend a couple of days in the VIP quarters of the Parappana Agrahara prison. BJP sources say his lawyers are confident of getting bail since the case is a private complaint. But irrespective of the outcome, the arrest may well spell premature political death knell for the most powerful politician in Karnataka.

While one can never write off the master survivor, in the near future, his political rivals are sure to gain at his expense. Lingayat leader and Panchayati Raj Minister Shettar, whom Yeddyurappa had pushed aside in his rise to power, would see an opportunity to succeed him as the face of the community.

Chief Minister Gowda has been presented with a golden opportunity to step outside Yeddyurappa’s shadows and flex his own muscles. A chance he is unlikely to miss. But whether or not Yeddyurappa continues to be the force he was in Karnataka politics, the forces that he exploited so well to ride to power — money, land and corruption — continue to threaten the Karnataka polity.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.
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