'They sent a message that I will not be given the ticket and ordered me to issue a statement -- Gujarat style -- that with immediate effect I was retiring from politics.'
'They were treating me like a political novice who would be pushed around on the order of vested interests.'
'This rude behaviour hurt a lot. It was then I spontaneously decided that I will challenge this dictatorial order and expose all those who want to hurt Lingayat pride in Karnataka.'
The Lingayat community in Karnataka makes for roughly 14 per cent of the 53 million voters. Taken together, they decide the winners in over 90 of the 224 assembly segments in the state.
Interestingly, the Congress which had just 13 Lingayat MLAs in the last assembly, romped home with 37 Lingayats in 2023, which many political observers believe led to the Bharatiya Janata Party's downfall in the state.
One of the most prominent Lingayat leaders -- next only to former chief minister B S Yediyurappa, according to his own reckoning -- and its six-time MLA from the Hubli-Dharwad Central constituency, who quit the BJP or rather was so humiliated that he had no option but to quit the party is Jagadish Shettar, the former BJP chief minister.
Speaking to Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com, Shettar reveals how he was humiliated by Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and BJP national president J P Nadda, and why he believes BJP national General Secretary B L Santosh wants to weaken the Lingayat leadership within the party.
What role did Lingayat votes play in the BJP's defeat in Karnataka and how successful were you in getting Lingayat votes in favour of the Congress after switching from BJP?
After I quit the BJP and joined Congress, many existing BJP MLAs and ex-BJP MLAs too quit the BJP and joined Congress.
Important Lingayat leaders like Laxman Savadi from Athani (who contested on a Congress ticket and won from Athani), U B Banakar, former BJP MLA from Hirekerur, V S Patil former BJP MLA from Yellapur, Mohan Limbikai, former BJP MLC from Dharwad, former MLA Kiran Kumar from Tumkur also quit the BJP. When I quit the BJP, hundreds of Lingayat leaders joined the Congress.
There is a shadyantra (conspiracy) in the BJP to finish off all the top Lingayat leaders.
Do you know why some leaders in the BJP worked behind the scenes to deny ticket to Jagadish Shettar? Because if I had contested and won for the seventh time from Hubli-Dharwad Central -- I have won six straight elections from the same constituency and I was confident of winning the same as a BJP candidate with more than 50,000 votes -- they would have had no choice but to name me as the chief minister.
I spent all my life to strengthen the party in the state and even state intelligence agencies had submitted their reports to the state and Union government about my victory.
Their survey showed Jagadish Shettar as the number one popular (Lingayat) leader (after former chief minister B S Yediyurappa). They know that I am the most popular Lingayat and state BJP leader after B S Yediyurappa.
A conspiracy was thus hatched to scuttle my leadership and chief ministership and finish off the domination of Lingayat leaders in the BJP.
After Yediyurappa and I, most other Lingayat leaders in the BJP are second and third line leaders and none of them were in the reckoning to claim the number one position.
Some vested interests in the Karnataka BJP feared that if I won the election for the seventh time then based on popularity and stature I would claim the number one position (of the state's chief minister). They knew I would be the natural choice for the CM's post.
To avoid this they want to finish me and the Lingayat leadership in the party by denying the assembly ticket to me upfront.
I sensed this conspiracy much earlier, but I would have still kept out of the fray if they had done it honourably.
If they had called me a month or fortnight before (the nomination for Hubli-Dharwad Central constituency was announced) and requested me to step aside for someone else and assured me of respect and gratitude for the work that I have done for the party then I would have definitely agreed to it.
What exactly happened?
Instead of showing grace, tact and respect they decided to humiliate me with their rude behaviour.
Just a day before the nomination was to be filed for the constituency they sent a message to me through Dharmendra Pradhan (Union minister who was appointed the poll in-charge of Karnataka) that I will not be given the ticket and ordered me to issue a statement -- Gujarat style -- that with immediate effect I was retiring from politics.
Dharmendra Pradhan then asked me to write a three-sentence letter and send it to him on WhatsApp and, he said, he will immediately send it to the national president (J P Nadda).
They were treating me like a political novice who would be pushed around on the order of vested interests; those who harbour dreams of becoming chief minister themselves by sidelining top Lingayat leaders.
This rude behaviour hurt a lot. It was then I spontaneously decided that I will challenge this dictatorial order and expose all those who want to hurt the Lingayat pride in Karnataka.
I told (Dharmendra Pradhan) that I was not backing out, whatever the consequences, and that I refuse to be pushed around like a rag. It was then they realised that they just stepped onto some wrong feet.
In the first press conference I addressed (after quitting the BJP) I publicly stated that some BJP leaders in the state wanted to destroy the Lingayat leadership and influence in Karnataka politics.
That is how I exposed the BJP's plot to destroy Lingayats and ultimately Lingayats destroyed the BJP in Karnataka.
Look at the number of Lingayats fielded by the BJP and Congress and how many of these won from both the parties.
Out of the 46 Lingayat candidates fielded by the Congress, 37 won and out of the 69 Lingayats fielded by the BJP, only 15 won their seats.
This is the price you pay for humiliating leaders like Jagadish Shettar and before me stalwarts like B S Yediyurappa.
Why was he (Yediyurappa) asked to resign just two years (into his tenure that started in 2019)? Why and who did not allow him to finish his five-year term? Just because they wanted to weaken and gradually finish off strong Lingayat leaders from the BJP.
It is still the plan of vested personalities like B L Santosh (RSS pracharak Bommarabettu Laxmijanardhana Santhosh, who emerged as a very powerful Karnataka leader after his elevation as the BJP's national general secretary [organisation] of the BJP in 2019).
People are not fools; they have their eyes open; they know how you ill-treated us. They (the Lingayat community who substantially contribute to electoral successes because of their vote share) showed you your right position in Karnataka.
In North Karnataka, wherever the Congress fielded Lingayat candidates, and even in those constituencies where Lingayats are strong and from which non-Lingayats from Congress contested, with all due respect, because of Jagadish Shettar, the Congress got the votes of the Lingayats.
Ask any newly elected Congress MLA from these constituencies (where Lingayats dominate) they will vouch for what I am saying. Because of the ill-treatment of Lingayats, a huge majority of the community voted for the Congress this time.
Why would B L Santosh conspire against the Lingayats?
For personal ambition; personal agenda. They don't have the heft or backing of the Lingayats and yet they dream of becoming chief minister (B L Santosh was a candidate to become chief minister in 2019 when BJP emerged as the largest single party with 104 MLAs). For that very purpose they (the BJP under B L Santosh's influence) are sidelining the Lingayat leaders.
If the BJP were to conspire against the Lingayats why would they field 69 Lingayats out of the 224 BJP candidates who contested the 2023 elections?
And yet only 15 Lingayat candidates could win the election. Can't they (the BJP leadership) see the writing on the wall? The Lingayats don't trust the BJP now.
This (fielding 69 Lingayats) was just to garner the votes of the (Lingayat) community. They want Lingayat votes, but they don't want a Lingayat to be made chief minister.
The BJP fielded only the third and fourth-line Lingayat leaders who they thought they could easily push around in case the BJP got a majority in the state and get him (B L Santosh) elected chief minister. Nobody knew these Lingayat candidates (fielded by the BJP).
You also met BJP President J P Nadda after you threatened to contest the elections with or without BJP. What happened at that meeting?
I met Naddaji and asked him why you (the BJP) were denying the ticket to Jagadish Shettar. He had no reasons or justifications to offer.
I told him the BJP didn't believe in dynastic politics, but yet in Karnataka so many dynasts got the BJP ticket. I asked him the reason for eroding the core values of the BJP and he had nothing to offer as an answer.
I had warned Naddaji in that meeting that by denying one ticket to Jagadish Shettar they were not risking to lose one seat, but the BJP will lose at least 25 seats in North Karnataka (where Lingayats decide the victor). I told Naddaji, but nobody took me seriously.
If Lingayats are so powerful a political force, and as you reckon, you happen to be a powerful community leader, then why couldn't you succeed in winning the Hubli-Dharwad Central constituency? You lost by 34,000 votes to fellow Lingayat Mahesh Tenginaki of the BJP.
My opponent used money to win this election (from Hubli-Dharwad Central). They (the BJP) used power politics; they used pressure tactics and threatened powerful Lingayat groups in my constituency to vote against me.
They used the threats of IT and ED raids on the businesses and industrialists, who have always supported me in my constituency.
I built the BJP in my constituency from scratch. Being a six-time MLA I had always emphasised the importance of loyalty to my people in the constituency. For 30 years of my existence as a party worker 'Party-Party-Party' is what I taught my people to be loyal to (BJP).
I built such a mindset of the people in my seat that I was not able to turn them around to support me in my fight against the humiliation heaped on me and other Lingayat leaders.
I joined the Congress only at the last minute and money factor too played a big role in my defeat.
I lost due to these factors, but that has not broken me. The public sympathy is still with me. I lost my constituency, but because of my name so many Congress MLAs got elected.
Why couldn't Lingayats play a role in your victory?
In the last 30 years I ingrained so much party loyalty and party commitment in them that they too decided to stick to my teachings. I created a mindset among the Lingayats that they should always vote for the BJP.
Do you see yourself playing any role in the government that the Congress will form now in a couple of days in Karnataka?
It is left to the Congress to decide how to use my services and political life.
The 2024 Lok Sabha election is just a year ahead and if they have to take advantage of Jagadish Shettar, and if they have to use my services in the party or in the government is left entirely to the Congress.
Whatever responsibility my party (the Congress now) vests me with, I will be happy to play my role.
There seems to be a power tussle happening between Congress stalwarts D K Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah over who should be the chief minister. Who do you think is headed to win this race?
This issue will be settled within a couple of days to the satisfaction of both leaders. I don't want to say anything about it.
How do you feel today when the party which you helped build and from which you got elected for six consecutive terms lose so badly in Karnataka?
Let me repeat that I also played my role along with B S Yediyurappa and (former Union minister) Anantha Kumar to build the party in Karnataka. I really felt very sad while quitting the party.
It is because of some vested interests the BJP is going to the depths in Karnataka. It is okay that I personally lost an election because of the skullduggery of some people, but it feels sad to say that in their efforts to finish off the Lingayat leadership in Karnataka they are sounding the BJP's death-knell too.