Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah recently held an informal meeting with some of his ministers during which he sought Bidar district in-charge Ishwar Khandre’s views on fielding businessman Ashok Kheny, who has been accused of corruption, from the Bidar South Assembly seat.
Khandre, a powerful Lingayat leader, bluntly told Siddaramaiah that it would be difficult for the party to defend Kheny’s candidature as the controversial Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE) chief is facing several charges of corruption worth crores.
An embarrassed Siddaramaiah reportedly told Khandre that they are left with no other choice but to go with Kheny, and Khandre reluctantly agreed.
Sitting Independent MLA Kheny joined the Congress in a surprise move just a month ago. Most leaders, including Siddaramaiah, were reportedly against taking him into the party as he is facing the ire of farmers around Bengaluru for allegedly grabbing tens of thousands of acres of valuable land in the name of the NICE project.
Siddaramaiah had even constituted a cabinet sub-committee headed by the state’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister TB Jayachandra to inquire into the scam. The Jayachandra Committee had indicted Kheny and recommended penal action against him.
According to insiders, Kheny joined the Congress using the ‘Delhi route’ — a way of referring to the party high command in New Delhi.
Contacted by News18, Siddaramaiah said, “He has joined the Congress, not the government. We have not given him a clean chit. If he is convicted by a court, we will definitely take action against him.”
The entry of the controversial businessman has come as a huge embarrassment for state leaders ahead of the elections. But Kheny is not alone.
MLAs Anand Singh and Nagendra, one-time close friends of the infamous Bellary Reddy brothers, joined the Congress during party president Rahul Gandhi’s Hyderabad–Karnataka tour around two months ago. Both Singh and Nagendra have been accused of involvement in a multi-billion dollar mining scam and were sent to jail for some time.
A red-faced Congress had defended their inclusion, blaming local political compulsions for the same. Both are once again contesting the Assembly elections, this time on the ‘hand’ symbol.
Karwar MLA Satish Sail, another mining scam accused, has also been promised a party ticket this time. In 2013, he had won as a Congress rebel and had spent a few months in jail. Interestingly, the Congress had come to power fighting the same “rogue elements” in 2013 Assembly elections.
The main opposition BJP, which has accused the Siddaramaiah government of corruption, too has some black sheep. The Bellary brothers, led by former minister Gali Janardhana Reddy, are back in action, claiming that they will not rest till they bring the BJP back to power. Since the Supreme Court has barred Janardhana Reddy from entering Bellary, he has set up a base on the Chitradurga-Bellary border to handle elections in his hometown.
His younger brother and former Bellary City MLA G Somashekhara Reddy is once again lobbying for a BJP ticket from the same seat. Both brothers were in jail in connection with the mining scam.
Even though the state BJP is maintaining that Janardhana Reddy is no longer with them, Bellary district BJP unit claims that he is still their leader. Janardhana Reddy also told the media that he is a “servant” of the saffron party.
Commenting on this, JD(S) supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda said, “They (Congress and BJP) loot together and eat together. What can we do?”