Income-tax raids in Karnataka, on the first day of Navratri on Thursday, have brought to light the alleged involvement of over 25 middlemen, companies and contractors in connection with laundering of “cut” money allegedly made in irrigation contracts worth Rs 25,000 crore. This I-T raid would have gone unnoticed in a highly corrupt state such as Karnataka, but for the kingpin Umesh, who was a trusted personal assistant to former chief minister BS Yediyurappa and his children. Umesh, who is accused of collecting “commission” worth over Rs 2,500-3,000 crore is a bus conductor with the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), whose salary is a meagre Rs 32,000 per month.
The sudden I-T raid on BSY’s close confidantes has sent shockwaves across the ruling BJP in Karnataka. Even though Yediyurappa has downplayed the raids by distancing himself from them, insiders are claiming that he is upset. I-T sleuths have targeted Umesh, several contractors, chartered accountants, wholesale hardware traders and some others close to BSY’s second son BY Vijayendra. Besides Bengaluru, the search was conducted at several places, including Bagalkote and Tumkur. Bags of documents, pen drives, etc, have been seized from these locations.
While the BSY camp is shell-shocked over the incident, his detractors in the BJP are celebrating the downfall of Vijayendra, whom they hold responsible for massive corruption during his father’s two-year term.
H Vishwanath, BJP MLC and a senior leader, welcomed the I-T raids terming them “inevitable”. He said, “I had always maintained that Vijayendra was involved in an irrigation scam worth over Rs 25,000 crore. The ongoing I-T raids prove my allegations. I feel vindicated.”
Leaders close to BSY either chose to remain silent or made some cursory statements. Some in private, however, said the BJP stalwart was upset, and that it might affect the party in by-elections to two assembly seats.
“If he decides not to campaign for the party, it will send a wrong message. Hope he campaigns,” they said.
Chief minister Basavaraj S Bommai declined to comment on the I-T raids. He is close to BSY, but ordered the repatriation of Umesh to BMTC, who was still on the rolls of the chief minister’s office.
Opposition leader Siddaramaiah said he was not aware of any vendetta by the BJP and it could even be true. “I don’t know if it is a routine raid or a raid to silence BSY, who is angry with his ouster. It could be anything,” he said.
Former chief minister and JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy said it was a warning shot fired by the BJP high command to keep Yediyurappa in check. “It may be a warning shot. Everyone knows that his government was highly corrupt,” he said.
Home minister Araga Jnanedra and rural development & panchayat raj minister KS Eshwarappa, both from BSY’s Shimoga district, dismissed the allegations claiming that the I-T raid was routine and Yediyurappa should not be held responsible.
Vijayendra, who is in the eye of a storm, has also declined to comment on the raids on his close associates. Some feel the party is uncomfortable with his political ambitions, and that the I-T raids will go against him.
Some political observers, however, said the I-T raids will further strain the relationship between BSY and the BJP. Surprisingly, some Lingayat seers, who always rush to Yediyurappa’s rescue, have so far maintained silence over the I-T raids triggering all kinds of speculation.
However, BJP workers in the state believe that the raids will not have an impact on the prospects of the party as the Yediyurappa era was already over in Karnataka politics.