Congress workers in Karnataka protest D.K. Shivakumar’s arrest

Print edition :

Congress party workers, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of vindictive politics, protested in different parts of Karnataka following the charge sheeting and arrest of the Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar on September 3 by the Enforcement Directorate (E.D.).

The E.D., which is the economic intelligence agency under the Central government’s Ministry of Finance, had summoned Shivakumar for questioning four days earlier in a money laundering case dating to August 2017 when unaccounted cash of more than Rs.8 crore was found in his residence in Delhi.

According to journalists who have accessed the ED’s charge sheet, Shivakumar has also been accused of building a hawala network to channel money to the Congress high command in Delhi.

Shivakumar, a powerful Vokkaliga leader, is a former Water Resources Minister of Karnataka. He has emerged as the chief troubleshooter for the Congress party not only at the State level but also at the national level, and was a Chief Ministerial candidate of the Congress in the past.

With the entire State Congress leadership backing the protests and coming out in support of Shivakumar, it appears that this is a rare moment in the recent past when the Congress has galvanised its cadre.

Protests first began in Ramanagara and Kanakapura towns before spreading to Bengaluru and other major cities like Hubballi and Mangaluru. Schools have been shut in Ramanagara and platoons of reserve police have also been deployed.

Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa stated that he was not happy with the arrest of Shivakumar and was praying that he would be released soon.

This statement is being interpreted in various ways by political observers, with some perceiving Shivakumar’s arrest as something that has not been supported by the BJP’s State leadership.

Shivakumar has played an important role in the Congress in the recent past. In 2017, he shepherded Congress MLAs from Gujarat, ensuring Ahmed Patel’s victory in the Rajya Sabha elections. Last year, he was instrumental in ensuring that vacillating MLAs supported the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government.

When legislators abandoned the coalition in June this year, leading to the formation of the BJP government, Shivakumar made a desperate attempt to meet the rebels standing outside the hotel in Mumbai in the rain. This won him a lot of support within the party.

Shivakumar has overwhelming political influence and is the unchallenged leader of Kanakapura and parts of Bengaluru Rural district. He has been accused of being involved in murky land deals and economic malfeasance in the past, but it is the timing of the investigation that raises questions.

V.S. Ugrappa, former Congress MP, told the media: “The Modi government is holding opposition leaders at gunpoint and after Chidambaram it is the turn of Shivakumar as he stood up to the BJP.”

Dinesh Gundu Rao, the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief, said, “This is clear political vendetta and is being done to distract people from the drastic fall in the GDP.”

Byelections to 17 constituencies are slated to be held in Karnataka soon and many believe this development will have an impact on the political fortunes of the BJP, which enjoys a wafer-thin majority in the depleted State Assembly.

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