Caught on tape

Print edition : February 15, 2019

Former BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and his party colleagues came close to toppling the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka in early February, but Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy had the last laugh. After being informed by Sharanagouda Kandkur, son of a JD(S) Member of the Legislative Assembly from Gurmitkal, that the BJP had approached him to seek the defection of his father, Naganagouda Kandkur, Kumaraswamy agreed to the conversation being recorded.

On February 8, hours before presenting the State Budget, even as talk of threats to the coalition were making the rounds in political circles, Kumaraswamy released a 40-minute audio clip (on February 13, the JD(S) released the entire 80-minute audio recording) in which a group of men, which allegedly included Yeddyurappa and two other BJP legislators, were heard conversing with Sharanagouda, offering money, ministership and other inducements to win over the support of his father. According to Kumaraswamy, Yeddyurappa had visited Devadurga in Raichur district in northern Karnataka on the eve of the Budget presentation to make calls to rival party MLAs in a bid to buy them over.

In the audio clip, which has three distinct parts, Yeddyurappa and the two BJP legislators allegedly insinuate that 11 rebel MLAs from the coalition government were being paid Rs.20 crore each to switch sides. Yeddyurappa, in the tape, claimed to have even “bought” judges so that action could not be taken against them legally. According to the JD(S), Sharanagouda was taken in a car by the BJP MLA, Shivanagouda Naik, on the night of February 7 to the Yadgir circuit house. The first part of the audio tape pertains to the conversation between the two on their way to the circuit house.

The second part of the audio tape records the discussions during Sharanagouda’s meeting with Yeddyurappa and Shivanagouda Naik. The discussion is about what the JD(S) MLA would be offered if he resigned his seat. A voice in the tape, allegedly that of Yeddyurappa, is heard referring to Assembly Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar and stating that he would accept the resignations of rebel MLAs. The Speaker’s name figures in an earlier portion of the tape too, when Shivanagouda Naik makes a reference to him, allegedly saying that he (the Speaker) had been “booked” for Rs.50 crore to “rule favourably on dissident legislators of the ruling coalition”. In this part of the tape, a person, purportedly Shivanagouda Naik, is heard saying he would get Sharanagouda to speak to B.Y. Vijayendra [Yeddyurappa’s son] on the “finance issue”. He is heard explaining to Sharanagouda that Yeddyurappa was only concerned with the political aspects of what would be offered; the “finance issues” would have to be discussed with Vijayendra. However, a little later, a voice, allegedly that of Yeddyurappa, is heard on the tape promising to pay Sharanagouda Rs.10 crore towards his byelection expenses. (This is over and above the Rs.22.5 crore that was eventually promised.)

The third component of the audio recording is apparently after Yeddyurappa leaves the room and proceeds to the first floor of the circuit house to retire for the night. It includes a long conversation between Shivanagouda Naik, M.B. Maramkal (a former journalist who is now an adviser to Yeddyurappa) and the BJP MLA from Hassan, Preetham Gowda. In the conversation, the three men are heard trying to discuss and decipher what Sharanagouda wants in “hard cash” to get his father to resign.

One of the voices, allegedly that of Preetham Gowda, tries several times to call Vijayendra (who at that time was allegedly in Mumbai) to discuss “financial issues”. A voice, allegedly that of Preetham Gowda, is heard saying that Vijayendra had made him in charge of finances and discloses that an offer of Rs.20 crore had been made to 11 other MLAs, but more would be given in the case of Sharanagouda’s father. Then another man, purportedly Shivanagouda Naik, is heard saying that he would ensure that the Gurmitkal MLA got a few crores more than what had been given to others.

After a while, a voice, allegedly that of Preetham Gowda, is heard making a “final offer”, adding Rs.2.5 crore to his previous offer. Later a voice, purportedly that of Preetham Gowda, is heard saying that payment would be made in “hard cash” at the place of his choice the next evening. The three men also try to convince Sharanagouda to come to Mumbai to see for himself where the 11 “rebel” MLAs were holed up. A voice, allegedly that of Preetham Gowda, says: “Tell me when you board the flight back. I will arrange for the money to be delivered by the time your flight lands.”

After initially denying that he had met Sharanagouda, Yeddyurappa on February 10 acknowledged the meeting.

While Kumaraswamy, acting on the advice of the Speaker, has decided to set up a special investigation team (SIT) to investigate the veracity of the tape and the voices, a first information report has been filed at the Devadurga police station under Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code. Yeddyurappa and the other accused have secured bail. The BJP has protested against the SIT probe and has instead demanded a House Committee probe.

Ravi Sharma

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