Sex scandal dents Jarkiholis’ clout in Belagavi, may benefit Congress

The opposition party will benefit in both the upcoming Lok Sabha by-election for the Belagavi seat and in the 2023 state elections, if it can take advantage of the situation and improve the connect to the grassroots level.

Ramesh Jarkiholi and the BJP-led government are under fire by the Opposition, after the victim in the alleged sex-for-job scandal has accused Jarikholi of tampering with evidence in collusion with the SIT and pleaded for protection

After a gap of nearly 16 years, the Jarkiholis, the five famous brothers in the political circles in the North Karnataka region, are out of the power corridor, at least temporarily.

Since 2004, one of the five — Ramesh, Satish, Balachandra, Bimashi and Lakhan —has remained a minister in the state cabinet. The brothers ensured they represented different political parties and gained out of it irrespective of which party came to power.

But now, the controversy surrounding Ramesh Jarkiholi, who has been accused of sexually exploiting a woman and luring her into sex promising a government job, has put a brake on the power politics of the family members, popularly known as ‘Sahkukars’ (rich men or landlords).

Ramesh, however, has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed the videos are doctored. “Even though I am innocent, I am taking moral responsibility and resigning from my cabinet post,” Ramesh said.

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The BJP central leadership, too, seems to have pushed for his resignation to avoid embarrassment keeping in mind the upcoming state elections.

While the authenticity of the video is being verified by the police, the larger action has shifted towards the timing and motive behind leaking the video on social media platforms.

Ramesh, the eldest of the five brothers, moved from the Congress to the BJP in 2019 when the coalition government headed by the Congress and JDS dropped him from the cabinet. He joined the league of disgruntled MLAs who defected to the BJP and led the saffron party to power.

The defection widened the family feud between Ramesh and Satish (Congress). While Lakhan moved close to Satish and joined the Congress, Bhimshi and Balachandra remained with the BJP.

People in political circles say, Ramesh, before his resignation, put a demand to Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa that the water resource ministry that he handled, should be handed over to his brother Balachandra, who is currently the chairman of Karnataka Milk Federation.

Also read: Karnataka Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi caught in sex tape scandal 

Amid the shameful act that led to Ramesh’s resignation, support has been pouring in from various quarters. From cabinet ministers to BJP supporters and priests from the politically powerful Valmiki (caste) mutts in the region, all say that the minister is a victim of politics in Belagavi. While Ramesh’s supporters poured milk on his posters, Prasannananda Swami of Valmiki Gurupeeeta urged Yediyurappa to admit him back into the cabinet.

With the previous instances of such incidents not denting the political image of leaders, party workers are hopeful that the minister will be back in the ministry soon. In 2012, BJP leaders Laxman Savadi, C C Patil and Krishna Palemar were caught watching porn in the state assembly. All the three had to resign over the incident. Seven years later, Savadi and Patil are in the cabinet holding key portfolios. While Savadi is now a deputy chief minister, Patil is the small-scale industries minister.

The Jarkiholis controlled businesses across verticals from mining to agriculture, sugar, education, textile, and banking. Over the years, powerful families like the Kattis, Koujalgis, and Jolles, who all had a business interest in the region, controlled politics in Belagavi, which in total has 18 Assembly seats.

Also read: Jarkiholi brothers: The famous 5 with deep roots in Karnataka politics

They wielded so much power that amid the grim drought in 2016, nearly two-third of the legislators present in the assembly to debate on the subject skipped the session to attend the wedding of Ramesh son in Gokak, Belagavi. This despite the then CM Siddaramaiah’s request to his party seniors to stay away from lavish weddings.

The very next year, even as protests erupted from farmers who supplied sugarcane to mills owned by Ramesh over pending bills, the minister tried to contain the damage within two weeks by releasing the payments.

Analysts say the Congress will gain from the current situation, both in the upcoming Lok Sabha by-election in the Belagavi seat, which fell vacant after the death of the former Union Minister Suresh in September last, and in the 2023 state elections, if it can take the message to the grassroots level by keeping the issue burning and not letting it fade away from public memory.

With the COVID-19 crisis, farm legislation amendments and lack of funds for development projects in the flood-hit regions of Belagavi casting a shadow on BJP’s functioning, the Congress’s district president committee member Asif Nooruddin has become hopeful that the tide will soon turn in favour of his party.

The trouble for the Jarkiholis seems to come from within, argues a political science professor in the North Karnataka region.

Jarkiholis’ clout as a Schedule Tribe will now be reduced as their politics (Valmiki-ST) overshadowed the Lingayats-Veerashaivas in Belagavi.

“This incident will pull back the Jarkiholis’ family business as it has hit their moral standing,” the professor said on condition of anonymity. “As Jarkiholis’ support base is not  pan-Karnataka and remains confined to the Belagavi district, it would be easier for the BJP to bring down their influence within the party by propping up other Lingayat leaders like Umesh and Ramesh Katti.”

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