An important link in the Congress-JD(S) Karnataka coalition government, MTB Nagaraj, is one of the prominent rebel MLAs who submitted their resignations from the state cabinet last week. The move, in which 13 MLAs withdrew their support from the coalition on 6 July, has led to a major political crisis for the 13-month-old government.
On Saturday, Congress leader and chief troubleshooter DK Shivakumar held negotiations with Nagaraj, an MLA from Hoskote who wields a significant amount of influence in the party and is considered a loyalist of former chief minister Siddaramaiah. After agreeing to reconsider his resignation, he conducted a U-turn on Sunday when he flew back to join the other rebelling MLAs in Mumbai and was reportedly accompanied by BJP leader R Ashok.
Who is MTB Nagaraj?
Nagaraj, a Kuruba leader representing the Hoskote constituency in the Karnataka Assembly, is the state Housing minister. Ahead of the Karnataka Assembly election last year, Nagaraj declared assets worth Rs 1,015 crore.
In 2017, the Income Tax department had seized cash worth Rs 1.10 crore and 10 kilograms worth of gold after a raid on Nagaraj. The I-T Department was investigating alleged tax evasion charges against Nagaraj and his associates. Officials also reportedly found unaccounted income exceeding Rs 120 crore.
With the declaration of assets in 2018, Nagaraj was termed as the "richest MLA in India", in a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms. Nagaraj claimed that his main sources of income were "agriculture, house property, business, and other sources". His wife, Shanthakumari is a housewife, and earned income from house property and others, reports said.
Nagaraj is a veteran Congress leader, and reportedly, his resignation strengthened rumours that Siddaramaiah has orchestrated the crisis in the state. Deccan Chronicle quoted a member of the Congress as saying, "We knew it but we couldn't do anything for the last 13 months. Nagaraj (a very rich legislator and a Siddaramaiah loyalist) taking flight, speaks volumes about the agenda behind this game. Certainly, he would not have gone after money and he is already a minister."
However, soon after submitting his resignation in the state Vidhan Soudha, Nagaraj said that he was "fed up" with politics and was seeking to retire from public life. “I don’t want any ministerial position or anything. I am fed up with politics,” Nagaraj said.
He also claimed to be unhappy with HD Revanna, who is the Public Works Department (PWD) minister and brother of Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. “The biggest reason why leaders are unhappy is Revanna. He keeps transferring officials from all departments to suit his needs. I am a minister and if he transfers officials from my department, how can any work be carried out properly? I have discussed this with Kumaraswamy many times," Nagaraj was quoted as saying by The News Minute.
The politician's initial's 'MTB', come from when he ran a brick manufacturing unit called Manjunatha Table Bricks, which was reportedly one of the top three brick companies in Bengaluru.
Nagaraj's turn-around regarding his support for the coalition government is reminiscent of his vocal unhappiness with the scope presented to him in the past. In June 2018, soon after the Congress-JD(S) government was formed, Nagaraj along with other Kuruba MLA Shivalli and MLC HM Revanna expressed their dissatisfaction with the Congress leadership for not granting ministerial berths to a single MLA from the community.
Nagaraj joined MB Patil and other community leaders in threatening a state-wide protest if the party failed to accommodate at least two Kuruba MLAs into the ministry.
Nagaraj was quoted by The New Indian Express as saying, "There are eight MLAs from Kuruba community who have been elected from Congress party. But not even one has been inducted in the ministry. Injustice has been meted out to the entire Kuruba community. Congress is neglecting us. We will have to chart our own course soon if the party fails to make amends,” he said.
He had also expressed his unhappiness with Siddaramaiah. “Our own leaders let us down," he said.
Political opportunism in India
Nagaraj's flip-flop on his support to the Congress could make him eligible to join the ranks of politicians who have indulged in opportunism to further their own political interests, to whatever extent. An example is Nagaraj's mentor, Siddaramaiah himself.
Siddaramaiah, who was a part of the Deve Gowda-led JD(S), joined the Congress in 2005. Siddaramaiah, who has been elected as an MLA multiple times, joined Gowda in the JD(S) after the Janata Dal split. Reportedly, however, he was opposed to Gowda's son and current chief minister, HD Kumaraswamy's rise in the party's politics.
His political career came around a full circle when, in June 2018, he had to concede the 'bigger partner's position to the JD(S) after the Assembly elections, with the "sole purpose" of keeping the BJP out of power. In November 2018, Karnataka BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa had accused Kumaraswamy and Gowda of being "most opportunistic" politicians.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jul 15, 2019 14:35:26 IST