The raid by the Lokayukta police on the office of an MLA from the ruling BJP in Karnataka, trapping his son while receiving a bribe of Rs 40 lakh, has raised eyebrows in political circles for more than one reason.
The raid, which began on Thursday soon after a complaint was registered, is still on. The Lokayukta police first arrested V. Prashant Madalu, son of Channagiri MLA K. Madalu Virupakshappa, for receiving 50% of the total promised bribe of Rs 81 lakh from a private individual at the father’s office at Bengaluru’s Crescent Road. The raid was conducted based on a tip-off, it is said.
The bribe was paid by a contractor at the Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL) office, of which Virupakshappa is the chairman.
This is the first high-profile raid by the corruption watchdog Lokayukta after its powers were restored under the Prevention of Corruption Act, through a high court order in August 2022. By the same order, the high court abolished the formation of the Anti-Corruption Bureau by the Congress government under chief minister Siddaramaiah. The ACB’s formation rendered the once-active Lokayukta into a toothless tiger.
The Lokayukta police raided Prashant’s house immediately after his office, with news reports saying that as much as Rs 6 crore in cash was seized there. The total amount seized is reportedly Rs 10 crore, including Rs 2.02 crore from the chairman’s office.
Prashant himself is a government servant who is working as the chief accountant of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB). He was earlier a financial advisor to the now-defunct Anti-Corruption Bureau.
TV channels flashed visuals of the Lokayukta police counting money. MLA Virupakshappa, who is accused number 1, has resigned as the chairman of KSDL. Five persons have been arrested, including Prashant, his accountant and three others who are bribe givers.
(2/2) He was trapped taking a bribe of Rs 40 lakh yday. House of
MD of K’taka Soap & Detergents Ltd SDL Mahesh M IAS was searched last night in Banashankari. Nothing much found, says Lokayukta pic.twitter.com/a1RifKrObT
— S. Lalitha (@Lolita_TNIE) March 3, 2023
CM says Lokayukta revived
Reacting to the development, Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said that the raid is proof that the BJP government has “revived” the Lokayukta.
According to the news agency PTI, he said, “We have repeatedly been saying that we will conduct an impartial probe. Our stand, in this case, is also that the independent Lokayukta institution will carry out an impartial investigation and whoever has done wrong will face action. There is no change in our stand.”
“All the information and the money found there everything is now with the Lokayukta. Let an independent and justified investigation take place. Our objective is that the truth should come out like whose money it was and for what purpose it was meant,” he added.
The Congress, meanwhile, said the trap is proof of the allegations of rampant corruption against the BJP government.
Coming as it did in an election year (Karnataka goes to polls in May), the raid on Virupakshappa is not without political subtext.
“It is obvious that the effort is to reverse or do some damage control after the vicious 40% commission charge made by the contractors association and, later, picked up by the Congress party as its main campaign point,” said a BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
What’s more, members of the ruling party in Karnataka are already guessing which MLAs will be dropped for the upcoming election. They fear that tickets will be denied to 10-15% of the sitting MLAs, as the BJP had in Gujarat.
“It is also true that the MLA who was raided was on the list who would not be renominated. With this raid, it will not be possible for even B.S. Yediyurappa (former chief minister and currently the darling of Prime Minister Narendra Modi) to recommend his name,” another party leader, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
Virupakshappa hails from the Channagiri constituency of Davangere district, where the dominant community is the Lingayats. In the last couple of weeks, the BJP has changed its strategy and has gone out of its way to appease Yediyurappa, who was considerably sidelined since 2021 – when he was eased out of the office of chief minister.
The central leadership realised the importance of the tallest leader of the Lingayat community only after repeated internal poll surveys showed that the community was no longer supportive of the party under the chief ministership of Basavaraj Bommai, who replaced Yediyurappa. The “keep-Yediyurappa- happy” campaign was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself on February 27, the former CM’s birthday. Yediyuraapa single-handedly brought the party to power in 2008.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 27, 2023