Karnataka minister KS Eshwarappa said today he would "definitely not resign", hours after being named "Accused no.1" in a police case by the family of a BJP worker and contractor who died by suicide on Tuesday.
Santosh Patil, 41, was found dead at a lodge in Udupi. In WhatsApp messages to his friends and the media, he blamed the minister for his death, while alleging that he was asked to pay 40 per cent of what he was owed for a government project.
The First Information Report or FIR filed on a complaint by Santosh Patil's brother accused the minister of driving him to suicide.
But Mr Eshwarappa, the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister in Karnataka's BJP government, called a press meet to announce that he is staying put - a virtual dare to the BJP leadership in Delhi, which is reportedly inclined to sack him.
"Santosh Patil wanted payment for his work without norms. I want to ask the Congress, did you, when in power, release payment without a work order," the minister questioned.
"If they are asking for my resignation, I will definitely not give my resignation." He questioned how a WhatsApp message could be treated as a "death note" and said it could be typed by anybody.
Amid pressure to act, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said he would discuss the case one-on-one with Mr Eshwarappa.
In an explosive claim, the head of the Bengaluru Civic Body BBMP contractors' association, KT Manjunath, alleged that bribes are paid to ministers, MLAs and officials in the state government. The allegations run counter to the BJP's "zero tolerance for corruption" mantra.
"I have given commission. But all the contractors should pay commission. For landing a contract it's 15 per cent. For submitting the bills, it is 10-12 per cent and for getting the payment, another 10 per cent. All put together, the commission will go up by more than 40 per cent," Mr Manjunath said.
D Kempanna, the chief of the Karnataka State Contractors Association, echoed the allegation. "Yes, I have given bribe for my projects. Most of the projects are given orally and that's normal. Later the work order is issued. But eventually we will pay more than 40 per cent commission," he told NDTV.
Santosh Patil was also reportedly given the work order orally by the Minister to construct roads in rural areas. The cost of the project was around Rs 4 crore, and he had borrowed heavily - he had even sold his wife's jewellery - to complete the project.
But 18 months later, he had received not a single rupee. In his last messages, he requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to take care of his wife and nine-month-old boy.
For the BJP, it is a politically damaging case, given that Santosh Patil had reportedly even written to PM Modi and Mr Bommai complaining about the "40 % cut money" allegedly demanded by the minister and his associates.
The opposition Congress has demanded not just the minister's resignation but also his arrest over the suicide. Congress leaders took the demands to the Governor.
"It was murder, not suicide. If the BJP has any shame, they will immediately arrest the minister," Congress leader DK Shivakumar said.