A rich BJP candidate in Karnataka has just got richer by crores, and it's raising many an eyebrow in the southern state. MTB Nagaraj, who used to represent Hoskote in the state assembly, has added an additional Rs 185 crore to his net worth since the day he left the Congress-Janata Dal Secular coalition earlier this year.
Mr Nagaraj had hit the headlines in July, just before the fall of the Congress-Janata Dal Secular coalition. Then a Congress politician, he had famously promised the party leadership that he would not withdraw support to the then government before pulling off a volte-face to join the other rebels in Mumbai.
Then Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar responded by disqualifying him along with the others under the anti-defection law. However, the Supreme Court ruled last week that while their disqualification stands, the same cannot be said for the election ban imposed on them.
Soon after the court verdict, Mr Nagaraj joined the BJP along with 15 other disqualified MLAs and was given a party ticket for the same seat he won for the Congress in 2018. This caused some discontent in the ruling party, with BJP MP Bache Gowda's son Sharath declaring that he would contest as an independent candidate from Hoskote. In an indication of the party leadership's support for Mr Nagaraj, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa threatened to expel Sharath Bache Gowda unless he withdraws his nomination.
However, his declaration of assets has now created a new row. While Mr Nagaraj's net worth stood at around Rs 1,015 crore before the 2018 elections, it has now crossed Rs 1,200 crore due to 53 deposits made since his resignation in July. A sum of over Rs 1 crore was deposited the same month, and 52 other deposits of just under 1 crore were made in the following months.
"A large sum of money was deposited in the account of a disqualified MLA just after the BJP came to power via Op-Kamala. Several audio/video tapes of BJP leaders offering money for the MLAs to switch have been released. Shouldn't these money transfers be probed? Why is IT/ED silent?" Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief Dinesh Gundu Rao tweeted.
Dinesh Gundu Rao also claimed that the Income Tax department and Enforcement Directorate were turning a blind eye to Mr Nagaraj's transactions because they were under the direct control of the BJP. "These things have to be looked into by the IT and ED. And IT doesn't seem to be bothered by anyone who with the BJP because it is now a BJP department. They will not take any action against any BJP MLA or supporter," he said.
Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah blamed the upcoming bypolls on the BJP's political tactics. "The ongoing by-elections is the outcome of @BJP4Karnataka's Operation Kamala. It is the time to fight against anti-constitutional approach of BJP and repose faith in democracy," he tweeted.
BJP leader Shobha Karandlaje, however, dismissed the allegations against the candidate. "MTB Nagaraj is a real estate owner, he is a builder, he is a businessman. This has nothing to do with the BJP. He joined the BJP only one week back, and he cannot (make) so much money out of the BJP. This is really a joke," she said.
The Congress and the Janata Dal Secular both claim that the BJP bribed their MLAs to ditch the HD Kumaraswamy government earlier this month, eventually bringing it down. A leaked audio clip of BS Yediyurappa speaking on the need to reward the disqualified MLAs for giving them bypoll tickets has further strengthened their claims of foul play.
However, the disqualified MLA has made some charges of his own against the Congress. He claims that he is yet to receive a large amount of money earlier lent to Siddaramaiah for "election expenses".
Monday was the last day for filing nominations to 15 seats in the Karnataka bypolls, to be held on December 5. Thirteen of the 16 disqualified MLAs were earlier given bypoll tickets by the BJP.