Former Karnataka deputy chief minister and influential leader from the Lingayat community, Laxman Savadi, dealt a heavy blow to the BJP by switching to the Congress on Friday, aggravating the attrition crisis in the ruling party ahead of the Assembly polls.
Savadi called on leader of the Opposition P.C. Siddaramaiah at his home along with state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar and AICC general secretary Randeep Surjewala. Savadi had already decided to quit the BJP after he was denied a party ticket to contest from Athani, Belgaum district.
BJP leader and former minister Shashikanth Naik joined the Congress along with Savadi.
A member of the Legislative Council, Savadi was a three-time MLA from Athani before losing to Mahesh Kumathalli of the Congress in 2018. But Kumathalli defected to the BJP along with 12 other Congress MLAs, destabilising the party’s coalition government with the Janata Dal Secular in 2019. The BJP has this time preferred Kumathalli over Savadi.
Emerging from the discussion at Siddaramiah’s home, Savadi told reporters that he would contest on a Congress ticket from Athani. “I will be contesting from Athani. I have urged the Congress to complete the water resources projects in my constituency once the party comes to power. Apart from that, I have no demands,” he said in the presence of Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah.
Savadi later told a media conference at the Congress office that he would work as hard as he did in the BJP. “From now on I will be a dedicated worker of the Congress. I am ready to work in any of the 224 constituencies where my leader wants me to.”
Shivakumar said Savadi had agreed to follow the Congress ideology and work for the party. “He is joining us and we unitedly welcome him with open arms. Lots of people are joining along with him. We welcome all of them,” he told reporters.
“We had a cordial meeting with Savadi, who has agreed to join the Congress on his own,” Shivakumar added.
Stung by the defection of a senior leader, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said he was saddened by the decision. “I feel very sad since we shared a close relationship…. (But) sometimes such political developments happen,” he told reporters. “He might have found his political future in the Congress.”
Bommai claimed that the Congress was short of good candidates in 60 seats. “The Congress doesn’t even have candidates for 60 seats. So they have taken some people (from other parties). But that won’t make any difference to us,” he told reporters.
Bommai acknowledged there was a huge demand for tickets in the BJP, but claimed the workers wouldn’t follow the defecting leaders. “Our party and our workers will eventually be the winners. Naturally, there will be more demand for tickets in a ruling party. Although some leaders have expressed unhappiness, the workers won’t go with them,” he said.
State Congress working president Satish Jarkiholi, an influential leader from Shimoga, blamed the BJP for the defections. “They are facing the consequences of ‘Operation Lotus’ as ‘Operation Hand’ (the Congress symbol) is now happening quite naturally.”
He said many more BJP leaders, including incumbent MLA from Belgaum North Anil Benake, were on their way to the Congress.
A member of the Ganiga sub-sect of the Lingayat community, Savadi’s sphere of influence covers half a dozen Assembly constituencies in Shimoga and neighbouring districts in the north of the state. He is widely considered one of the most influential Lingayat leaders after B.S. Yediyurappa.