Prime Minister Narendra Modi, celebrated by his admirers as the merciless slayer of corruption, took time off his favourite day job on Friday to place a call to K.S. Eshwarappa.
For those who came in late, Eshwarappa is the Karnataka BJP leader who was sacked as minister last year over graft allegations.
Modi called the five-time MLA apparently to pacify him over the denial of nomination for the May 10 Karnataka polls, at a time the BJP has been reeling under defections by disgruntled leaders, and to encourage him to work for the party.
A video clip tweeted by the BJP shows an elated Eshwarappa, surrounded by family members, profusely thanking the Prime Minister over the phone.
Eshwarappa had been forced to quit last April after BJP worker and civil contractor Santosh Patil wrote in his suicide note that he was ending his life because Eshwarappa had demanded a 40 per cent commission to clear his bills.
The CID, which reports to the BJP-run government, gave Eshwarappa a clean chit in the matter in June but he wasn’t reinstated.
In the video clip, Eshwarappa purportedly assures Modi about a BJP victory in the Assembly elections and seeks his “blessings”.
“Bahut achchha hogaya saab, definitely hum jitenge, Sir…. No problem, Sir…. Definitely hum jitenge saab… apka ashirvaad chahiye saab,” he apparently says.
After thanking Modi at the end of the clip, Eshwarappa says: “Mera jaise samanya karyakarta ko aap aisa baat cheet karna hum sub ko bahut khushi hai (We are all very happy that you spoke to an ordinary worker like me).”
The Congress highlighted the tragic circumstances that triggered Eshwarappa’s fall from grace.
“Prime Minister Modi condoning, sanctioning, putting his stamp of approval over the ‘40 per cent commission’ government is fatal for India’s democracy,” the Congress general secretary in charge of Karnataka, Randeep Surjewala, told reporters.
A screenshot from a video clip uploaded by the BJP on Twitter shows K.S. Eshwarappa on a call. The BJP tweet said “Shri @narendramodi held a telephonic conversation with” Eshwarappa Sourced by The Telegraph
The Congress has turned government corruption into a poll plank, drawing on the allegation from multiple civil contractors that the state’s ministers seek a 40 per cent cut to clear their bills.
Surjewala said: “We all saw the Prime Minister’s video... talking to Shri Eshwarappa, joking with him, supporting him, trying to assimilate him back into their fold.
“I ask you as a citizen of India, Prime Minister Modi, wasn’t Mr Eshwarappa sacked as a minister because BJP leader and worker Santosh Patil committed suicide and wrote in his death note that he was committing suicide because 40 per cent commission was being demanded from him by the minister?”
Surjewala added: “Today is a day when the Prime Minister proved former governor Satya Pal Malik right that, ‘Pradhan Mantri ko corruption se koi khas aitraz nahi hai’ (The Prime Minister doesn’t have any particular issue with corruption).” The former Jammu and Kashmir governor made the comment recently in an interview with journalist Karan Thapar.
Surjewala asked that if Patil’s allegation was incorrect, why was Eshwarappa removed and denied poll nomination.
“Has Prime Minister Modi ever spoken to the family of BJP worker Santosh Patil? Has Prime Minister Modi ever called the widow of Santosh Patil and spoken two words of condolences? Has Prime Minister Modi ever decided to visit the house of Santosh Patil when he came to Belgaum?” he said.
Eshwarappa had made several futile attempts to claw back into the state cabinet after the CID clean chit.
The 74-year-old recently retired from electoral politics after being denied nomination for the upcoming polls. The party also rejected his request for a ticket to his son.
Unlike former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi, who are contesting on Congress tickets, Eshwarappa has stayed on in the BJP.