An amiable BJP leader who became an unlikely dissident hero

Bangalore, Nov 16 ( Karnataka Assembly Speaker Jagadish Shettar, a prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in the state, is set to return to active politics at a time when the party’s first government in southern India is battling dissidence.

The 44-year-old Shettar, whose family has been associated with BJP’s predecessor Jana Sangh, will join Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s cabinet Tuesday or Wednesday after resigning as speaker Monday.

The amiable leader from north Karnataka district of Dharwad, 420 km from here, became an unlikely hero of the dissidents led by mining magnates and minister-brothers G. Janardhana Reddy and G. Karunakara Reddy.

Shettar, born Dec 17, 1955, in Kerur village of Bagalkot, another north Karnataka district around 500 km from Bangalore, was always a reluctant speaker. He was keen to be a minister when the BJP formed its government for the first time in Karnataka in May 2008.

A commerce and law graduate and lawyer by profession, Shettar nurses a grouse against Yeddyurappa for pushing him to a non-political position to checkmate the growth of a possible alternative leader.

The Reddys found this a fertile platform to use in their battle to unseat Yeddyurappa. They knew it would be suicidal to project either of them as chief ministerial candidate.

They also did not have any one in their camp of legislators to match the stature Yeddyurappa had acquired by leading the party to a near clear majority in the 2008 assembly polls.

Shettar, a shy personality, thus became their alternative to Yeddyurappa.

Though far from being as aggressive as Yeddyurappa, Shettar fulfilled many other requirements to succeed him.

He, like Yeddyurappa, belongs to the politically strong Lingayat community. He hails from north Karnataka, where the community is in large numbers. The BJP has established a strong base in the region, mainly on the support of this community.

Shettar was elected from the Hubli rural constituency for the fourth time in a row since 1994. He has been leader of the opposition in the assembly and served as Revenue Minister in the Janata Dal (Secular)-BJP coalition government in 2006-08.

His father, S.S. Shettar, was the first Jana Sangh Mayor of the Hubli-Dharwad City Corporation while uncle Sadashiva Shettar was the first Jana Sangh member of the state assembly.

Shettar was in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its student wing Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). He became the Dharwad district BJP president, secretary and later president of the state party unit.

Shettar was not known to be close to the Reddys, who have come to wield much clout in the BJP because of their proximity to senior party leader Sushma Swaraj and the financial muscle they have acquired from iron ore mining.

Hence it came as a surprise when the Reddys began to project him as an alternative leader. Apparently, his anger against Yeddyurappa has been so intense. Shettar did not mind his name being associated with the rebel campaign even when he had not quit the speaker’s post.

Yeddyurappa tried in vain to win him over by offering ministership. Shettar agreed to join the ministry when he failed to get the party leadership’s backing to replace Yeddyurappa.

His problems, however, are not over. He wants some of his followers also to be made ministers.

The Reddys have their own list.

The BJP central leadership announced Nov 8 that the Karnataka crisis has been resolved. It seems to have spoken a tad too early for its own comfort.