Contractor’s suicide puts Karnataka Minister in a spot
By Shankar Raj*
Bengaluru: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party minister in charge of rural development in Karnataka, KS Eshwarappa, found himself in a spot for the suicide of a contractor, reportedly a Karyakarta.
Santosh Patil, the 40-year-old contractor had recently alleged that Eshwarappa had been harassing him for a 40% commission to clear the bills for contracts he had implemented for the government, giving credence to senior Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi’s allegations that the Karnataka government is a ‘commission government’.
Patil had also said that Eshwarappa should be held responsible if something happened to him. He was found dead in a hotel in the coastal town of Udupi today morning.
Patil claimed himself to be the national secretary of a right-wing group called Hindu Vahini and had recently written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister for Rural Development Giriraj Singh alleging that Eshwarappa and his associates were harassing him for commissions.
Patil reportedly sent messages to the media and his friends early morning today, saying that he was going to end his life and alleged that Eshwarappa was responsible for his death.
In his purported suicide note, the contractor urged Modi, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and senior BJP leader BS Yeddiyurappa to help his wife and kids after his death.
“RDPR minister KS Eshwarappa is solely responsible for my death. I am taking this decision, keeping my aspirations aside. I request with folded hands to our prime minister, chief minister, our beloved lingayat leader BSY and everybody else to extend a helping hand to my wife and kids,” he wrote.
In his letter to the PM, he had stated that he and six other contractors had implemented road projects in Hindala gram panchayat in the Belagavi district in May 2021 but were not paid for the same. He claimed that the contractors invested Rs 4 crore for the project, but had suffered losses due to government delay in payments.
He alleged that senior government officials were seeking a 40 per cent commission on the total bill. Following this, he approached top BJP leaders with his grievances. “I am in great tension and have huge pressure from creditors who have given me finance on interest. If the payment and work order is not given immediately, then I do not have an option for myself,” he had said in a March 11 letter to the Union Minister.
“Our state minister RDPR department K S Eshwarappa told me to complete road work on 12-02-2021… we completed more than 108 works with a cost estimate of Rs 4 crore. More than one year has passed, but till today we have not received any work order nor single rupee from him or from the concerned authorities,” Patil said in the letter.
Reacting to Patil’s death, Eshwarappa said he learned about his suicide through media and reiterated that he did not know him. However, he was silent on the long-pending bills.
Eshwarappa turned down the demand of the opposition Congress seeking his resignation over the contractor’s death. “There is no question of resigning. We have to wait for the verdict of the court in the case I had filed against Santosh Patil. I make it very clear that I am not at fault anywhere,” Eshwarappa said.
Last month Eshwarappa had denied the bribery charges after Patil wrote a letter to Giriraj Singh, accusing his associates of demanding a 40 per cent commission in the ₹ 4 crore work he had carried out in the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj department.
The Congress soon launched an attack on the BJP and demanded an FIR against the minister and an independent probe into the incident.
Rahul Gandhi accused PM Modi and the Karnataka Chief Minister of being complicit in the contractor’s death, saying that Patil’s pleas to them went unanswered.
“BJP’s 40% Commission Government in Karnataka has claimed the life of their own Karyakarta. The victim’s pleas to the PM went unanswered. The PM and CM are complicit. #BJPCorruptionFiles (sic),” Gandhi said on Twitter.
Leader of Opposition in Karnataka Siddaramaiah also blamed the Karnataka BJP for his death.
Karnataka Congress President DK Shivakumar alleged that it was a “murder, not suicide”. “If the BJP has any shame, they will immediately arrest the minister,” he said, demanding “an immediate time-bound judicial inquiry into the alleged ‘suicide’ of Santosh Patil”.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said the police will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and ruled out any resignation.
*Shankar Raj is former Editor of The New Indian Express, Karnataka and Kerala, and writes regularly on current affairs.