Bengaluru: Embattled senior Karnataka Minister K S Eshwarappa, embroiled in a controversy over the death of a contractor who accused him of bribery, on Friday submitted his resignation from the state cabinet amid some drama involving his supporters, and not before attending a series of engagements including visiting a popular Lingayat mutt earlier in the day.
The 73-year-old Karnataka Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Minister, against whom police have booked a case for allegedly abetting the suicide of contractor Santosh Patil, submitted his resignation to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai here. Patil was found dead in a Udupi lodge earlier this week and Eshwarappa was later booked for abetting his suicide.
In the one-line resignation letter submitted to Bommai, Eshwarappa said he is resigning "voluntarily".
Bommai said he has accepted the resignation and will be forwarding it to the Governor for further action.
Later speaking to reporters with the Chief Minister by his side, Eshwarappa said he was quitting to safeguard the public faith towards the party and the government and not to cause any embarrassment to them.
He then once again handed over a copy of his resignation letter before the media.
The senior leader said he has requested the Chief Minister to find the forces behind the political conspiracy behind him.
"....whether Santosh Patil's was a suicide or murder should be known, conspirators behind it and parties that are involved should be arrested and punished," he demanded. "If I am even one per cent guilty, let the gods punish me," he said.
Eshwarappa's supporters who had gathered near the Chief Minister's residence shouted slogans asking him not to resign and lashed out at Congress leaders.
Earlier in the day, Bommai said the resignation of Eshwarappa cannot be considered a "setback" for the BJP government in the state.
He said truth will come out from the investigation and asked the opposition Congress, which is demanding Eshwarappa's arrest, not to become investigators, prosecutors and judges themselves.
Karnataka BJP strongman Yediyurappa, standing by his old friend, expressed confidence that he will come out clear from all allegations and return as Minister soon.
Eshwarappa's friendship with Yediyurappa may have soured to some extent over the years, but they have even ridden a moped together back in the old days to organise the saffron party in Shivamogga and the surrounding region.
The resignation of the Kuruba community leader, who had in the past served as state BJP president and deputy CM, comes ahead of BJP national President J P Nadda's visit to Karnataka to attend the party's state executive meeting at Hospet in Vijayanagara district on April 16 and 17.
As a political furore erupted following Patil's death, Eshwarappa had on Thursday evening announced his resignation as minister, a day after maintaining that he would not quit.
Ahead of his resignation, Eshwarappa, in his native Shivamogga, told his supporters and party workers, who were shouting slogans asking him not to resign, that he would come out clean from the allegations made against him as part of a conspiracy and would become a minister again.
However, many within the party believe that Eshwarappa's current stint as the minister could be the last such innings of his political career spanning over three decades, as speculations were rife, there were plans to anyway drop him from the ministry during the next cabinet rejig.
The 5-time MLA is seen among those who had played a key role in building the BJP in Karnataka. He has been the saffron party's Kuruba (backward community) face in the state.
In case this was the last ministerial tenure for Eshwarappa, as being speculated, it will mark the party's key old guards fading from prominence, with former Chief Ministers B S Yediyurappa, Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar taking a back seat in the organisation, besides the untimely demise of former Union Minister Ananth Kumar.
With his origins from RSS, Eshwarappa is known to be a strong and outspoken Hindutva idealogue and has never been a stranger to controversies.
He had earlier said the BJP will not give tickets to Muslims to contest the elections as they do not believe in the party, and claimed that 'Bhagwa dhwaj' (saffron flag), may become the national flag sometime in the future.
Earlier, in what was seen as a show of strength, hundreds of Eshwarappa's supporters travelled with him to Bengaluru in vehicles from Shivamogga, about 300 km from here, where he visited a temple and party office, also met BJP workers and supporters earlier in the day.
On his way, he had lunch with party workers, met Primary and Secondary Education Minister B C Nagesh at his residence and visited the Siddaganga Mutt, a prominent Lingayat seminary in the state.
Santosh Patil, a Belagavi-based contractor, was found dead at a hotel in Udupi on Tuesday, weeks after accusing Eshwarappa of demanding 40 per cent commission in a Rs 4 crore work.
In a purported suicide note in the form of a WhatsApp message, Patil had blamed Eshwarappa for his death.
Patil last month complained to Union Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh and also BJP central leaders stating that he was yet to be paid Rs 4 crore for road works undertaken in Hindalga village and had accused Eshwarappa's aides of demanding the 40 per cent commission for the release of the payment.
The opposition Congress, targeting the ruling BJP over the issue, accused the Karnataka government and Chief Minister Bommai of trying to protect Eshwarappa. It demanded his arrest and that he should be booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The principal opposition party in the state also urged that an impartial investigation be conducted by the police under the supervision of a sitting judge of the Karnataka High Court.
The Congress that has found fresh ammunition against the ruling party ahead of the assembly election next year has formed nine teams, and each team will be travelling to at least two to three districts to inform people regarding the "40 per cent commission and rampant corruption" under the current BJP government.
The party that staged an overnight protest at Vidhana Soudha said it later plans to take its protests to assembly constituency level, to bring to the notice of the people that "Karnataka has been turned into the capital of corruption" by the BJP.
The Congress also plans to hold a protest rally at Hospet, where the ruling BJP state executive committee meeting is slated to be held under the leadership of Nadda on Saturday and Sunday.
The family of contractor Santosh Patil, on Thursday, had said they were not bothered about the resignation of Eshwarappa and demanded his arrest.
Meanwhile, former minister and BJP MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi had earlier claimed that the same team of conspirators were behind the 'sex CD scandal' involving him and the death of the contractor, even as he demanded a CBI probe into both issues.
He has said that he will reveal certain facts regarding the case at a press meet on April 18, after getting permission from the BJP high command.