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Newsmaker: Karnataka BJP minister J C Madhuswamy in viral video: outspoken and abrasive, with a ‘North Korea’ link

J C Madhuswamy is at the centre of an audio clip in which he purportedly describes the current Bommai-led BJP government as “non-functional”

Karnataka minister J C Madhuswamy. (Photo: Facebook/ಜೆ.ಸಿ ಮಾಧುಸ್ವಾಮಿ J.C Madhuswamy)

In July 2021, when the BJP began an exercise to find a suitable candidate to replace Lingayat strongman B S Yediyurappa from the post of Karnataka chief minister, one of the candidates who was high on the list of contenders was a no-nonsense minister in the government — J C Madhuswamy.

Madhuswamy, now the minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs, and Minor Irrigation in the state government, is at the centre of a political row in the state, with an audio clip going viral of his purported conversation with a social worker in which he is heard describing the current Bommai-led BJP government as “non-functional”.

The audio has created a furor in the state BJP, with some of his own ministerial colleagues (and Bommai loyalists) questioning his conduct and seeking his resignation.

Last year, while his name was in contention to replace Yediyurappa as CM, the 69-year-old Madhuswamy had ticked all the boxes: he was a Lingayat, an independent thinker who was unlikely to be pushed around by bureaucrats and ministers, and someone seen as unlikely to tolerate corruption in the government – while also being amenable to Yediyurappa himself.

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Yet, these very qualities that made Madhuswamy a top choice in the books of some in the BJP were also held against him by others in the party — he was too independent, abrasive, outspoken and, crucially, lacked roots in the Sangh Parivar.

Earlier this year, a BJP MP from Tumkur — a district where Madhuswamy has been the in-charge minister – was, in fact, caught on audio comparing Madhuswamy to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

“He is like the Korean kingpin. He spoiled our district, we will not win a single seat. If he opens his mouth — it is hit, beat and chop. He is foul-mouthed and treats officials badly,” G S Basavaraj, the Tumkur MP, was heard saying ahead of a press conference, a conversation that was picked up by television microphones.

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Madhuswamy had responded to the viral video saying, “Basavaraj has spoken what was in his heart. I do not know about this person (Kim Jong-un)… They can remove me from the party… if they feel this way.”

The four-term MLA from the Chikkanayakanahalli region of Tumkur district became a minister for the first time when the BJP wrested power from the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in 2019. Previously, Madhuswamy had been elected to the state Assembly in 1989 on a Janata Dal ticket, in 1997 as an Independent, and in 2004, as a JD(U) candidate.

Madhuswamy joined the BJP in 2018 from Yediyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Party when the Lingayat strongman returned to after a brief estrangement with the party.

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In 2019, as the BJP took over from the JD(S)-Congress coalition, Madhuswamy was rewarded for his staunch defence of his party on the floor of the legislature – he was appointed Law and Parliamentary Affairs minister in the Yediyurappa government in 2019 and played a central role in piloting pro-market land and labour laws that were labelled anti-farmer and anti-workers by the Opposition Congress and JD(S).

In January 2021, however, Yediyurappa demoted Madhuswamy from the Law ministry and made him minister of Medical Education and later, Minor Irrigation.

There was speculation that Madhuswamy’s propensity for abrasive comments had cost him the Law portfolio that was given to then Home minister Basavaraj Bommai. The leadership was also said to have been upset over his reported reluctance to push an anti-cow slaughter law which was then part of the BJP’s agenda.

“I am not a person who will hang around when my self-esteem is under attack. I will wait till for a day and decide my course of action,” Madhuswamy said after his change of portfolio. He, however, did not act on his threat and was convinced by Yediyurappa to remain in the government.

Madhuswamy returned as Law minister in July 2021 when the BJP opted for the more amenable Bommai as replacement for Yediyurappa for the CM post.

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In his second stint as Law minister, Madhuswamy has been at the helm of piloting laws such as the anti-conversion Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021.

Earlier this year, when the BJP central leadership insisted on an administrative policy that its ministers should not be in charge of their home districts, Madhuswamy refused to take up charge of any district but Tumkur.

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Also, this year, when right-wing outfits brought up communally-tinged demands such as boycotting Muslim vendors at temple festivals and halal meat, Madhuswamy was one of the few BJP leaders, along with Yediyurappa, to speak out against the right-wing Hindutva agenda.

“This country belongs to everybody. All those who remained in India after Partition are Indians. There is no point in creating a controversy over this,” Madhuswamy said earlier this year.

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“For the purpose of administration, all are citizens and children of this country. Disrupting the livelihoods of people or disrupting peace in society does not bring any honour for the party that is in power. When incidents occur spontaneously it is different but when incidents are deliberate, I cannot accept it,” he said.

First published on: 16-08-2022 at 04:07:42 pm
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