Karnataka Housing Minister V Somanna was at the centre of a row on Sunday after a video that surfaced appeared to show him slapping a woman at a public event in Chamarajanagar district the day before. Amid fierce Opposition backlash, Somanna, the minister in charge of Chamarajanagar, issued an apology but denied slapping the woman and the woman too claimed later in the day that the video had been altered.
This, however, was not the first time the 72-year-old state BJP leader, who has been in politics since the 1980s, landed himself in a controversy. Some of Somanna’s Cabinet colleagues describe him as the opposition within the government and a person who expresses displeasure over small things. A senior BJP leader said, “Somanna feels he is the senior leader among the existing ministers and he wants a plum portfolio and he expresses it.”
At one Cabinet meeting in 2020, the senior minister got into an argument with Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister JC Madhuswamy over urban development in Bengaluru. There was talk at the time that Somanna had his eyes on the Bengaluru Urban Development Ministry portfolio, which is with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai at present. Within the party, R Ashoka is said to be his contender for the post. The differences between Somanna and Madhuswamy continued even when the Cabinet was reshuffled and Bommai became CM in August 2020.
In 2019, Somanna faced public ire after Kannada rapper Chandan Shetty proposed to reality TV star Nivedita Gowda during the official Yuva Dasara event. At the time, the senior leader was the minister in charge of Mysuru district.
Somanna also faces a case for allegedly submitting false information in the 2013 election affidavit. Though the Lokayukta court filed a “B” report, recommending the closure of the case, this March, a Special Court that deals with criminal cases against elected MPs and MLAs in the state rejected the report and asked for a probe. RTI activist Ramakrishna had filed a petition in the court, alleging that Somanna’s wealth is disproportionate to his known sources of income.
Somanna hails from Kanakapura taluka in Ramanagara district and belongs to a family of agriculturists. Before he entered politics, the 72-year-old worked at a Janata Bazar on KG Road in the heart of Bengaluru. His political journey began in 1980 when he became a corporator at what was the Bengaluru Municipal Corporation at the time. He later joined the Samajwadi Janata Party of HD Devegowda.
Somanna is a Lingayat and is said to have strong connections with influential Lingayat mutts in the Old Mysuru and central Karnataka regions. In the 1989 Assembly polls, he lost to the Congress’s Nazeer Ahmed from the Binnypet constituency in Bengaluru that does not exist anymore. In the 1994 Assembly polls, he won on a Janata Dal ticket and became the Bengaluru Development Minister in a Devegowda-led Cabinet after actor-turned-politician Anant Nag quit the ministry within a few days of taking charge.
But differences with the Janata Dal saw him contest the 1999 election from Binnypet as an Independent. Somanna managed to retain the seat and later joined the Congress. He defected to the BJP in 2008 during “Operation Lotus”, a term used to refer to the party’s alleged plan to engineer the defections of seven Opposition MLAs after the Assembly elections since it was three seats short of a simple majority.
By then a close confidant of Lingayat strongman and CM BS Yediyurappa, Somanna lost a bypoll in 2009 but was elected to the Upper House of the state legislature the following year. He remained an MLC till 2018 before being elected to the Assembly from Govindraj Nagar constituency in Bengaluru.
Sources in the BJP said the veteran leader was now also demanding a ticket for his son Arun Somanna who is getting ready to enter politics. As a result, the party’s “one family, one ticket” rule has not gone down well with him. “To provide space for his son in politics, Somanna is ready to take any risks,” claimed a BJP leader.