Ramesh Jarkiholi is as popular in Karnataka’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as he is in the state’s Indian National Congress.
Jarkiholi was a Congress strongman till 2019 before he defected to the BJP. Currently the water resources minister in the ruling BS Yediyurappa-led government, he was in fact instrumental in the fall of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka two years back.
Jarkiholi has now landed thick in the middle of a controversy over his role in a purported sex scandal. In a video widely flashed across local TV channels, the minister has been allegedly captured indulging in sexual acts with a woman. According to the woman’s lawyer, the minister allegedly forced her to be intimate with him in exchange for a job.
Denying the charges, Jarkiholi called the incident “a part of the larger conspiracy” against him. Later in the day, he resigned from his post on ‘moral grounds’.
Belagavi Sugar Baron
A family of five brothers – Ramesh, Satish, Balachandra, Bhimsi and Lakhan – Jarkiholis are sugar barons of Belagavi district of Karnataka. Ramesh Jarkiholi, who is the eldest brother of the family, reportedly owns one sugar mill in the region.
Their father Laxmanrao Jarkiholi hailed from Bedara-Nayak caste. The family collectively owns three sugar mills in Belagavi.
Among Karnataka sugar barons, Ramesh Jarkiholi is believed to be the foremost member. His grip over the business is reportedly “unshakable”.
In 2017, when a local protest erupted in one of Ramesh Jarkiholi’s sugar mills, he was able to suppress the movement within days. The protesters had accused the politician of denying payment to them for three years. A total of Rs 34 lakh for sugarcane from local farmers was not paid, the protesters had alleged.
Political Power Game
In Belagavi, the political fight has always been between the five Jarkiholi brothers. The district has the second highest number of Legislative Assembly seats at 18, only second to Bengaluru which has 28 seats.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, Ramesh Jarkiholi had contested from Belagavi’s Gokak seat on a Congress ticket. Satish Jarkiholi had contested from Yemkanmardi seat on a Congress ticket, and Balachandra Jarkiholi from Arabhavi on a BJP ticket.
Soon after he was elected, Ramesh Jarkiholi is believed to have been approached by the BJP. In May 2019, when Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was running a coalition government of the Congress and the JD(S), Jarkiholi decided to jump ship – and join the BJP. He was first disqualified for defection, but he later managed to contest in Gokak bypolls on a BJP ticket. Jarkiholi who had won from the seat for five consecutive times on Congress tickets managed to win on the BJP ticket, too.
Within Karnataka BJP, he has managed to become a power centre within a short time. Chief Minister Yediyurappa’s government has been tacitly trying to sideline Jarkiholi for his rising clout in the party.
Boon for the Congress?
The Jarkiholi sex scandal has come at a time when the minister is being viewed by the Congress as a major BJP opponent. In May 2020, the minister had said that he can engineer defections from the Congress.
With such a powerful political player getting embroiled in a controversy, the Congress can stand to gain in the long run.
Meanwhile, Yediyurappa, too, is not quite displeased with allegations surfacing against Jarkiholi. Several BJP MLAs had been routinely in talks with Jarkiholi over their displeasure with the ruling government and cronyism bred by the Chief Minister.