Former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has long courted controversies for accepting expensive ‘gifts’, including Hublot watch and Toyota Land Cruiser.
Bengaluru: Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah’s purported penchant for luxury has landed him on the wrong side of headlines once again.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused the senior Congress leader of getting a 2019-model Mercedes Benz worth Rs 1.5 crore from a party MLA in exchange for his appointment as the head of the Karnataka State Small Industries Development Corporation (KSSIDC).
“Congress MLA Byrathi Suresh gifts Sri @siddaramaiah a Mercedes-Benz car worth 1.5 crore. Wears spectacle costing ₹2 Lakh. Wore 80 lakh worth hublot watch Siddaramaiah avare looks like you have made enough & more money during your 10% govt,” the Karnataka BJP alleged in a tweet.
Congress MLA Byrsthi Suresh gifts Sri @siddaramaiah a Mercedes-Benz car worth 1.5 crore
Wears spectacle costing ₹2 Lakh
Wore 80 lakh worth hublot watch
Siddaramaiah vere looks like you have made enough & more money during your 10% govt.
ಮಾಡೋದೆಲ್ಲಾ ಅನಾಚಾರ ಮನೆ ಮುಂದೆ ಬೃಂದಾವನ.
— BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) January 20, 2019
Suresh, the MLA for Hebbal who was recently made the KSSIDC chairman, however, defended his action, saying the car was not a gift, but merely a friendly gesture meant to help a senior leader travel “more comfortably”.
The car, Suresh told ThePrint, belonged to him and was registered in his wife’s name.
“Don’t you allow your friends to move around in your vehicle?” he added. “In the same way, this is not a gift… I am just letting my leader take a comfortable ride while travelling around Bengaluru,” he said.
Sources close to Siddaramaiah refuted the BJP’s charge as well, saying it was a bid to divert public attention from its alleged recent attempt to topple the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in the state.
“They are trying to save face after their failed attempt to poach our MLAs,” said one of the sources. “By doing this, they think they can shift people’s attention and make them forget their deeds. It is nothing but another desperate attempt.”
Indian law bars ministers — whether at the Centre or in the states — from accepting valuable gifts, except from close relatives.
However, Siddaramaiah has long courted controversies over expensive gifts, including during his stint as chief minister.
In 2016, BJP legislators refused to let the assembly function for three days after it came to light that the then chief minister had received a Rs 70 lakh diamond-studded watch as a present.
Siddaramaiah sought to clarify that the watch was a gift from a friend, Dubai-based cardiac surgeon Girish Chandra Varma, but the BJP questioned the chief minister’s failure to declare the watch, and insisted that he deposit it with the state secretariat. Siddaramaiah eventually handed over the watch to the Speaker of the legislative assembly.
Former IPS officer Anupama Shenoy, who quit in 2016 after accusing a minister in the Siddaramaiah government of harassment, claimed in 2017 that the watch was bribe for two prestigious projects awarded by the Karnataka government to a Dubai-based private businessman. She also flagged the gift in a letter to the speaker.
Last year, in June, Karnataka minister K.J. George found himself in a similar controversy as MLA Suresh when he provided a Toyota Land Cruiser to the former CM along with fuel coupons for a full year.
George later clarified to this reporter that the Land Cruiser was not a gift, but a loan, saying the Innova Siddaramaiah used for travel was not comfortable enough.
George’s office had claimed that the Rs 1 crore SUV was not brand new, adding that there was nothing wrong in giving a car to someone for personal use, especially to a “friend”.
In December 2017, Siddaramaiah was accused of accepting expensive items — a gold-plated crown, silver garland and a silver sword — as gifts at a public function organised by Afzalpur MLA Malikayya Guttedar.
In March 2016, with the row over the Hublot in spate, he refused to accept a silver cow idol and a gold medal during the inauguration of Shivasharane Hemareddy Mallamma Study Chair at Gulbarga University in Kalaburagi.