Ramesh Jarkiholi, an influential leader and self proclaimed "kingmaker" in the BJP, is embroiled in a 'sex for job' scandal, which is now starting to look more like the fallout of a personal rivalry between him and Congress' D K Shivakumar. A look at controversy, and its political fallout
Since March 2, mainstream politics in Karnataka has been dominated by a sex CD scandal involving a former minister in the BJP government in the state. Despite the minister resigning on March 3, following allegations of sexual harassment in his relationship with a 25-year-old woman and his own claims that video recordings shown in the media are fake, the controversy has refused to die down and new twists and turns emerge every day.
With the new developments, the alleged ‘sex for job’ scandal involving former minister Ramesh Jarkiholi is now starting to look more like the fallout of a personal rivalry between Jarkiholi and state Congress chief D K Shivakumar. Contradicting the sexual harassment charge brought against Jarkiholi by the 25-year-old woman, her parents and two brothers have now accused the state KPCC chief Shivakumar of engineering the whole episode, paying the girl, and holding her in illegal custody over the last four weeks to fulfil his personal agenda of sending his friend-turned-foe Jarkiholi to prison. The BJP government in the state and the police have mostly been mute spectators to the charges and counter-charges that have swirled between the two rival camps since March 2.
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How did the alleged sex CD controversy start?
On March 2, local Kannada television channels began airing sexually explicit video and audio clips of a relationship between the then BJP water resources minister Ramesh Jarkiholi, 60, and a young, unidentified woman. As the videos went viral on channels and social media, a self-styled social activist approached the Bengaluru police with a claim alleging sexual harassment in the relationship between the minister and the 25-year-old woman. The activist, Dinesh Kallahalli, initially alleged he had been informed by members of the woman’s family that she had been promised a job by the minister to coerce her into a relationship and that the minister later retracted on his promises.
Jarkiholi, who had begun assuming the role of a kingmaker in the Karnataka BJP, resigned from the B S Yediyurappa cabinet on March 3 following pressure from the party leadership. The resignation came even as the scheduled tribe leader claimed the video recordings were fakes.
What did the police do with the initial sexual harassment case brought against Jarkiholi on the basis of the viral sex CD clippings?
The Bengaluru police began a preliminary investigation on the complaint of Kallahalli but did not register a formal complaint against Jarkiholi claiming the allegations of harassment made by the activist were unverified. With the woman in the CD being elusive, questions were raised over the claims of harassment. The activist also moved to withdraw his claim of sexual harassment on the grounds that he had received information from a friend who gave the CD to him and not directly from the family of the alleged victim as he had claimed initially.
What twists and turns have the sex CD case taken since it emerged in the public domain?
With the 25-year-old woman at the centre of the sexual harassment case elusive a week after the alleged CD emerged in the public domain, Jarkiholi claimed on March 9 that the entire episode was engineered by a rival he identified as a “Mahan Nayak”. Jarkiholi claimed the sex CD was a fake created by the “Mahan Nayak” and his associates to defame him and end his political career. Jarkiholi claimed that the fake sex CD episode involved a Rs 5 crore deal among the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, his brother Balachandra Jarkiholi, a BJP MLA, claimed to have used the services of private detectives and found that sex CD scandal was a political conspiracy hatched by personal rivals. The BJP government constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the state police on March 12 to look into the claim of conspiracy.
Soon after the SIT was created, on March 13, Jarkiholi filed a police complaint of unnamed persons attempting to blackmail and extort money from him using the alleged fake video recordings of his intimacy with a young woman. Within 30 minutes of Jarkiholi filing his complaint on March 13, a video statement attributed to the woman emerged where she alleged that the former minister used her, recorded their intimate moments and later released it to the media.
The case took another turn on March 16 with the parents of the woman filing a police complaint saying their daughter had been abducted and was being held captive by unknown persons. The sex CD issue was raised in the state legislature by the opposition Congress party on March 22 with a demand for filing of a case of sexual assault against Jarkiholi.
Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai, in his reply in the state Assembly, said the woman at the centre of the case “is on the run and not in one place” and that a case will be filed against Jarkiholi as soon as she gives a statement.
What is the position of the alleged victim and her family in the whole episode?
The 25-year-old woman, an engineering graduate and a member of the scheduled tribe community like Jarkiholi, has only communicated through video statements from undisclosed locations since the emergence of the alleged sex CD. In these statements released to the media she has claimed that she was used sexually by the former minister with the promise of a government job which she claims he later reneged on.
Unverified leaks of alleged conversations she had with members of her family, after the purported sex CD went viral on March 2, however, suggest she convinced her family that she does not feature in the video, and that her images and voice were morphed for creating the recordings. She provided a statement to the police through an advocate on March 26 saying she was sexually harassed by Jarkiholi.
The Bengaluru police registered a case of rape against Jarkiholi on March 26 based on the complaint received through the advocate claiming to represent the young woman. In a video statement she has also suggested that a complaint of her abduction by unknown persons made by her parents was done under the possible coercion of the Jarkiholis. She has written to the High Court of Karnataka seeking monitoring of the probe in the case.
The position taken by the family of the alleged victim of sexual harassment by the former BJP minister has been in sharp contradiction to the position taken by the woman. In statements made to the media on March 27 and March 29, the woman’s parents and two younger brothers alleged she was being controlled by associates of Shivakumar. The woman’s father, a former defence personnel, demanded that she be allowed to return to her family for a few days before she can provide a statement to the police in case. One of the woman’s brothers claimed that associates of the state Congress chief funded the woman’s escape to Goa soon after the scandal broke.
“I am a former soldier, do I not have the capacity to protect my daughter? I cannot understand why you are using a girl for the ends of your dirty politics. She has not spoken to me but has spoken to my son and wife. I have 11 audio recordings of her conversations that show she is being used for politics,” her father stated on March 27 after meeting the police SIT. “If anything happens to members of my family then DK Shivakumar should be held responsible,” the woman’s father told the media.
What is the basis on which Karnataka Congress chief D K Shivakumar is being linked to the case?
The primary basis on which the family has linked the KPCC chief to the case is the telephone conversations she had with them soon after the alleged CD went viral. In two of these purported recordings, in the possession of the family, the young woman is heard taking the name of Shivakumar. In one of the unverified recordings, she is heard telling her brother that she is acting at the behest of the KPCC chief. In another unverified recording, she tells her brother that the videos and audios are morphed, and that associates of Shivakumar have the real recordings.
Her mother is heard beseeching her daughter not to get entangled with politicians even as the woman claims the CD is fake.
Shivakumar has denied any links to the case and any direct links to the woman in the case.
What is the rivalry between Jarkiholi and Shivakumar?
The paths of the Jarkiholi family, who are dominant in politics in the Belagavi region of north Karnataka, and Shivakumar’s family, who are dominant in politics in the Bangalore Rural region in south Karnataka, would not normally cross since they belong to two completely different regions of the state. The two families have, however, practiced a similar brand of rough politics to gain dominance in their respective regions.
Members of the Jarkiholi family were accused over three decades ago of killing an excise inspector in Belagavi with guns over an alleged dispute over liquor contracts but were later acquitted. Shivakumar, a businessman-politician, who earned his stripes by supervising the growth of the real estate sector in Bengaluru as a young minister in the S M Krishna government, declared wealth to the tune of over Rs 840 crore in the 2018 polls. He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in 2019 for alleged money laundering and is facing a CBI corruption case.
Jarkiholi, who was in the Congress till 2019, was considered to be a good friend of Shivakumar till then. The duo are alleged to have had a bitter falling out over a relationship and an alleged attempt by Shivakumar to gain control of Belagavi politics with the help of local Congress leader Lakshmi Hebbalkar, who was earlier a close Jarkiholi associate.
Jarkiholi has been an influential leader and a self proclaimed “kingmaker” in the BJP. After being made KPCC chief in 2020, following his release from prison in an ED case, Shivakumar has been targeting the Congress CM’s seat in the next assembly polls.
What has the investigations by the police SIT found so far?
Given the political connotations in the case, the SIT has had limited maneuverability in investigations so far. Police sources, however, said the probe done so far — including the recovery of unedited recordings that went into the creation of the alleged sex CD — has indicated that the former minister Jarkiholi was honey trapped by a gang that targeted him.
Apart from the missing woman, the police are looking for two key suspects at the centre of the alleged conspiracy: Naresh Gowda, a former television journalist with expertise in sting operations, and Shravan Kumar, a former video editor with a channel who was the alleged handler of recordings made in the privacy of bedrooms by the gang.
A close male friend of the woman has provided a statement to the police about meetings of the alleged gang members before the alleged sex CD was released and their activities, but he was not completely aware of what the gang was up to, police sources said.
The SIT has found that an unaccounted amount of Rs 20 lakh in black money was deposited in the bank account of Shravan’s brother in recent weeks; that the former TV journalist Gowda recently attempted to buy a high end car with Rs 40 lakh in cash; while Rs 9.2 lakh in cash was found at the paying guest room of the missing woman in the alleged sex CD case.
Among the missing suspects in the case, Gowda is considered to be a close associate of Shivakumar. The KPCC chief attended a family function hosted by Gowda’s family on January 17 — as per photos found by the police on his social media account.
Shivakumar has admitted knowing Gowda, but claimed it was only a cursory association. In a video statement issued on March 18, after parents of the missing woman first alleged she had been abducted, Gowda admitted the woman had approached him to seek justice over sexual harassment by Jarkiholi. He claimed to have discussed the case with her on 15 to 20 occasions and claimed that the woman was also part of a family function he organised in January that was attended by many VIPs.
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What is the political fallout of the alleged sex CD controversy in Karnataka?
The alleged sex CD controversy has been damaging to the image of the BJP government in Karnataka, especially on account of six ministers in the government seeking a media gag order on broadcast of recordings of any of their personal relationships in the wake of the alleged sex CD. The six ministers and Jarkiholi defected to the BJP from the Congress and JDS (along with 10 others) in 2019 to help Yediyurappa form the state government by toppling the Congress-JDS coalition government.
The controversy has also been damaging to the image of Jarkiholi as a scheduled tribe leader capable of deciding who can be CM in the state. This has resulted in murmurs of the presence of other hidden hands in the controversy.
The failure of the government in registering a case of sexual assault against Jarkiholi as soon as the charges were made has been widely condemned and criticised by the opposition Congress party. A case was registered only after the Congress agitated in the legislature during the budget session.
The Congress has labelled the BJP government a “CD government”. In the Congress party, the emergence of allegations of the involvement of the state KPCC chief in the CD controversy has strengthened the hands of the former chief minister Siddaramaiah in assuming a more prominent leadership role. Congress MLAs have been rallying around Siddaramaiah in recent days even as Shivakumar appears isolated.
The controversy is expected to be a key component in the bypoll to the Belagavi Lok Sabha seat scheduled for April 17. The Jarkiholi family is considered to be key to pulling the votes of the sizable ST community in the region and the developments in the case are likely to have some bearing on the polls.
The Congress has fielded Ramesh Jarkiholi’s younger brother and former minister Satish Jarkiholi as its candidate for the poll while the BJP has fielded Mangala Angadi, the widow of former MP Suresh Angadi, as its candidate. The BJP is dependent on the support of Ramesh Jarkiholi and Balachandra Jarkiholi in ensuring the victory of its first time candidate in the polls.
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