BENGALURU: The controversial diamond-studded Hublot watch has put ‘socialist’ Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah in a fix. Under pressure from an unrelenting Opposition and dousing the damage it has done to his image, the CM handed over the expensive watch to the government recently. However, the controversy is unlikely to end anytime soon.
The controversy couldn’t have come at a worse time for Siddaramaiah as the ruling party under his leadership has failed to perform creditably in successive elections, including the recent by-elections. Senior Congress leaders, including former union minister S M Krishna have publicly criticised Siddaramaiah’s ministry as ‘lightweight’.
According to Siddaramaiah, the watch was gifted to him by his Dubai-based NRI friend Dr Girishchandra Varma in July last year. What is intriguing is why he chose to wear it and not immediately hand it over to the state government? Any gift received by the CM is a government property. The CM, according to Opposition leaders, violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) by not disclosing the expensive gift he received from a person staying outside the country.
The issue led to furore in the ongoing legislature session. “Siddaramaiah needs to answer many questions, including why someone gave him such an expensive gift?” said Leader of Opposition Jagadish Shettar, who tried to move an adjournment motion in the House. BJP has decided to take the issue to people after its demand for debate in the House was rejected by the Speaker.
There were telltale signs of CM being under pressure. Earlier this week, he hosted a dinner for his party legislators to seek their support. According to party leaders who attended the dinner meet, Siddaramaiah tried to explain that he had not done anything wrong and JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy is targeting him for personal reasons. Ironically, nearly half of the Congress legislators stayed away from the dinner meet.
According to political analysts, what made the matter worse for the CM is the way whole issue was handled. After Kumaraswamy first accused the CM of wearing a watch worth `70 lakh, the Congress dismissed him as ‘hit-and-run case’ or the leader who makes baseless allegations. When they realised that the issue was getting out of hand, the party fielded some MLCs to make counter-allegations against Kumaraswamy by releasing pictures of expensive cars owned by the former CM’s son With a sense of discontentment growing within the party and Opposition linking the watch issue with that of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s “Suit-boot-ki Sarkar” remarks targeting the Prime Minister’s `10 lakh suit, the trouble is far from over for the chief minister.
Watch of Worry
JD (S) leader HD Kumaraswamy first released the photographs of the CM wearing a diamond-studded Hublot worth `70 lakh in early February. He even made an allegation that it may have been a stolen watch of a doctor from Mangaluru. The doctor, however, made a public statement that his watch was of a different make and it does not even resemble the one with the CM. The watch was gifted by Dr Girishchandra Varma, a Dubai-based NRI. In an interview with The Sunday Standard, Dr Varma said he had gifted the watch to his friend Siddaramaiah, whom he has known for the last 30 years. Varma maintains that he has no business interest or any property in Karnataka and it was only friendship and no other reason for presenting it.