Bengaluru: The body of the Karnataka Legislative Council’s deputy chairman, SL Dharmegowda, was found on railway tracks at Gunasagar village of Kadur Taluk in Chikmagalur district in the early hours of Tuesday, just two weeks days after he was manhandled during a special session of the council.
According to the initial probe by the police, 65-year-old Dharmegowda, who belonged to the Janata Dal (Secular), appeared to have died by suicide, and an alleged death note found near his body was being examined.
Dharmegowda was at the centre of a controversy in the state council, which convened on December 15 for a one-day session, during which the JD(S) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tried to dislodge chairman Prathapchandra Shetty of the Congress by bringing in a no-confidence motion. Dharmegowda was manhandled when he tried to preside over the proceedings; Shetty later stepped in to reject the motion citing procedural lapses.
Former state chief minister HD Kumaraswamy suggested that the incident was the reason behind the death, which he described as a “political murder”.
“He was more than a brother for me. He was very hurt by the way he was treated by some members during the recent council proceedings and felt humiliated. It is not suicide, but political murder,” Kumaraswamy alleged.
Siddaramaiah rejected Kumaraswamy’s contention while condoling the death. “Dharmegowda was a personal friend. His father Lakshmaiah, who was a legislator, was well known to me; the entire family was close to me. One has to look who forced him to sit (in the council chairman’s chair),” Siddaramaiah said.
Police officers familiar with the initial investigation said the circumstances and sequence of events leading to his death suggested that Dharmegowda ended his own life.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said that Dharmegowda asked his official gunman and escort to not accompany him as he left his home in Shakaryapatna in a Santro car with his driver on Monday evening. They drove to Gunasagar, around 19 km away, at around 6pm, and Dharmegowda later asked his driver, Dharmaraj, to wait at a distance because he had to meet someone. But he later changed his mind and asked the driver to go back.
The people cited above said his last call was to a friend named Hemant during the call, Dharmegowda made enquiries about train timings.
When Dharmegowda did not return home at night, worried family members alerted authorities, who mounted a search. By then, his cellphone was switched off, but based on his last cell-tower signals, they searched and located his mutilated body on the Mankenahalli railway tracks.
Police sent the body for an autopsy at McGann Hospital in Shivamogga, and Gowda was later buried at the family’s Madagadakere farmhouse in Shakaryapatna.
Chief minister BS Yediyurappa, leader of opposition in assembly Siddaramiah, state Congress president DK Shivakumar, and JD(S) leader and former PM Deve Gowda expressed shock and condoled the death of Dharmegowda.
Yediyurappa flew to Kadur to play his last respects. “The entire state is shocked by the demise. I pray to god to give his family strength to face this,” he said.
Former PM Deve Gowda broke down while talking about Dharmegowda. “It is shocking to learn the news of deputy speaker of state legislative council and JD(S) leader SL Dharmegowda’s suicide. He was a calm and decent man. This is a loss of the state.”
Dharmegowda came from an influential political family. His father SR Lakshmaiah was a three-time MLA from the Birur assembly constituency, and Dharmegowda too won that seat in 2004. His brother SL Bhojegowda is also an MLC.
Speaking to HT, Bhojegowda said: “There were no personal or financial reasons for him to take this extreme step. He was upset about what had happened [in the council]. I and other party leaders had told him not to take things to heart as these are common in politics, but he seems to have taken it very seriously.”