Meet Shamanur Shivashankarappa, India’s oldest MLA

The 92-year-old Congress leader represents Davangere

PTI04_19_2023_000218A Shamanur Shivashankarappa

DAVANGERE IN CENTRAL Karnataka is known for its lip-smacking “benne dose” (butter dosa) and, of course, Shamanur Shivashankarappa. The 92-year-old Congress leader became India’s oldest MLA on May 13, after being elected for the sixth time from Davangere South. He defeated BJP candidate and former mayor B.G. Ajay Kumar by a margin of 27,888 votes. Shivashankarappa will be entering the assembly along with his son S.S. Mallikarjun, a two-time MLA from Davangere North.

Other members of the club of oldest legislators include former Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who turns 100 this year. Achuthanandan retired from electoral politics in 2021 after suffering a stroke. Before him, there was Nripen Chakraborty, one of the founders of the communist movement in Tripura. Chakraborty, who was chief minister for 10 years, served as an MLA till he was 93.

Born on June 16, 1931, to Savithramma and Shamanur Kallappa, Shivashankarappa studied only up to the intermediate level, but he built a huge business empire comprising multiple industries and educational institutions. He serves as head of the Bapuji Educational Association and the Shamanur Group of Industries. An avid sports lover, he is honorary president of the Davangere Cricket and Sports Clubs and owns the Shamanur Davangere Diamonds cricket team.

A member of the Congress since 1969, Shivashankarappa first became an MLA in 1994. He is among the key fundraisers for the Congress and is one of the very few leaders in Karnataka who uses helicopters as a regular mode of travel.

Shivashankarappa’s informal style of politics endears him to voters. This time, he campaigned in the narrow lanes of his constituency on an electric buggy. His three daughters-in-law went on a door-to-door campaign to woo the women voters. “Appaji brought Covid vaccines worth Rs6 crore even before the government gave free vaccines. The SS hospital provides free dialysis, cataract operations and maternity services,” said one of his grand daughters-in-law.

These days, Shivashankarappa can hardly walk unassisted and his voice has become feeble, but he overcomes such challenges with his wit and humour. When a reporter asked him about being a chief ministerial aspirant, he quipped, “Who does not want to be chief minister? I am the head of a huge network of institutions and I know how to run the system. I can make Karnataka corruption free.”

In June 2021, when there were murmurs about the BJP replacing B.S. Yediyurappa as chief minister, Shivashankarappa, who is the president of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, came out in support of the fellow Lingayat. He said the government’s priority should be tackling Covid-19 and not replacing the chief minister.

When Lingayat leaders were unwilling to take a stand on the sexual abuse case involving the head of the Murugharajendra mutt, Shivashankarappa did not mince words. “We have reached a stage where women needed to be cautious while visiting the swamijis,” he told a meeting.

Ahead of the assembly elections, Shivashankarappa, along with other Lingayat leaders, met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, seeking at least 50 tickets for the community. The Congress gave tickets to 51 Lingayats, of whom 39 were victorious. After the impressive performance by the Lingayat candidates, Shivashankarappa approached Kharge and Sonia Gandhi, urging them to choose a Lingayat as chief minister. He said the community, which comprised 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population, supported the Congress this time and giving it the top post would augur well for the party in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.