Bangalore : Locked in a supremacy battle in Karnataka’s iron ore-rich Bellary district, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the rich and influential Reddy brothers, the mining barons who were the party’s financial sinews in the state not too long ago, are playing a blame game on who is responsible for the area remaining economically backward and its people grindingly poor.
While trying to outwit each other in the Nov 30 bypoll to Bellary Rural assembly seat, where the Reddys have propped up their associate B. Sriramulu as an Independent candidate, the two camps seem to be keeping options open for a patch-up, according to political observers.
The most vocal of the brothers, Gali Janaradhana Reddy, is directing his camp’s battle from Hyderabad’s Chanchalaguda jail where he has been since Sep 5 in connection with grave charges of illegal mining in Andhra Pradesh.
His elder brother Gali Karunakara has not been seen in public since he appeared before Central Bureau of Investigation in Hyderabad for interrogation a few days after his brother’s arrest. But the younger Reddy, Gali Somashekara, has been actively campaigning for Sriramulu, despite warnings from the state BJP leadership to desist from doing so.
Only Friday, five days ahead of voting, the BJP issued notice to Somashekara and three other state party law-makers campaigning for Sriramulu to explain why action should not be taken against them for going against party diktat.
All the four remain defiant, knowing fully well that if the party expels them, they will still be law makers.
The bypoll follows Sriramulu’s resignation from the seat in September as he was not taken in the D.V. Sadananda Gowda cabinet that succeeded B.S. Yeddyurappa ministry in Aug 4.
Yeddyurappa ministry went out July 31 after the then Lokayuka (ombudsman)N. Santosh Hegde recommended his trial for corruption in the multi-billion illegal mining scandal whose ramifications shook the nation.
Hegde had indicted Janardhana, Karunakara and Sriramulu, who were ministers in the Yeddyurappa government and recommended that they should be dropped from the cabinet.
BJP is swallowing embarrassment to tell Bellary Rural voters as well as the people of the state that Reddy brothers were interested only in raking in billions of rupees from iron ore mining in the district and not in development of the area.
The state leadership is acknowledging that Bellary has been “in the grip of fear” unleashed by the Reddys and their associates all these years and is appealing to the voters to help it end the reign of terror.
BJP, to prove that the party and not the individual, is supreme has fielded a Bellary businessman P. Gadilingappa as its nominee to take on Sriramulu. Gadilingappa is contesting for the assembly for the first time.
“There is an atmosphere of fear in the area. We will end it when you elect our party candidate Gadilingappa,” Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda assures the voters.
“We can bring down this government by asking all state law-makers supporting me to resign. But we will not do it,” Sriramulu says.
BJP is confident that even if all party law-makers supporting Sriramulu quit the party and their assembly seats, the Gowda government will not fall. Sriramulu camp claims the support of around 14 assembly members form Bellary and neighbouring district. However only four or five of them are now actively campaigning for Sriramulu, apparently keeping option open to choose their camp when results are out Dec 4.
The BJP, along with the lawmakers supporting Sriramulu, has 119 members, including the speaker, in the 225-member assembly that has one nominated member. It also has the support of one independent member.
Irrespective of who wins in this unwanted bypoll, the BJP and the Reddy brothers, who are believed to have been bankrolling the party from the money they minted from mining, have begun to speak the truth, at least about Bellary.
Small consolation for the people of district – about 300 km north of Bangalore – who have seen Reddy brothers meteoric rise, politically in ten years and financially in a just five years. “Bellary is one of the most backward districts of the State,” says the government profile of the district.
In terms of Karnataka Human Development Index of 1999, the year when the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu, struggling businessmen riding a cycle or a scooter, joined BJP, it is at 17th place among the 20 districts which the state had at that time.
The official profile of the district has not changed even today while the 2005 human development index ranks Bellary 18th among the 27 districts then. The state now has 30 districts and the next human development index seems certain to push down Bellary’s standing further.
BJP is reduced to battling the Reddys to survive in power in the only state it is ruling in southern India and to prove to itself and people of Karnataka that it is a force in Bellary. Perhaps this is the price BJP has to pay for doing little to check Reddys from turning the backward district into their fiefdom, derisively described as ‘Republic of Bellary’ by Hegde in his July report on the illegal mining scandal in the state.