RETURN OF THE BALLARI BROTHERS
Scams be damned, BJP falls back on the mining barons to win back state
CAST ASIDE by the BJP five years ago after their names surfaced in India’s biggest mining scam, the Reddy brothers of Ballari are back in the thick of things in Karnataka. They seem to be calling the shots for the saffron party in the assembly polls, even fielding confidant B. Sriramulu against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in the Badami seat in Bagalkot district after the party failed to find a challenger.
It’s clearly been difficult for the BJP to part company with the powerful mining magnates who bankrolled the party’s first victory in Karnataka
in 2008. Besides nominating brothers G. Karunakara Reddy and G. Somashekhara Reddy, the party has given the Reddy clan five more assembly tickets in their iron ore-rich bastions of Ballari and Chitradurga. The saffron leadership, however, insists it has no ties with G. Janardhana Reddy, the middle sibling who spent three years (2011-2015) in jail on charges of illegal mining.
Be that as it may, he’s out there campaigning and even sharing the stage with BJP candidates. National leaders including BJP chief Amit Shah keep their distance but former CM B.S. Yeddyurappa, who has had a rocky relationship with the Reddys, is more forthright. “I have forgiven him (Janardhana Reddy) and many others who have troubled me in the past. His support will be helpful to us,” the BJP’s CM candidate said in Bengaluru on April 26. Indeed, he shared the dais with Reddy at an April 21 poll rally in Chitradurga district.
Chuffed with the reception he is getting from the BJP, Janardhana asks, “Who says that I quit? I have always been with the party. It’s the Congress who tried to discredit me.” Janardhana, who is out on bail, is barred from entering his home district of Ballari. So he’s camping in neighbouring Chitradurga where Sriramulu is contesting Molakalmuru (in addition to Badami).
Janardhana Reddy’s active involvement seems to have upset the BJP national leadership, especially his appearance on the campaign trail even after Shah denied any links with the man. Insiders say this is what prompted an embarrassed Shah to cancel his election meetings in Ballari district.
But obviously, the BJP’s bid to distance itself from Janardhana is only a public posture. “The party is
desperate to win. This is evident in how they are gathering all forces, including the Reddys. But they probably didn’t anticipate Janardhana Reddy’s active involvement,” says political analyst A. Veerappa in Bengaluru. He also questions the BJP’s vehement denial of any association with the Reddy brothers: “Why then did the party give the clan seven tickets?” he asks.
Somashekhara Reddy, accused of trying to secure bail for Janardhana with bribes in 2012, is a candidate from Ballari City this time. Elder brother Karunakara Reddy, who was defeated in 2013, is contesting again from Harapanahalli. And a nephew of the Reddys, Lallesh Reddy, is the BJP candidate in Bengaluru’s BTM Layout. Sriramulu and three other Reddy aides are the other BJP nominees.
It’s all convenient fodder for the Congress, which is looking for a second successive innings in Karnataka. “PM Modi talks about fighting corruption. So why did the BJP issue tickets to the Reddys? They (the BJP) owe an explanation to the people,” Congress president Rahul Gandhi demanded while campaigning in Bhatkal on April 26.
Janardhana Reddy is, in fact, becoming more than just an embarrassment for the BJP. His tirade against Siddaramaiah, describing the CM as a “Ravana”, led to complaints to the Election Commission. On April 29, he was briefly banished from Chitradurga, ahead of PM Modi’s scheduled election rallies in the state.
Karnataka BJP leaders, however, say that with Yeddyurappa avidly backing him, Janardhana Reddy is unlikely to stay away from the campaign too long. “Everyone knows what the Reddy brothers bring to the table,” says a former BJP minister and friend of Yeddyurappa.
SEVEN MEMBERS OF THE REDDY CLAN ARE FIGHTING THE ASSEMBLY POLLS ON BJP TICKETS
BACK IN BUSINESS (From left) Sriramulu with Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Chouhan, Yeddyurappa and Janardhana Reddy at a BJP roadshow in Chitradurga