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Power Play

Bellary bro code


TOGETHER WE STAND: Sriramulu (second from left) with Janardhana Reddy (second from right)

BSriramulu doesn't quite have the same eyeball-grabbing persona of his mentors, the powerful mining barons of Bellary, the Reddy brothers. But his electoral victory as an independent after quitting the BJP has the potential to be a game changer in Karnataka politics. For it is through him that the Reddys are testing the waters for an identity independent of the BJP.

Sriramulu, a close confidante of jailed Gali Janardhana Reddy, won the by-poll from Bellary (rural). The election had been necessitated by him resigning from the BJP and also from the assembly a day before Reddy was picked up by the CBI and incarcerated at Hyderabad's Chanchalaguda prison on charges of illegal mining in Andhra Pradesh.

It wasn't just that Sriramulu won. It's the extent of his victory margin that has left political parties of all persuasion gobsmacked. In fact, the BJP got such a drubbing that its candidate lost his deposit while the Congress, which was hoping for political resurrection, came in a distant second. If the rivals were stunned, Sriramulu had no such doubts: the drummers to ratchet up the decibel levels at his victory procession had been flown in from Mumbai the day before the election results and all interview requests were met by his staff with, "after the victory parade, please. "

Sriramulu's thumping victory, establishes that the Reddys' clout continues undiminished in their home turf;that they had nurtured Bellary as their personal fiefdom and not as the BJP's. While the Congress in Andhra Pradesh is learning the hard way the problem in entrusting a whole state to a trusted lieutenant after YS Rajashekar Reddy's sudden death in a chopper mishap, the BJP is licking wounds inflicted by letting Reddys convert Bellary into their rajya.

The former cab driver-turned-miner's emphatic victory looks set to upset quite a few apple carts. For starters, the incumbent chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda's election to the legislature (he's currently an MP from Udupi) later this month isn't expected to be the cake-walk it was thought to be earlier. There's speculation that opposition might field a candidate against Sadananda Gowda with support from Sriralumu & co. This would require the BJP to pull out all stops to ensure that their chief minister gets the numbers or face President's rule or even mid-term elections.

Sriramulu - a big fan of Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi and a former health minister - at the moment seems reluctant to pull the carpet from under the BJP's feet. But he has been vocal about floating a new party once his extremely powerful mentor, Janardhana Reddy, is out of jail. There has been persistent talk of the Bellary Reddys joining hands with their friend from across the border, Jaganmohan Reddy (YSR's son) to float a separate party.

It's an option they have to consider for it's clear that with the legal noose tightening around them and the BJP visibly distancing itself from them, the mining barons' days inside the BJP tent are numbered. As the muscle the Reddy brothers wielded due to their money started attracting national attention and the stench of illegal mining got too strong, the BJP top brass' engagement with the three sons of a police constable, whose rags to riches story has been well chronicled, went from hot to lukewarm.
First indication of the rift was when their tayi ( mother in Kannada), Sushma Swaraj, very publicly dumped them. Swaraj, a permanent fixture at the Reddys' annual celebrations of Lakshmi festival (Varamahalakshmi habba) at Bellary, skipped the event this year. Yeddyurappa has also been trying to distance himself from the Reddys, chafing under the massive clout their money commanded.

A dramatic turn indeed in the fortunes of the mining barons who were instrumental in delivering Karnataka to the BJP. Pundits are unanimous about the political dynamics of the state turning turtle due to the riches Reddys were able to bring to the table for the BJP.

The saffron party was able to form its first government in the south mainly due to the Bellary mining trio. It's indeed true that Yeddyurappa built the party diligently over the years in Karnataka and rallied the powerful Lingayat community into a dependable vote bank for the BJP. But without the 30-odd MLAs that the Reddys delivered to the BJP from Hyderabad-Karantaka region, the party couldn't have come to power in the state. Even after it formed the government, the Reddys launched the now de-rigueur of state politics, 'Operation Lotus', to lure independents and opposition MLAs to their fold to shore up numbers, with dollops of cash.

But with the political cost of staying allied to the Reddys rising with increased focus on corruption and outrage at the plundering of public wealth by politically well connected miners, the BJP, while not in a position to dump the Reddys overnight, is visibly cooling off.

Reddys for their part are not sitting on the sidelines waiting for the axe to fall. Sriramulu's exit from the party and subsequent re-election as an independent seem to have been carefully crafted to test the waters. Now that they have tasted blood, it's intriguing to see what their next step will be.

Much depends on whether Janardhana Reddy will be able to get bail. If he's made to cool his heels in jail for a long time, if their legal woes mount and access to the money mountain remains cut off, then Sriramulu's win, emphatic though it may seem at the moment, might just turn out to a pyrrhic victory.

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