On the evening of 15 November, Karnataka BJP president BS Yeddyurappa made an appearance at the wedding venue of Gali Janardhana Reddy's daughter. The marriage was scheduled for the next morning, the day Parliament was meeting for the Winter Session. Everyone thought Yeddyurappa merely wanted to show the courtesy of blessing the bride and the groom and tell Reddy that he would not attend the wedding as he would be in Delhi.
However, the following morning, Yeddyurappa landed up for the nuptials. That took everyone by surprise because public opinion in the times of long queues in front of banks and ATMs and a severe cash crunch post-demonetisation was against such a vulgar display of personal wealth. Reddy had converted the palace grounds in Bengaluru into a replica of the Vijayanagara empire kingdom and clearly no expense had been spared in the bargain. Estimates ranged from Rs 150 crore to Rs 500 crore.
What's on Yeddyurappa's mind? Does it mean that the BJP under his leadership in Karnataka is looking to once again repair its relationship with the expelled Reddy?
Given that another former chief minister Jagdish Shettar and Shobha Karandlaje also attended the wedding means there is a fair bit of political backing for Reddy from the state BJP leadership.
But is it so simple? Reddy, thanks to his illegal mining cases, should ideally be a persona non grata for the BJP. But in the complicated political theatre of Karnataka, what seems to be is not necessarily is.
One of the reasons Yeddyurappa attended the wedding and posed for shutterbugs is that he has known the Reddy brothers for over two decades and Brahmani (the bride) from the time she was born. More significantly, he cannot possibly forget the role played by them in helping his government in 2008 get a majority in the Karnataka Assembly. Operation Kamala had the 'blessings' of the Reddy brothers.
Even though Reddy had used the big fat wedding to make a political statement that he is back, the BJP may not be quite ready to embrace him yet. It is a catch-22 situation for the saffron party.
Signing up Reddy to be part of the BJP star cast in Karnataka would be giving an issue to the Congress on a platter and lose the moral high ground just about everywhere in India. That would be anathema to the BJP way of political posturing.
"The BJP on most issues always weaves in the moralistic argument. It has a self-righteous way of political positioning,'' says political analyst Sugata Raju. "Even in the demonetisation issue, that is the way it is argued.''
But making a clean break also comes with its share of challenges. Yeddyurappa knows the ground situation is that just the Lingayat vote and the anti-incumbency against Siddaramaiah may not prove enough to get past the half mark at 112. He is aware that even in 2008, when he was at the peak of his popularity, he fell short of the half way mark by a whisker and had to form the government with the support of Independents. He also knows that despite his acquittal, he has enough enemies within the Karnataka BJP who would be quite happy to see him fail. It is possibly this insecurity that is driving him to seek an insurance policy from Reddy.
Reddy's close associate Bellary MP B Sriramulu belongs to the Valmiki community, that has a presence in the central Karnataka region. Yeddyurappa's attempt has been to woo the OBC communities and he would like Sriramulu to be on his right side.
The arrangement then is likely to be with Sriramulu. While there will be officially no contact with Reddy, the closeness between Sriramulu and Reddy is a give away.
"It was Reddy who inaugurated the palatial home of Sriramulu in Bellary this month,'' says anti-corruption activist SR Hiremath. "As far as BJP is concerned, there is some degree of ambivalence. The party does not seem to see Reddy as a mining mafia don.''
But the BJP leadership in Delhi reportedly is not happy with Yeddyurappa's overtures to Reddy. It knows the wedding expenditure was milked by the Opposition to embarrass the BJP over the demonetisation issue. Yeddyurappa's presence at the wedding only strengthened the public perception that the BJP was not walking the talk. That while the poor suffered to get even Rs 2,000 in its hand from their bank accounts, the rich were not affected by it at all.
The presence of two senior Congress ministers — G Parameshwara and DK Shivakumar — at the event was a pointer that if the BJP acts like a touch-me-not with Reddy, he could do business with someone else. Every party has its share of mining barons and every leader knows the resources they bring to the election chest.
That adds to the BJP dilemma. Yeddyurappa in particular would remember how the Reddy brothers arm-twisted his government to grant many concessions in their favour. Even Yeddyurappa got sucked into the corruption tangle, landing him in jail and ouster as chief minister. He would be well advised to think before he confirms the friendship request once again from Reddy.
The Income Tax department has sent a questionnaire to Reddy, asking him to produce evidence of all expenditure. The idea is to get a sense of how he funded this extravaganza. Social activists suspect that the investigating agencies seized only the assets in India while his overseas accounts remained untouched. How they proceed against him in the next few months will give an idea to whether Reddy will be helped reconstruct the Republic of Bellary once again.