Karnataka 2014: Why BJP embraced Bellary-tainted Sriramulu
For anyone familiar with the game of one-upmanship in power politics in the country, Sriramulu's re-induction is clearly seen as the BJP’s desperate attempt to win back the Bellary seat.
By A Ram Babu
When choosing candidates for elections nothing else matters except high chances of their winning in their respective constituencies. It was the prospect of victory that prompted the BJP in Karnataka to welcome B Sriramulu back into the party with open arms.
Despite serious reservations expressed by senior leaders including Sushma Swaraj the party fielded him from Bellary Lok Sabha constituency.
Only a few central BJP leaders have opposed his re-entry into the party, citing his dubious role as the controversial confidante of G Janardhana Reddy (now-jailed) and his brothers (popularly referred to as Reddy brothers) in the Bellary mining scam.
For anyone familiar with the game of one-upmanship in power politics in the country, his re-induction is clearly seen as the BJP’s desperate attempt to win back the Bellary seat that is now considered prestigious, especially after the Reddy brothers have lost their hold in what was once their private fiefdom.
Sriramulu commands sizeable vote banks, mostly in the northern Karnataka, which is dominated by voters from backward classes and Valmiki Nayaka community to which he belongs. This community of Scheduled Tribes is said to represent seven percent of the State's population.
The outcome of the last year’s Assembly elections, held after the BJP breakaway groups (KJP and BSR Congress Party) contested separately, pointed to the substantial decline in its vote share and seats when compared with the previous Assembly elections held in 2008. The last year’s election statistics indicated that the gap between the Congress vote share and the combined vote shares of the BJP and its two breakaway groups was very narrow.
Fielding ethically challenged candidates with shady or tainted track record is very much the done-thing in electoral politics and no party is an exception to the rule. The Karnataka BJP leaders are openly admitting that they are more than happy with the merger of Sriramulu’s BSR Congress Party with the BJP.
The BJP top leadership knows only too well that Sriramulu is near-invincible in the constituency, for he holds sway not only over Bellary district but also over the adjoining districts of Koppal, Raichur, Gadag and Chitradurga. Currently his younger sister J Shantha, a greenhorn in politics, is representing the BJP from Bellary Lok Sabha constituency reserved for Scheduled Tribes.
In 2009, she defeated her nearest Congress rival NY Hanumanthappa (former Chief Justice of Odisha High Court) by a slender margin of a little over 2000 votes.
Yet again, the Congress is fielding Justice Hanumanthappa for the Bellary Lok Sabha seat.
Although Sriramulu has a few opponents who conveniently forget the fact that the party could make inroads in the South by benefiting from the Operation Kamala (strategy to engineer defections) sponsored by the Reddy brothers, most of the seniors are unmistakably guided by the realpolitik.
As the party in Karnataka had resorted to horse-trading using the “ill-gotten” resources of the Reddy brothers, it can ill-afford to talk of cleansing the political establishment from the influence of tainted politicians.
So far, Sriramulu has won four consecutive times in the Bellary Assembly constituency: in 2004 and 2008 he won as BJP candidate, in 2011 in the by-elections as an independent, and in May 2013 as a candidate of the BSR Congress (the party he had launched.) Three other candidates of his party (BSR Congress) also won seats in the last year’s Assembly election.
Interestingly, the by-election in 2011 was caused by Sriramulu’s resignation in protest against his name figuring in the then Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde’s report on Bellary mining scam that indicted former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and Reddy brothers.
When he retained his seat as an independent, he had proclaimed himself a winner in the “people’s court” saying the by-election result vindicated him completely. It was his way of conveying to his detractors that he was being politically maligned.
At the time of his re-induction in the BJP, he said he would like to put all his differences and setbacks behind him and work for the success of Narendra Modi as the country’s prime minister. He said his decision to launch his own party was only to assert himself and regain his self-esteem that had been undermined, thanks to his being cold-shouldered by the BJP.
However, in justification of its decision to take him back in the party, the BJP in the state explained away its rationale by stating that so far there has been no sustainable and serious charge against Sriramulu in the mining scam.
Interestingly, the preliminary report of the Association of Democratic Reforms published on its website says that both the Congress and the BJP have fielded candidates (for the forthcoming elections) with criminal cases pending against them, some very serious. While the Congress has fielded 26 percent candidates with pending criminal cases, the BJP fielded 37 percent.
But it is ironical that Sushma Swaraj should have opposed Sriramulu’s candidature since she, as his god mother, was largely responsible for his rise in politics and her party in Karnataka until 2011 when he quit the BJP and launched his own party.
If her tweet against him was so categorical, observers see there must be something more than what meets the eye. Now that he is still under the scanner because of his close links with the mining scam-tainted Reddy brothers, she is keen to wipe out her past (as his mentor) in public memory. As the widely publicised news pictures of her motherly blessings testify, the pompous patronage she extended to him and Janardhana Reddy was too glaring to be missed.
Bellary shot into national limelight in 1999 general elections when the prestigious battle was fought between Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj.
Since then Sriramulu has transformed himself into a sort of archetypal Robin Hood. Even today he manages to ride the populist wave through a series of schemes aimed at dispensing largesse to the poor and needy.
Every year he sponsors free mass marriage programs to help hundreds of couples get married without spending anything. The mass marriages are organised every year to coincide with the popular Varamahalakshmi festival sometime in the month of August.
Until Sushma Swaraj snapped her ties with Sriramulu in 2011, she had attending the marriage programs every year since 1999 when she first visited Bellary to contest the Lok Sabha seat..
He manages to cultivate personal loyalty among the masses and endears himself to people from all underprivileged sections particularly those from backward classes, Dalits and minorities.
Paradoxically, he symbolises awe and respect among people in Bellary, hotbed of frauds and scams of mindboggling proportions.
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