On 31 March, Amit Shah was categorical about how the BJP had nothing to do with Gali Janardhana Reddy, the disgraced mining baron from Ballari. Either Shah was economical with the truth or he does not know what is happening in his party. That is because on Saturday, Reddy was the cynosure of all eyes when his close associate B Sriramulu filed his nomination papers as the BJP candidate from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga district.
Reddy was among the five people allowed inside the returning officer's office when Sriramulu submitted his papers and was also given a place on the dais in the company of BJP's chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Visuals of Reddy falling at Yeddyurappa and Chauhan's feet have gone viral, with BSY displaying affection for him by patting his back.
Reddy may be barred by the court from entering his home district of Ballari but his homecoming in the BJP seems more or less complete.
Both his brothers, Somasekhara Reddy and Karunakara Reddy have been given BJP tickets to fight this election from Ballari district. Though Janardhana Reddy and Karunakara Reddy are no longer on good terms, the fact that the BJP has fallen back on the Reddy brothers to wrest Ballari from the Congress is proof that the party does not treat them as political pariahs.
The process of rehabilitation of the Reddys began in November 2016 when Yeddyurappa and another former Karnataka chief minister Jagdish Shettar attended Janardhana Reddy's daughter's wedding. It was the big fat wedding, estimated to have cost Rs 500 crore. The Vijayanagara empire was recreated at Bengaluru's Palace grounds.
With chariots, foreign dancers, helipads, 1,500 hotel rooms, 2,000 cabs, 3,000 bouncers, the wedding hosted some 50,000 VIP guests. The timing of the marriage made it more of an eyesore as it came within days of demonetisation, when most of India was queuing up in front of ATMs to withdraw cash.
The BJP, which then boasted about its financial surgical strike, found nothing wrong in embracing Reddy. Not surprising, given that the youngest of the Reddy brothers had reportedly bankrolled the party's 2008 election campaign, besides helping the BJP government get additional MLAs when Yeddyurappa fell short of a majority. His track record in Ballari, where he is accused by the CBI of making mountains vanish while carrying out illegalities in mining, makes him a much feared person in the district.
In 2016, you could have given Yeddyurappa and the BJP the benefit of doubt that they were observing social niceties by attending a former colleague's daughter's wedding. But there are no such compulsions in 2018. It is obvious that a deal has been worked out with Reddy.
In fact, when Shah denied any relationship with Reddy, Janardhana and Sriramulu were very upset. Sriramulu, in fact, refuted Shah by saying that Reddy was a staunch supporter of the BJP and is with the party.
But the snub to Reddy, it would seem, was only for public consumption. Because the BJP cannot afford to ignore Sriramulu's caste clout. Though Reddy is often spoken of as the face of Ballari, he drew much of his political influence through Sriramulu, who is a member of the Valmiki-Nayaka community. Being a Scheduled Tribe, Sriramulu can make inroads into the Dalit vote bank in districts surrounding Ballari - Chitradurga, Gadag, Koppal and Raichur. That was also the logic behind making him contest from Molakalmuru, instead of from a seat in Ballari district.
What is the message that goes out with the optics of Yeddyurappa sharing the stage with Janardhana Reddy?
One, the BJP has no choice but to put up with Reddy because it fears Sriramulu could otherwise stage a revolt. The party has seen him do so in 2011 when he floated the BSR Congress. After winning three seats in the district in the 2013 Assembly polls, he returned to the BJP a year later to win the Ballari Lok Sabha seat.
Two, it exposes the BJP's lack of political strength in this part of Karnataka. That it is willing to go to any length to accommodate the entire Reddy parivar is a pointer to its hypocrisy and ideological bankruptcy.
Three, for the voter, it gives a sense of deja vu. In 2011, Karnataka's Lokayukta Santosh Hegde's report on illegal mining indicted the then chief minister Yeddyurappa and two Reddy brothers - Janardhana and Karunakara, besides Sriramulu. That report played a part in Janardhana Reddy going to jail and his mining empire going bust. From the electorate's point of view, the same familiar tainted faces are back together on the same stage.
During the time when Janardhana Reddy 'ruled' Ballari, his men were law. The apprehension now is that with the BJP backing the Reddy family to the hilt, it could be back to the days of the Rowdy raj. 12 May will decide if the voters in this part of Karnataka want the return of the 'Republic of Ballari'.
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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2018 12:19:28 IST