The tale has it that Molkalmuru in Chitradurga district of Karnataka owes its name to a battle between native Indians and the British. During the face-off, thanks to the rocky terrain of Chitradurga, the British suffered several broken knees and lost the battle. Thus came the name Molkalmuru, which means 'broken knees'.
Molkalmuru stays true to its name even in 2018. When B Sriramulu was announced as the BJP candidate in place of the sitting MLA N Thippeswamy, he had to face a barrage of stones and footwear hurled at him. Sriramulu, who is the Ballari MP, had his shirt torn by irate supporters of Thippeswamy and the police had to step in to ensure he got away.
Barring that incident, Sriramulu seems to be the man of the moment for the BJP. This 46-year-old leader of the Valmiki-Nayak community (7 percent of the population) is seen by the party as the magnet to attract much of the Scheduled Tribe vote. It also wants to use him to connect better with Dalits, a community seen to be annoyed with the BJP.
Being a Telugu speaker is another advantage for Sriramulu. He can connect with the large Telugu speaking population since a number of constituencies border Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Which is probably why it bit the Reddy brothers' bullet to keep Sriramulu in good humour.
Sriramulu has never made any effort to hide his loyalty towards tainted mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy. In fact, he quit the BJP in 2011 when Reddy was arrested by the CBI in the illegal iron ore mining case and floated the BSR Congress. His party ensured the BJP came a cropper in Ballari district in 2013. When the BJP realised it could not do without Sriramulu, he was wooed back and given the Ballari seat to contest during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Apart from the caste factor, what works for Sriramulu is his rags to riches story. His father was an Indian Railways employee and he has seven siblings. His accessibility gives people in Ballari a feeling that he is one of them. Today, with assets worth Rs 25 crore (down from Rs 43 crore he declared in 2013), he is one of the state's moneybag candidates. Though there are criminal cases against him, he is also spoken of as a Robin Hood-like character, as he engages in quite a bit of charity.
The rise and rise of Sriramulu in the BJP can be gauged from the fact that the party thought of no one other than him to take on Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in Badami's Bagalkot district. The fact that Sriramulu has also been fielded from two constituencies points to how much the party values him. While initially the party said Yeddyurappa would be the only MP to contest the Assembly election, an exception was subsequently made for Sriramulu.
But Sriramulu's ascent cannot be seen in isolation and points to two significant developments. It has coincided with Yeddyurappa's stock going down. The manner in which the party snubbed Yeddyurappa by denying his son BY Vijayendra the ticket from Varuna, despite knowing that he was campaigning in the constituency for the past three weeks, has upset many a BSY loyalist. The cadre has realised that Yeddyurappa, who could not get a ticket for his own son, is no longer the undisputed leader in the Karnataka BJP. The chatter that the BJP high command could do a PK Dhumal on BSY has only increased decibel level.
Simultaneously, Sriramulu is being spoken of by people within the party as the potential deputy chief minister if the BJP forms the government. Though there are other claimants to the post, Sriramulu is seen as the dark horse in the power game. More so since Badami is being spoken of as the biggest battle this election.
There is a fair bit of history involved here as well. S Nijalingappa, one of the tallest leaders from Karnataka and a former chief minister, was elected from Molkalmuru in 1957. Nijalingappa also won from Bagalkot constituency, which neighbours Badami, in 1962. The messaging of Sriramulu contesting from Nijalingappa territory is not lost on anyone.
Sriramulu's elevation in the BJP ecosystem also opens the door for Janardhana Reddy. The BJP is trying to be clinical about it, arguing that it has not given Reddy a ticket but only to his brothers and associates. It ignores how Janardhana Reddy has perched himself in a house on the Chitradurga-Ballari border since he is not allowed to step into Ballari by the Supreme Court, and is coordinating the campaign of his camp followers from there.
Not only was Reddy present on the dais at the public meeting that followed Sriramulu's nomination, he is campaigning along with Sriramulu in Molkalmuru. He was also present when his niece's husband Lallesh Reddy filed his nomination papers in Bengaluru. Lallesh admitted he got the ticket because Reddy recommended his name to BJP leadership.
Sriramulu first hit national headlines along with Reddy when they worked for Sushma Swaraj in her election against Sonia Gandhi from Ballari in 1999. A decade later, they helped the BJP form its first government in south India. In 2018, the BJP once again expects the Ballari duo to win Bengaluru for it.
Updated Date: Apr 26, 2018 17:32 PM