Karnataka by-polls: Congress wrests citadel Bellary back from BJP
The BJP’s presence in the region had largely diminished because the mine lords, the Reddy brothers, had become politically insignificant.
By Aravind S Kamal
Bangalore: Soon after Narendra Modi became prime minister, BJP leaders were given strict orders that they should not promote their kith and kin in either the government or party ranks. However, that order was relaxed in the case of MP and former minister B Sriramulu, the sole torch-bearer of the party in the iron ore-rich Bellary district of Karnataka, once considered the Congress citadel.
Despite strong objections from local BJP leaders, the party’s central leadership fielded Sriramulu’s assistant Oblesh for the by-poll from Bellary Rural. Today, as Oblesh lost the by-election by a huge margin of 33,104 votes and paved the way for the Congress to consolidate its position in the region, the BJP leaders were left wondering where they went wrong.
There could be several reasons for the BJP's poor performance in the by-polls to three assembly constituencies in Karnataka. It lost the crucial Bellary Rural segment and managed to retain Shikaripura where former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa’s son BY Raghavendra had to fight hard to emerge victorious by a low margin of 6,430 votes. In Hukkeri-Sadalga too, the BJP was routed by the Congress.
For the local BJP, the ‘Modi wave’ did not work this time. For that matter, the state BJP leaders hardly harped on the ‘Modi wave’ for the by-polls. It is not clear whether they deliberately did not showcase Modi simply because it was assembly election. The campaigning by the party was localized with even the participation of the Union ministers from Karnataka appearing subdued.
A lot has changed in Karnataka’s political landscape ever since the BJP assumed power at the Centre. During the assembly elections last year, the Congress won from four of the nine assembly constituencies in Bellary district and re-established its hold on the region. Sriramulu’s political outfit and his aides won from three segments and the Janata Dal (Secular) from one segment. The BJP won from just one assembly constituency.
The BJP’s presence in the region had largely diminished because the mine lords, the Reddy brothers, had become politically insignificant. While G Janardhana Reddy was languishing behind the bars (he still is) because of his role in the mining scam, the eldest of the siblings G Karunakara Reddy lost the election while the youngest G Somashekara Reddy chose to stay away from electoral politics. Their biggest disadvantage was B Sriramulu, their closest aide, who was heading a newly-carved political outfit. With the Reddy brothers having lost their money power and muscle power, the BJP’s performance in Bellary region was abysmal.
The BJP was desperate to regain its hold over Bellary. During the parliamentary polls, Sriramulu was quickly drafted into the BJP and he even managed to win from Bellary, riding the 'Modi wave'. Not many know that his regional outfit BSR Congress is yet to be officially dissolved and merged into the BJP! With none of the Reddy brothers showing interest in returning to politics full-time, Sriramulu became the sole and powerful representative of the party in Bellary region.
When he proposed the name of his assistant as the candidate for the Bellary Rural by-poll, the BJP central leadership could not reject it because they saw a party savior in Sriramulu for the region. Unfortunately, this did not go down well with either the local party leaders or the Reddys.
Were the Reddys unhappy with the BJP giving Sriramulu prominence over them? After all, they were critical to the formation of the first ever BJP government in the south in Karnataka. Their anger was more or less evident when Somashekara Reddy hosted Karnataka’s senior Congress leader and Energy Minister DK Shivakumar for dinner in Bellary. His visit was not only shocking for the BJP leaders in the state but also for those at the national level. The meeting indirectly conveyed several outcomes to the BJP.
The Reddys showed minimum presence in the by-poll campaign. The rumour mills had it that the Reddys may be asking the Congress for a bailout, as they were unhappy with the BJP. Amid all these speculations, the state BJP leaders literally went to war with the Congress declaring Shivakumar as someone, who specializes in splitting families. At one point of time it appeared as if it was Sriramulu vs Congress and the BJP vs Congress in Bellary.
That the party would lose so heavily that too under Sriramulu’s leadership was not foreseen. Now, will the BJP repose faith in Reddy brothers or forgive Sriramulu and permit him to carry forward the party’s flag in the region needs to be observed. The by-election, though, has established the people of the state want to go with the Congress irrespective of Siddaramaiah’s performance.
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