MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: If Karnataka Chief Minister, B.S. Yediyurappa, finds himself in the vortex of an ugly political row triggered off by the challenge to his leadership by his onetime confidants turned political rivals, the Reddy brothers, he has none to blame but himself.
Because it was he and his party, which discovered the Reddy brothers, nurtured them and used them as convenient tools for achieving their political objective/s. And, in the process, gave on a platter the political standing, name and respectability to the Reddys.
When the magic figure of 113 eluded the BJP in 2008 assembly elections, Yediyurappa and others in the party tacitly backed and blessed “Operation Kamala”, the code name for enlisting the support of independents and enticing Opposition legislators to get the needed majority.
This operation achieved two objectives. It helped the BJP to achieve its dream of forming the first saffron government south of the Vindhyas. And it helped Yediyurappa to realise his life’s ambition of becoming the chief minister of the State.
It is an open secret that the operation was entirely scripted, financed and executed by the Reddys.
For the favours received, the party obliged the Reddys in myriad ways. Yediyurappa went literally out of the way accommodate all sorts of demands of the Reddys.
1. The entire mining policy of the State government was shaped to suit the interests of the Reddys, who, as the new mining barons, had an enormous stake in mining and export of iron ore in the areas bordering Bellary and Anantapur districts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, respectively.
2. The Yediyurappa government chose to turn a blind eye to the allegation that the Reddys were involved in illegal mining activities in the border areas of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and that their mines in the adjacent Anantapur district, had encroached on the mining areas of Karnataka.
3. And the report submitted by the Lok Ayukta, N. Santosh Hegde, which at the express desire of the government had gone into illegal mining activities in Bellary, gave a graphic and well documented account of the same, was soft peddled deliberately.
The Reddys were recipients of endless political favours too from the BJP.
This was something akin to “you ask it, you shall have it” situation.
The Reddy group comprising the two brothers, Gali Karunakar Reddy and Gali Janardhan Reddy, and their partners in arm, B. Sriramulu, all from Bellary, were accommodated in the BJP cabinet, the highest representation given to any district in the BJP ministry.
The pathetic cperformanance of Sriramulu as the health minister when the State was hit by the swine flu menace, and the response of Karunakar Reddy when the State reeled under the impact of the unprecedented flood situation was lackadaisical, was ignored.
In addition, a third member of the Reddy clan, Gali Somasekhar Reddy, virtually forced a reluctant chief minister to concede the post of the chairmanship of the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF), which the latter had reserved for the state BJP president, D.V. Sadananda Gowda.
The government rode the hobby horse of Janaradhan Reddy, who desired to have a third airport of doubtful utility and viability in Bellary at a time when the two existing airports including a private one, did not have enough traffic. Ignoring the protests by the farmers, the government initiated the process of acquiring fertile, irrigated land.
It looked as if the Yediyurappa government was not averse to mortgaging the entire State if need be to suit the whims and fancies of the Reddys. As a result, the Reddys, who had become a law unto themselves, were allowed to turn their home-district of Bellary into a personal fiefdom, where no officer who crossed swords with them, was allowed to last.
In trying to appease the Reddys, Yediyurappa had no compunction in ruffling the feathers of quite a few of his partymen including the ministers, legislators and others.
Basking under the aura of media glory, Yediyurappa turned the BJP rule in Karnataka into a one-man rule and ushered in an administration where he alone mattered and his cabinet colleagues were reduced virtually to the status of nonentities if not rubber stamps.
Barring a coterie of junior ministers, who always hovered around him, the rest were completely ignored.
Perhaps where Yediyurappa and the national leaders of the BJP misread the designs of Reddys was in underestimating their burning political ambitions, which was on the rise and of which clear indications were available nearly a year ago, when the Reddys openly declared that they were eying for the coveted post of the Chief Minister.
Yediyurappa’s realisation that the Reddys had grown too big for their shoes perhaps came too late in the day.
Suddenly, it dawned on the incumbent chief minister that the Reddys no longer were no longer amenable to him and that they couldn’t be taken for granted, much less disciplined.
It was like riding a riger; suddenly the tiger wanted to unseat the rider.
From the manner in which the Reddys have been playing their cards, mobilising support within the party in the same manner in which they had organised “Operation Kamala”, the national leadership has now realised that the Reddys are a tough nut to crack and they are quite unrelenting on their demand that Yediyurappa must go.
This perhaps has been the experience of the Reddys’ known mentor in the national leadership, Sushma Swaraj, the deputy leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha.
All the known dissidents in the party who have been hurt by the authoritarian and arbitrary attitude of the CM, have moved over to the Reddy camp and it includes Jagadish Shettar, the speaker of the legislative assembly, who was miffed at not being included in the cabinet and assumed the post reluctantly.
The Reddys have been a political phenomenon and have made a decisive impact on the political scene in Karnataka in a manner in which no other family had in the more than five decade old history of the formation of the State.
Theirs has been a dangerous combination of insatiable political hunger coupled with money power of dimensions which cannot be easily comprehended.
Their main instrument for getting the political space and status has been the financial clout they have acquired almost overnight.
The emergence of the Reddys as a parallel centre for political power, has materialised within a short span of 10 years. They cut their political teeth for the first time in 1999, throwing their weight behind Sushma Swaraj, whom the party had nominated to contest from Bellary in a bid to checkmate Sonia Gandhi, who had decided to seek election from Bellary besides her original constituency, Amethi.
The BJP and Sushma Swaraj gave the Congress, which had hoped to chalk out an effortless win from a constituency which had been considered as their political bastion, a run for their money. The BJP and the Reddys lost by a whisker, but they had carved out the political space, where they had no presence all these years.
From then on it has been political joy ride for the Reddys.
They moved up the political ladder with each election. In 2004, Karunakar Reddy wrested the Bellary Lok Sabha seat from the Congress to rewrite political history.
Janardhan Reddy managed to enter the upper house of the legislature during this period.
During the BJP-JDS coalition in the second-half of the five year term of the assembly, Janardhan Reddy despite being a member of the coalition, hurled an open charge of corruption in mining against the then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and got away with it despite the furore it created.
The BJP made a show of keeping him in suspension,only to take him back quietly later on.
In 2009, the Reddy brothers made a clean sweep of all but one of the eight assembly seats to prove their political hegemony over the district and two of their cronies won the Lok Sabha seats from Bellary and Raichur.
It was the first time the Congress tasted defeat in Raichur.
While this is the story of their political ascendance, equally puzzling has been the way in which they acquired their enormous financial clout.
It is not very clear when exactly they acquired mining interests in the contiguous ore belt in neighbouring Anantapur. But this was the beginning of their march on to the path of affluence.
What fetched them the jackpot was the rising demand for iron ore from China, which helped skyrocket the price of iron ore. Every big and small iron ore lease holder started wallowing in money.
For the record, the Reddys have no mining areas in Karnataka and everything is in Andhra Pradesh.
This fact notwithstanding, they have established firm control over the mining operations in Bellary district. The Reddys, who had good equations with the late Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, had carved out another empire in the form of a steel mill in Cuddapah, YSR’s home district.
It is reported that Jagan Mohan Reddy, the son of YSR, also has an interest in the steel mill started by the Reddys of Bellary. Recently, Janardhan Reddy was in the news when he presented a crown worth Rs 40 crore to Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati.
Despite their reputation, the Reddys continue to be a political enigma.
They have never allowed anybody to come close to them and analyse or understand them. All of them have cultivated the art of talking in riddles to hide their inner feelings. They live in Bellary in mansions, which are well fortified and guarded.
Their life style, of being arbitrary, arrogant and/or intimidatory is something akin to the manner in which the Reddy zamindars as a class are portrayed in Telugu cinema.
The Reddys who have tasted political power, are not averse to look beyond the BJP if need be to achieve their political ends. This is the one inescapable inference one can draw from the manner in the Reddys have been dodging efforts of the national leadership to find an amicable solution to the current imbroglio.
The national leadership of the BJP is on the horns of dilemmas.
They can neither ditch Yediyurappa nor are they in a position to oblige the Reddys.
Whoever wins in this battle of nerves, the party is a loser in the long run.
At a time when the State in general and Northern Karnataka in particular are reeling under the impact of the floods, the spectacle of the BJP legislators ensconcing themselves in luxurious resorts has not endeared the party to the people.
Photograph: Sushma Swaraj blesses B. Sriramulu (left) and Gali Janardhan Reddy in Bellary in January (Karnataka Photo News)