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19 Yrs After Hosting Sushma vs Sonia, Sun Finally Setting on Janardhana Reddy's 'Republic of Bellary'

Mining baron Janardhana Reddy (right) with BJP candidate Lallesh Reddy during a road show in Bengaluru on April 24, 2018. (PTI)

Mining baron Janardhana Reddy (right) with BJP candidate Lallesh Reddy during a road show in Bengaluru on April 24, 2018. (PTI)

The BJP fortress of Bellary has fallen to the Congress and the once-powerful Gali Janardhana Reddy cuts a lonely figure; fortunes have clearly shifted in Karnataka’s mineral-rich district.

Bengaluru: Chartered planes, a wedding venue resembling a scene straight out of the Vijayanagara empire and a 50,000-strong guest list. The ostentatious wedding of disgraced mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy’s daughter, Brahmani, would have raised eyebrows at any time, but coming as it did after eight days of demonetisation, it was national news.

The November 16, 2016 ceremony is said to have cost anywhere between Rs 50 crore and Rs 500 crore, depending on whom you choose to believe.

The extravagant ceremony was not just a display of wealth, it was a signal that the former BJP minister, the second of the three Reddy brothers of Bellary, was back. Three years in jail on corruption charges had done little to diminish his clout or money power, or at least that was the intent.

The comeback, however, hasn’t gone to plan.

On November 7, a day after the ruling Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress combine ousted the BJP from its Bellary fortress 14 years on in a Lok Sabha bypoll, Janardhana was nowhere to be found. It was thought he had confined himself to his house following the shock defeat but realisation soon dawned that the 51-year-old was hiding from police, fearing arrest in a Rs 500-crore Ponzi scheme.

He was arrested on November 11 and got bail three days later. The case is the latest in a raft of cases he and his two brothers face.

Controversies and the Reddys — elder Gali Karunakara Reddy and the younger Somashekhara Reddy are BJP MLAs — are never too far apart. Ever since they emerged on Karnataka’s political scene in 1999, they have been in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons.

BJP, Olympics and ‘Republic of Bellary’

Children of a police constable, the Reddy brothers were born in Bellary. The brothers were little-known owners of a small business till Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj clashed in Bellary in the 1999 Lok Sabha election.

The brothers knew which way the wind was blowing and put their might behind Swaraj. Sonia won, but it was the BJP that came to power at the Centre. The Reddys soon had Swaraj and other senior BJP leaders on speed-dial.

Rich in iron ore, Bellary witnessed a mining boom as China prepared to host the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Led by Janardhana, the brothers leveraged their clout to run a mining mafia, terrorising the entire district and mining companies. The Republic of Bellary was up and running.

Their money and muscle power was for all to see when in 2006 they joined hands with first-time MLA and JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy to topple the Congress government in the southern state. Janardhana was made an MLC and his friend, B Sriramulu, a minister.

Bellary is a tribal-dominated district. The Reddys picked Sriramulu, a local, to woo the community but the power remained with them.

The 2008 assembly election was perhaps Janardhana’s finest moment. He was quick to get the support of five Independent MLAs, ensuring the BJP crossed the half-way mark. BS Yeddyurappa became the chief minister of the BJP’s first government in a southern state and Janardhana was his tourism and infrastructure minister.

Mining for trouble

The bonhomie, however, didn’t last. The brothers became a constant source of trouble for Yeddyurappa.

In July 2011, Lokayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde submitted a report on illegal mining in Bellary, pegging the loss of revenue between 2006 and 2010 at more than Rs 16,000 crore. The report indicted Yeddyurappa, Janardhana and also named around 800 officials.

The government collapsed. Janardhana, who allegedly made Rs 5,000 crore through illegal mining, faced several cases of corruption. He had to spend three years in Hyderabad and Bengaluru jails and lashed out at the BJP leadership when he was thrown out of the party.

After his release, Janardhana kept a low-profile, until his daughter’s wedding. He was soon back in the BJP. While both his brothers successfully contested this year’s assembly election, Bellary had slipped out of the hands of the BJP as well as the Reddy brothers. The Congress won five of the nine seats in the districts.

Janardhana allegedly tried to “buy” the Congress and JD(S) MLAs as Yeddyurappa scrambled to get the numbers in the House.

Audio recordings of his alleged conversations with the opposition MLAs were made public by the Congress and JD(S) to embarrass the BJP, whose government collapsed in 56 hours.

Janardhana waited for the storm to die down and emerged only after by-election for Bellary, a seat vacated by Sriramulu, was called.

Janardhana, barred him from entering the district by the Supreme Court, camped in neighbouring districts and directed the BJP’s campaign. But the local BJP leaders kept away, with some even saying he was not with the party. It deeply upset him.

His isolation was complete when he was arrested on November 11 for allegedly accepting gold worth Rs 18 crore from Syed Ahmed Fareed, an accused in the Rs 500-crore Ponzi scheme. He promised to get the Enforcement Directorate off Fareed’s back, police say.

The state BJP has distanced itself from Janardhana. The party feels he is of no use to it and has dumped him, say his aides.

There is even talk of him quitting the BJP. But Bellary, once a fief of the Reddys, has moved on. With the Congress finding its way back, the sun may finally be setting on the Reddy’s Republic of Bellary.