Reddy brothers hold key to BJP's Karnataka tangle

Reddy brothers hold key to BJP's Karnataka tangle

They have mounted a campaign to remove Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa. The brothers -- Janardhana is tourism minister, elder Karunakara holds the revenue portfolio and the third sibling Somashekara is a legislator -- were entrepreneurs in Bellary district, about 400 km from here, in 1999 when Gandhi decided to test her electoral fortunes for the first time by contesting the Lok Sabha poll from Bellary as well as her family stronghold of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. Since both the Congress and Gandhi were unsure of victory in Amethi, they chose Bellary as the second bet as it was the party's bastion and the BJP had marginal presence in the iron-ore rich, arid and backward constituency.

The BJP, which was determined to block Gandhi's entry to parliament because of her foreign origins, fielded its fiery orator Sushma Swaraj as its state unit lacked a strong leader to take on the Congress president. The Reddy brothers joined the BJP almost at the same time as the non-banking finance company Janardhana Reddy was running was not doing well. He had gained some popularity in Bellary as he was running a residential school for spastic children since 1989. They vigorously campaigned for Swaraj. She lost, but the doors of fortune had opened for the Reddys as they came to know a central leader -- a gain that would not have come their way if they had thrown in their lot with the Congress and Gandhi.

To their luck, Gandhi quit the Bellary seat, preferring to retain Amethi from where too she had won. The Bellary voters felt let down, making the Reddys' task of winning them over to their side and that of the BJP easier. Swaraj helped them in no small measure. She kept her promise of not abandoning Bellary once the poll battle was over. Till two years back, she visited Bellary annually to perform 'Varamahalakshmi Vrata', worship of the Hindu goddess of wealth Lakshmi, a major festival in Karnataka. That provided a sort of made-to-order platform for the Reddys to organise the function on a grand scale. In between they also hosted mass marriages, in one of which Swaraj participated.

Their finances started soaring in 2002 when Janardhana Reddy turned to iron ore mining, not in Bellary but in Obulapuram in adjoining Andhra Pradesh. With China devouring steel as it built stadiums, infrastructure and other facilities for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the global economy in a boom phase, iron ore prices skyrocketed. So did the riches of the Reddy brothers. They switched over from cycle/scooter to luxury cars and choppers. Their standing in the BJP grew in equal proportion. Janardhana Reddy became president of the party's Bellary district unit in 2002. The same year the BJP captured the Bellary city municipal council, beginning the end of the Congress' sway in the district.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha poll, Karunakara Reddy bagged the Bellary seat, which the Congress had held uninterrupted since 1952. Five years later, in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP retained the seat, which had become a reserved constituency for the Scheduled Tribes. J Shantha, sister of Reddy brothers' loyalist and health minister B Sriramulu, won the seat contesting an election for the first time. She defeated the Congress candidate in a straight contest. It was the acrimonious May 2008 assembly election that established the Reddy brothers' hold on the BJP. The party won 110 seats of the 224 elected seats, three short of majority in the 225-member assembly.

Yeddyurappa was keen on the BJP achieving majority on its own. The Reddy brothers were there to help him, and did their bit in wooing Congress and JD-S legislators to the party fold. Over half a dozen of them joined the BJP, and they won on the party ticket in by-polls to give the party 117 seats. The BJP's dream of being in power in a south Indian state on its own came true. As reward, the Reddys were expecting to be given a dominant role in both party and administration matters. When that did not come their way, it was only a matter of time for them to turn against Yeddyurappa.

Three months back the bickering reached a flash point and senior leader Arun Jaitley rushed to broker peace. This time he failed as the Reddys wanted to show the door to Yeddyurappa. After three days of hectic parleys with Yeddyurappa and his supporters and the Reddys and their backers, Jaitley returned to Delhi on Friday, telling the warring factions to come to the national capital for another attempt at peace. The Reddys may settle for something less than Yeddyurappa's removal. The Reddys, hailing from Andhra Pradesh, were friends of late Congress chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. His son Jaganmohan Reddy, who is aspiring to succeed his father who was killed in a chopper crash, is a business partner of the Reddys.