Ballari (Karnataka): Having fallen on hard times following the humongous iron ore mining scam, the resourceful Reddy brothers of Ballari are back in the reckoning, with the BJP fielding two of them for the political potboiler of an Assembly poll slated next month.

The mining scam that rocked Karnataka not many years ago is no longer a reason for the BJP to jettison the influential Reddy brothers whom it has embraced once again. The party has fielded G Somashekhara Reddy in Ballari city, and his elder brother and former Ballari Lok Sabha member G Karunakara Reddy in Harappanahalli in Davanagere district.

Though the most resourceful of them–G Janardhana Reddy– has been barred from entering Ballari, in accordance with his bail conditions in the illegal mining case, he is camping near Molakalmuru in Chitradurga district overseeing the campaign of his siblings as also the BJP, which is making a determined effort to form its government in the key southern state for a second time.

The BJP has publicly distanced itself from Janardhana Reddy, with party chief Amit Shah recently saying it has nothing to do with him, but ground realities suggest otherwise. The Congress party and a section of the BJP see Shah’s statement as mere public posturing.

Janardhana Reddy, they say, has been given the task of galvanising the Reddy community votes for the saffron party in the region. The Reddy brothers, whose stock soared during the iron ore export boom, had played a key role in installing the BJP’s first government in the south in 2008.

At the height of their influence, the Reddy troika — two of whom were ministers and the third Somashekara Reddy the chairman of the Karnataka Milk Federation –were often accused of running the BJP government, before their clout waned.

So complete was the sway of their mining cartel’s stranglehold on the region’s politics that it had prompted the then Lokayukta Santosh Hegde to refer to the then Bellary (now Ballari) district as “the Republic of Bellary”.

But the proverbial long arm of law caught up with Janardhana Reddy and he was jailed in the illegal mining case. He came out on bail after being behind bars for about three-and-a-half years. The upcoming elections in Karnataka are a test of sorts for the Reddy brothers.

The Reddy brothers were in political wilderness during the 2013 polls, with the BJP steering clear of them. The BJP’s chief ministerial nominee B S Yeddyurappa and Reddy brothers’ close aide and Ballari strongman B Sriramulu had floated their own parties, hurting the saffron party’s prospects in the 2013 polls.

Much water has flowed under the bridge ever since. They returned to the BJP and Sriramulu became the Lok Sabha member from Ballari in 2014. Accompanied by Janardhana Reddy and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Sriramulu, the BJP’s poster boy in this region, filed his papers from Molakalmuru Assembly segment on Saturday.

Janardhana Reddy had also shared the dais with Yeddyurappa that day, leaving no one in doubt that the mining baron is no longer a political pariah for the BJP. T H Suresh Babu, a nephew of Sriramulu, is eyeing a hat-trick from Kampli in Ballari district.

Sriramulu’s uncle, Sanna Fakirappa has been fielded from Ballari Rural seat. The BJP is betting on the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu do deliver for the party in the region. Senior Congress leader in Ballari and MLC K C Kondaiah said, “In 2013, their (Reddy brothers’) influence was not there, and they were not in the picture. But the brothers and followers are fighting the elections this time.”

“Yeddyurappa and Sriramulu had their own parties in 2013 and BJP had a very meagre support then. Now all are consolidated. They are now fighting as a single BJP. We have to see,” he said. The BJP suffered a setback in the run up to the elections as two-time Vijayanagara MLA Anand Singh quit the party and joined the Congress, which fielded him for the seat.

He seems to be on a strong wicket there. Sitting Congress MLA from Ballari Rural N Y Gopalakrishna joined the BJP last week and the party has now fielded him from Kudligi constituency. The cut and thrust has made the battle for control of Ballari a prestige issue for both the Congress and BJP.

Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi had contested her first election from Ballari and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh in 1999 and retained the latter after winning both.

She had defeated BJP’s Sushma Swaraj in Ballari after a high-voltage campaign that revolved around the “Swadesi-Videshi” theme.

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