What has silenced the rebellious Reddy brothers?
Battling challenges and threats of being toppled, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, heading the first-ever Bharatiya Janata Party government in the south, has been in office for three years. He is rightly termed as a master survivor in the media circles and one of the toughest challenges he faced was that from the mighty Reddy brothers of Bellary.
Today, G Janardhan Reddy, G Karunakara Reddy and G Somashekara Reddy find themselves on the back foot and it is nothing but a blessing in disguise for the Karnataka CM. But the big question is -- what strings did the BJP pull to quieten the rebellious Reddy brothers?
The rise of the Reddy brothers was a phenomenal one. Born in a humble family -- their father Chenga Reddy was a police constable -- the three brothers were brought up in Bellary, a city located around 400 km from Bengaluru. The Reddys took full advantage of the iron ore deposits in Bellary and in just a few years became mining lords.
They stepped into political circles during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections when they worked for senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, considered to be their godmother.
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Image: Karunakara Reddy and Janardhana Reddy
Yeddy's battle against the Reddys
Soon after, the Reddy brothers started causing a problem for Yeddyurappa. They hurled corruption charges against Kumaraswamy and his family and the JD-S, which was an ally of the BJP, refused to transfer power to Yeddyurappa, who was forced to face elections in February 2008.
The BJP won the elections, but they fell short of majority by five MLAs. It was the Reddy brothers who managed to rope in five Independents and ensure that the BJP government came to power. In return, Janardhan Reddy was appointed as the minister for tourism while his brother Karunakar the revenue minister, positions they still enjoy. Also, B Sriramulu, a close aide of the Reddys is serving as the health and family welfare minister.
The brothers earned clout thanks to their money power and this started giving the BJP sleepless nights. They started influencing the other ministers and when Yeddyurappa tried to tighten the screws they revolted.
Backed by Sushma Swaraj, the Reddys pulled out 50 MLAs and took them to a resort in October 2010. They said they would budge only if their demands were met, which included appointing the principal secretary as the chief minister, the ouster of legislator Shobha Karandlage and also bringing back officials in Bellary who Yeddyurappa had transferred stating that they aided illegal mining.
The Karnataka CM in a bid to save his own chair gave into all those demands.
Image: Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa
All guns trained on illegal mining in Bellary
However, it is unclear why the attitude of the Reddy brothers has changed drastically. The BJP government in Karnataka did tighten the noose by implementing a ban on the export of iron ore. However, this did not affect the Reddys much, as most of their mining interests are in Andhra Pradesh. What Yeddyurappa did manage was to create a split in the BJP high command in New Delhi. The high command as far as Karnataka is concerned was split with one faction supporting the Reddys and the other backing Yeddyurappa.
Moreover, the BJP no longer relies on the Reddys to rope in MLAs to tide over crisis. The Karnataka CM in June passed the fourth floor test and won the vote of confidence in the state assembly on June 2 indicating that the government can handle a sticky situation on its own.
While these small factors have worked against the Reddys, their biggest worry remains the Centre's action against illegal mining. Inquiries conducted by the government found that the Reddys were guilty.
Will Justice Hedge seal fate of the Reddys?
This was followed by the decision of the Supreme Court in February, which appointed the Central Empowered Committee to inquire into the allegations of illegal mining in Karnataka. In January, the court ordered cancellation of the licences of the Andhra unit of Obulapuram Mining Company, owned by the Reddy brothers, on grounds that the firm flouted several laws. Then came the report of the committee, which took note of the fact that there was large-scale illegal mining in the Bellary reserve forest.
The worries for the Reddy brothers did not end here. The all-important report on illegal mining prepared by Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde is scheduled to be released before the end of July. Though Hegde, who is set to retire in August, does not confirm the contents of the report, insiders say that it will largely focus on how the brothers backed illegal mining.
"I do not wish to say anything about the report, but it will be out before my retirement in August," Justice Hegde said.
Image: Justice Santosh Hegde
Sushma Swaraj disowns the Reddy brothers
What about the 50 MLAs that once pulled out from the government responding to the call of the Reddy brothers? During the last rebellion against Yeddyurappa, it was clear that these MLAs too did not favour them.
Even when Yeddyurappa sent the Reddys to coax these MLAs they refused to budge. Insiders say that it was the Reddys who disowned them once their demands were met in 2009 and now it was pay back time for the legislators.
Today, the spirits in the Reddy camp are low. Their last resort is the BJP government and hence their only option is to play along. This was clear when Yeddyurappa went ahead and transferred some officials from Bellary. The Reddy brothers chose to keep mum. Confrontation is the last thing on their mind as they hope the Karanataka government comes to their rescue if the verdict in the illegal mining issue goes against them.
They know that it would be the end of their stint in the state government if they were to get on the wrong side of the Karnataka CM now. Yeddyurappa is well aware that the tables have turned and today he does realise that the biggest threat was never the Opposition, but from within his own party.
Image: Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj with the Reddy brothers