As the state of Karnataka gears up to vote in the assembly elections, all eyes would be on Ballari or the erstwhile Bellary. The dust has not settled, although back in 2013, one witnessed a mellow campaign in this mining district which was hit by scams and taint.
While 2018 promises to be more hectic, it is nowhere close to what it used to be in 2009. The campaign that year when the BJP won the elections was a flamboyant one with wealth flowing as if there were no tomorrow. It was the Reddy brothers- Somashekhara, Karunakara and Janardhan who ruled the roost. There were choppers, fancy cars and men on speed bikes chasing down anyone who tried to get close to a mine.
This time around the most flamboyant Reddy, Janardhan is missing in action, at least directly. The man who epitomised the illegal mining syndicate has been barred from entering Ballari owing to a Supreme Court verdict. However, that has not prevented him from throwing his hat in the ring. He wants to regain hold over Ballari which he had lost in the previous elections.
To beat the SC order and yet remain close to the mining district his men have been scouting for houses just outside Ballari.
Reddy's team had first identified a plot at Chitradurga. After this was finalised, it was decided that he would run his camp office from here. Two other farmhouses have been identified in Hampi on the western side of Ballari and another at Thammenahalli which is around 25 kilometres from Ballari city.
The heat is on:
Ballari can be a difficult terrain to cover for anyone especially during the summer as the sun stares down at you mercilessly. However, for the politicians, it is a big gamble and winning Ballari once a stronghold of the BJP is a matter of pride and prestige.
In 2013, the BJP was hit by all sort of problems. It was termed responsible for the mining scam. One of its top leaders, B Sriramulu had quit the BJP to form a new party. The Reddy brothers were sidelined on account of the mining scam. Overall it was a nightmare for the BJP and the Reddy brothers who would without batting an eye-lid challenge anyone to come to this place and contest.
Today Sriramulu is back in the BJP. The Reddy brothers, especially Janardhan is testing his strength once again. He wants to gain control over Ballari at any cost says an aide close to him.
The distribution of tickets would also be crucial for both the Congress and BJP. In the queue are a host of persons who are either miners or connected to the lobby who are eyeing for tickets. There are at least 13 of them who have been seeking tickets.
Will the Tiger roar:
The clout that the Reddy brothers enjoyed in Ballari is no secret. At the snap of a finger, they could back in 2009 get an officer transferred. When it was refused, they would stage a coup to topple the government. The countless trips that B S Yeddyurappa made to Delhi when he was chief minister of Karnataka were proof of that.
However, a lot of that clout started to wane post the mining scandal. They were like three Tigers, the people would say. Now the fight for the Reddy brothers is not just about making the BJP win, but also regain that lost aura, clout and charm they enjoyed.
The Karnataka Lokayukta then headed by Justice N Santhosh Hegde in his explosive report that cost Yeddyurappa his chair had detailed the manner in which the Reddy brothers would function. Mining permits would be given only at their insistence. He also went on to detail how they had a firm grip over the district.
In 2013, everything changed. The Supreme Court came down heavily on the mining issue. This led to a CBI probe coupled with the Lokayukta report. The same year, Yeddyurappa walked out of the party and so did Reddy's right-hand man, B Sriramulu. The BJP was in disarray and the Reddys no longer a force to reckon with. The Sriramulu factor did have a major bearing on the BJP's prospects in Ballari. The BSR Congress floated by Sriramulu garnered nearly 28 per cent of the votes in the elections and caused a major dent to the BJP. Overall that year in 2013 none but the Congress gained.
As the elections get nearer, the heat and dust in Ballari are not looking to settle. The Congress has decided to go all guns blazing and the Reddy brothers have promised a come-back for the BJP. Will the BJP get back its bastion and will the Reddys roar? Time will tell.
|Karnataka Assembly Election dates|
|Date of notification||April 17|
|Last date to file nominations||April 24|
|Last date to withdraw nominations||April 27|
|Date of polling||May 12|
|Date of counting||May 15|