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Brothers (up) in arms

The revolt of the billionaire Reddy brothers in Karnataka against Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa shows how money power can hold a state government to ransom.

india Updated: Nov 04, 2009 23:39 IST
Vikas Pathak

They rode bicycles and motorcycles ten years ago, but fly in helicopters now.

Their father was a police constable; today they have personal swimming pools and fancy cars and run a business empire worth more than Rs 1,500 crore.

They are members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which promises to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya in eastern Uttar Pradesh; but they once had a case slapped against them for destroying a 200-year-old Hindu place of worship due to explosions triggered for iron-ore mining.

Meet the Reddy brothers – Karnataka’s Revenue Minister G. Karunakara Reddy (47), Tourism Minister G. Janardhana Reddy (42) and MLA Somashekhara Reddy (41) – who became prime power-brokers in the state barely six years after they tried their hand at iron-ore mining.

The present imbroglio, involving the brothers wanting the removal of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, is a case of private capital trying to brazenly determine how an elected government is run. In earlier cases of revolts against chief ministers, opposition came from seasoned politicians.

The BJP does not seem to be in a mood to oblige the brothers. Party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told Hindustan Times: “(We have) made it clear that Yeddyurappa will remain chief minister. We are against the influence of money bags in politics.”

Politics has indeed changed: after independence, three-time Bellary MP T. Subramaniam, a Congressman, earned less when he turned from a legal profession to Parliament; today, parties – locals claim – distribute Rs 1,000 to each voter here before polls.

The Reddy brothers, iron-ore mining barons of mineral-rich Bellary, 290 km north of Bangalore, entered the business at a time when iron-ore prices soared due to demand from China, which was using steel for upgrading its infrastructure for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Their clout helped install the BJP’s lone government in the south by making the party cross the majority mark of 113 (226-member House) in Karnataka by winning five independent MLAs.

The assembly election results of 2008 show the brothers’ rising graph. Eight of Bellary district’s nine assembly seats went to the BJP. The upturn had begun in the previous assembly polls itself: the BJP won three out of nine.

And they are high on the populist graph too. They began with a school for spastic children, and are now organising mass marriages. “Last month, 1,800 couples were married in Gadag district,” said a local resident.

The Reddy community from Andhra Pradesh has a fair sprinkling in the districts of north Karnataka, where the three brothers command influence. The Lingayats – the caste of Yeddyurappa – too are influential in the northern districts. But in and around Bellary – locals say – the Reddy brothers have a strong hold.

The relations between Yeddyurappa and the Reddy brothers have steadily declined.

The reasons are many. One, the government imposed a toll tax of Rs 1,000 per lorry per trip on mined iron ore for flood relief. The Reddys opposed this, saying the mining lobby was already contributing to flood relief by offering money to construct 20,000 houses for those affected. Yeddyurappa saw this initiative as an affront. The government also removed many bureaucrats seen close to the brothers, much to their dislike.

Even as Janardhana Reddy camped in Delhi for the past few days to seek Yeddyurappa’s ouster, the latter went on a tour of flood-affected areas to undercut the brothers’ influence.

Another area of discord is the Reddys’ dislike for Rural Development Minister Shobha Karandlaje – a woman with strong RSS affiliations – who, detractors claim, interferes in the functioning of other departments and is close to the Chief Minister. Many derisively call her the second chief minister.

“If you come to power on the basis of lobbies, these will come back and threaten that power itself,” said political scientist Jyotirmaya Sharma. “The BJP suffers from the RSS fancy that politics is corrupt and the Sangh’s influence in it is a purifying one. This makes Yeddyurappa believe he is a natural leader now, but the Reddys know they secured that wafer-thin majority for him. Politics is about resolving contradictions, and they are unable to resolve them.”

The Congress is playing a wait-and-watch game. “The party will take an appropriate decision at the right time. It is their internal matter and we don’t want to poke our nose,” said Legislative Council Opposition Leader V.S. Ugrappa. “But I must say that at a time when people are facing floods, the BJP’s ego-based factionalism is making relief work suffer.”