Mining baron Janardhana Reddy takes on BJP in ‘Republic of Bellary’

Reddy has fielded 47 candidates across Karnataka and hopes to win at least 25 seats

Janardhana Reddy
Janardhana Reddy, his supporters say, now wants to get even with the BJP. File photo

He used money and muscle power brazenly to help the BJP grow and grow in Bellary and to take power in Karnataka. But after a huge fallout, Gali Janardhana Reddy has vowed to make his former party bite the dust in his fiefdom which at one time was known as the ‘Republic of Bellary’.

Officially kicked out of Bellary district near the Andhra Pradesh border, Janardhana Reddy, who remained sullen in 2018, has now defiantly fielded his wife Lakshmi Aruna, 49, from Bellary city and is himself contesting from neighbouring Gangavathi constituency in Koppal district. Koppal, like Bellary, is also home to iron ore mines.

His Kalyan Rajya Pragati Paksha (KRPP) party has fielded candidates in all but one of the eight constituencies in Bellary district, causing a major worry to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some tension in the otherwise resurgent Congress camp.

Reddy’s plans

Janardhana Reddy, Lakshmi Aruna
Lakshmi Aruna, who openly admits that she represents her husband, faces her brother-in-law G Somashekhara Reddy of the BJP in Bellary City

Janardhana Reddy told The Federal that his party has fielded 47 candidates across Karnataka and hopes to win at least 25 seats.

His anger is not just confined to the BJP. Janardhana Reddy is also upset with his two brothers who he complains did not stand by him when he faced a litany of legal troubles after the BJP decided to dump him amid a corruption saga.

One of them, G Somashekhara Reddy, is the BJP nominee in Bellary city, a person Janardhana Reddy wants to see defeated by his wife Lakshmi Aruna. The younger brother, G Karunakara Reddy, a former MLA, is not in the electoral race now.

There was a time when the three Reddy brother constituted a united and powerful force that virtually wiped out the Congress and also helped the late Sushma Swaraj to defeat Sonia Gandhi in the Bellary Lok Sabha seat.

Janardhana Reddy was instrumental during ‘Operation Lotus’ in 2008 when he helped BS Yediyurappa to form a BJP government. He and his brothers helped the BJP win all eight seats of Bellary district. Janardhana Reddy even dreamt of becoming the chief minister once.

Also read: Karnataka polls: How 2 candidates are working around ‘no entry’ orders

Reddy’s troubles

However, his alleged illegal mining activities made him face the Lokayukta, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and he had to go to jail. He is still facing several cases against him. He was deported from Bellary when he floated the KRPP.

Janardhana Reddy, Lakshmi Aruna, Bellary
Janardhana Reddy’s campaign vehicle

Janardhana Reddy, his supporters say, now wants to get even with the BJP.

Also in the contest in Bellary city is Congress candidate Nara Bharat Reddy, the 32-year-old son of former MLA Suryanarayana Reddy, and Anil Lad, formerly of the Congress and now with the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S).

In 2018, the Congress won five of the eight Bellary seats, leaving only three to the BJP. This time, Janardhana Reddy’s entry has changed the political scene. He has fielded candidates against everyone in Bellary except friend R Sriramulu of the BJP.

Janardhana Reddy, Bellary, Lakshmi Aruna
Janardhana Reddy in his campaign vehicle

The Federal spoke to several people in Bellary district, particularly in Bellary city and Bellary Rural constituencies, who felt that Srimamulu’s supporters were quietly supporting Janardhana Reddy’s wife Lakshmi Aruna in Bellary city. But Srimamulu, considered a mass Dalit leader, campaigned for Somashekhara Reddy in Bellary city, which has many voters from the Valmiki Nayak community.

Janardhana Reddy openly says that he will be representing Bellary through his wife. Digital hoardings and social media are assisting Laksmi Aruna. Naturally, his brother Somashekhara Reddy is worried.

Also read: Janardhana Reddy’s new party may hurt BJP’s Karnataka poll prospects

Wife seeks help

The Federal witnessed a meeting at the Bellary Chamber of Commerce where Lakshmi Aruna sought help from district industrialists. Many of them felt that that Janardhana Reddy did help Bellary progress and that he will uphold its interests again.

Janardhana Reddy, Lakshmi Aruna
A meeting at the Bellary Chamber of Commerce where Lakshmi Aruna sought help from the district’s industrialists

Congress candidate Bharat Reddy is a familiar figure in Bellary city. He helped people during the pandemic. His active campaign and anti-incumbency are expected to help him, according to Changala Reddy, a doctor.

Lakshmi Aruna told The Federal that she represents her husband. “People know how Janardhana Reddy worked for the development of Bellary district. Now he is denied entry to the district. I am fighting to make my husband’s dream come true.”

“There should be no surprise if Lakshmi Aruna wins from this constituency,” said Ramana Babu, a shopkeeper in Bellary.

Lingayats, Kurubas, Dalits, Valmikis, and Muslims will play a major role in deciding the winner in Bellary. Janardhana Reddy has good ties with Muslim leaders, said Jamal Sab, a community leader in Bellary.

Also read: Karnataka: Re(a)ddy to ‘play football’ with political rivals in electoral arena

Gifts galore

Janardhana Reddy Lakshmi Aruna, Bellary
Reddy’s strategy camp in Gangavathi

No wonder, Bellary city is awash with gifts. Bharat Reddy reportedly distributed thousands of pressure cookers a few months ago. Aruna Lakshmi has reportedly given away quality silk sarees.

Janardhana Reddy told The Federal that he did not field a candidate in Bellary Rural against his friend Sriramulu, as he did not get a good candidate there. “He is my good friend. But friendship and politics are different.”

Although Janardhana Reddy could divide Muslim and ST votes in the constituency, the Congress remains confident because of the widespread anti-BJP feelings in Karnataka.

An upbeat Bharat Reddy of the Congress said: “People will decide whether they want a good government with a clean image or not. I am sure the Congress will win all the seats in Bellary district.”