Once upon a time, the influence of the infamous Reddy brothers was such that Karnataka was called the ‘Reddy Republic’. With mining baron and former tourism minister Gali Janardhana Reddy now behind bars, his close associate B Sreeramulu, the founder president of the BSR Congress, is struggling to keep the party afloat.
As his desperate attempts to merge the political arm of the Bellary brothers — Janardhana, Karunakara and Somashekara — with either the BJP or the Congress remain in vain, experts are writing obituaries for Sreeramulu, once touted as a messiah of the backward classes.
The friendship between Janardhana Reddy and Sreeramulu, a former railway employee, and how they became Karnataka’s political lords is the stuff of legend.
Along with the Reddy brothers, Sreeramulu, 42, was the blue-eyed boy of the BJP. Thanks to their ill-gotten mining wealth, they transformed the hitherto Congress bastions of Bellary, Gadag, Raichur and Koppal districts into BJP strongholds.
When the BJP tasted power for the first time as an ally of the JD(S) in 2006, Sreeramulu was made the minister for tourism, textile, civil aviation and infrastructure. In 2008, when the BJP came to power on its own, he was rewarded with the housing and family welfare ministry.
Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s report exposed the excesses committed by the Reddy brothers in Bellary during the mining boom from 2004 to 2010. The report blamed the BJP government for turning a blind eye to the parallel government run by the Reddy brothers. The subsequent arrest of Janardhana Reddy and many of his associates made the party distance itself from the barons.
Angry with the humiliation meted out to Janardhana Reddy, Sreeramulu quit the BJP in September 2011. Three months later, he contested from Bellary Rural as an independent and won an Assembly seat with a margin of 40,000 votes. With this newfound success, he formed the Badvara, Shramikara, Raithara Congress, loosely translated as a party for the poor, working class and farmers. Following in the footsteps of his mentor and former Andhra Pradesh CM, the late Rajasekhara Reddy, Sreeramulu undertook a 900-km march and launched his party in June 2012 in Bengaluru.
However, the BSR Congress managed to win only four seats in the 2013 Assembly polls. It even lost in the Bellary City seat to the BJP.
After BS Yeddyurappa returned to the BJP, it was assumed that the BSR Congress would follow suit. Even Sreeramulu was keen to merge the party with the BJP. He persuaded Jagadish Shettar and Sadananda Gowda to pave the way for his comeback and met Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh.
However, so far, the BJP has shown no inclination to take Sreeramulu back.
Sources say that Sushma Swaraj is one of the stumbling blocks. She feels that her past association with the Reddys was the main reason why she was not projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
In 1999, when Sonia Gandhi contested the Lok Sabha polls from Bellary, Swaraj was the BJP candidate. Along with the Reddy brothers, Sreeramulu had campaigned for her. Even though she lost, Swaraj continued to maintain close relations with them until the mining scam broke.
Some BJP leaders believe that unlike Yeddyurappa, who still commands respect within the Lingayat community, Sreeramulu has lost clout among the Valmikis. Another reason is that with the investigation agencies freezing the accounts of the Reddy brothers, Sreeramulu is no longer flush with funds.
Sreeramulu’s attempts to cosy up to the Samajwadi Party, the JD(S) or the Congress haven’t been successful either. Rumour has it that he secretly met JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy and expressed his willingness to merge his party with the JD(S), but the latter declined fearing it would hurt his party’s prospects in the Lok Sabha polls.
“Most of the parties treat us like outcasts,” says BSR Congress spokesman Ravindra Reshme. “They act as if they had nothing to do with the illegal mining. The stigma has stuck only to us. Investigating agencies are bringing out half-truths. As long as YS Rajasekhara Reddy was there, the Congress had no issues with Sreeramulu. But now, they treat him like an untouchable.”