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Are Karnataka and BJP 'Reddy' for a change?

October 31, 2009 17:11 IST

B S Yeddyurappa faces his biggest crisis after creating history over a year ago by becoming the first Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister in South India. His seat has been threatened by the Reddy brothers of Bellary, who are in no mood for a compromise and are openly seeking a leadership change in Karnataka.

Although the Reddy brothers and Yeddyurappa have been at logger heads in the past, the current crisis appears to be the worst. There are various reasons that led up to this battle, which has today plunged the BJP's Karnataka unit into crisis.

When the crisis started a week back Yeddyurappa would not have thought that the Reddy brothers would be able to gather so much support. On Thursday night, the Reddys had claimed the support of 67 MLAs out of the 117 that the BJP has in the Karnataka assembly. Sources in the BJP told that there are only 17 loyalists standing around Yeddyurappa and he clearly is in trouble unless and the until the party high command, which is scheduled to meet in New Delhi, comes to his rescue.

State Home Minister Dr V S Acharya told from Bengaluru that the problems will be sorted out. "The claims of the Reddy faction that they have a large number of MLAs on their side is incorrect. They are relying on their money power and This does not work at all times. Let us see what the high command has to say, but I am sure that the crisis will end," Acharya said.

The first signs of tussle began when Yeddyurappa decided to impose a toll on the mining lorries. The Reddy brothers whose bread and butter is the mining business were clearly upset with it and demanded that this decision be rolled back immediately. However, Yeddyurappa preferred not to listen and got the same approved by the state cabinet.

The Reddy faction claims that Yeddyurappa is egoistic in nature and he shares a very mild rapport with the rest of the MLAs. A source in the Reddy camp says that he has been constantly interfering with their work and has always given indications that he is bigger than the party.

The Reddy brothers are also upset about the interference by Shobha Karandlage, minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj. Shobha, who is a Yeddyurappa loyalist according to the Reddy brothers, has been unnecessarily interfering in their jurisdiction at the insistence of the CM. During her recent visit to the flood affected areas in North Karnataka, she reviewed the functioning of the revenue department and this has hurt Karunakar Reddy as he is the revenue minister. Karunakar Reddy felt that she had no business interfering in his department.

Lastly, the issue pertaining to the construction of houses for flood relief victims  has been blown out of proportion. The Reddy brothers had decided to spend Rs 500 crore from their own pocket and construct houses. However, the CM told them not to conduct the programme in their individual capacity but to rope in the government.

This was not acceptable to the Reddy brothers, who went ahead with the programme in the absence of the CM's go ahead. This particular issue has now turned into a battle for prestige.

The Reddy brothers wanted to endear themselves to the people of North Karnataka and gain political mileage by underatking this housing project on their own. 

Despite the uncertainty surrounding him, Yeddyurappa is confident that his term of five years is guaranteed. Speaking to media persons in Bangalore, the chief minister said he would be going to New Delhi on November 5 to meet the party high command.

He sounded extremely confident about his tenure. "I have seen many ups and downs in my political and personal life. I have overcome all problems and will overcome this one too," he said.

Meanwhile, the Reddy faction led by assembly Speaker Jagdish Shettar will meet the party high command in New Delhi on Saturday.

Yeddyurappa feels that his equity among the voters will fall if he lets the Reddy brothers go ahead with the housing project.

A misunderstanding between the two parties had taken place over the contract to build houses for the government-sponsored flood relief. The Reddy brothers had suggested their man to undertake the project, but the CM decided to go ahead and appoint his man instead.

This was the last straw for the Reddy brothers, who decided that it was time to wage war against the CM. At first they made the demands, but when they realised they could rope in MLAs on their side, they decided to seek a change in leadership. This prompted senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley to come down to Bengaluru and try and iron out the differences. He, however, returned to Delhi as no result had yielded out of the talks. The talks are now expected to continue in New Delhi.

Leadership change
The Reddy brothers with 67 MLAs on their side decided that they had the numbers now to seek a change in leadership. However, the Reddy brothers are aware of the fact that one of them cannot take over the post of CM since none of them has a mass appeal spread across the state.

They decided to rope in Jagadish Shettar, a senior leader in the party and projected him as the replacement to Yeddyurappa. Shettar in fact was easy for them to rope in as he feels let down by the party leadership. A huge controversy had erupted when the government was formed. Shettar had sought a cabinet berth, but Yeddyurappa decided to appoint him as the speaker of the assembly.

Shetar even brought up this matter before the high command which promised to make him a minister following the Lok Sabha elections. However, the high command turned a blind eye to the demands, which left Shettar frustrated.

The Reddy brothers have said that Shettar is their leader and he would be the next CM. Yeddyurappa had even offered plum portfolios to Shettar, but this has been turned down. The Shettar camp says that taking up Yeddyurappa's offer will only make him look like an opportunist. They say that he will speak with the high command in New Delhi on Saturday and leave the final decision to them.

High Command's headache
Although Yeddyurappa does not enjoy the support of all the MLAs the high command will have to think a 100 times before changing him as the CM. Although Shettar has mass appeal and also the backing of the Lingayat community, he is very timid. Moreover, the high command is also aware that it was Yeddyurappa who almost single handedly built the party in Karnataka and led them to a historic win in the assembly elections.

Sources say that the high command will work out a compromise formula in New Delhi, but would not change Yeddyurappa. They know for a fact that the people of Karnataka voted for Yeddyurappa more than the party in the last elections and changing him could spell doom for the party.

Yeddyurappa, who now realises that he is on a sticky wicket, has also decided to implement several changes. After being branded as arrogant by the party in Karnataka, he has now decided to meet with the legislators once a month and spend more time with them. Although not publicly, sources claim that he has agreed to make sweeping changes in the Cabinet in order to please the Reddy faction.

During the meeting in New Delhi, the Reddy brothers are expected to do some hard bargaining. They may agree to drop the demand of a change in leadership provided three ministers -- Shobha Karandlage, Basavaraj Bommai and Dr V S Acharya -- are shunted out the cabinet. Apart from this they would also demand a roll back in the decision to impose a toll on mining lorries.

Who are the Reddy brothers
The three Reddy brothers -- Gali Karunakar Reddy, Gali Janardhan Reddy and Gali Somashekhar Reddy -- are sons of a former constable. All three hold key portfolios in the Karnataka BJP. The eldest brother Karunakar Reddy was an MP from Bellary. He, however, resigned from that post and contested the assembly elections and won. Today, he is a revenue minister in the state government.

Janardhan Reddy, who is also a minister in the Karnataka government, is the most popular among the Reddy brothers. The youngest, Somashekar Reddy, who was the Mayor of Bellary too had successfully contested the last assembly elections. He too is a cabinet minister in the BJP government. The Reddy camp is however incomplete without Srimamulu who is also a minister. He is considered as a virtual fourth brother along with his nephew Suresh Babu who is an MLA from Bellary.

The Reddy brothers are famous for their mining business. In less than ten years, they have emerged as the lords of Bellary. It was in the late 90s that they joined the BJP and they came into the limelight when they campaigned for Sushma Swaraj who fought Sonia Gandhi from Bellary. Despite losing the elections, the Reddy brothers continued to work for the party and from 1999 onwards they managed to effect a change in Bellary. Today, Bellary is no longer a Congress stronghold but a BJP bastion.

The mining business of the Reddy brothers, which is run under the banner -- Obulapuram Mining company -- came into the limelight only in the year 2003. The boom in their business was largely thanks to China which imported iron ore for the Beijing Games of 2008. It was at this time that the price of iron ore went up from Rs 100 per ton to Rs 2000 per ton.

Apart from this the Reddy brothers also own Brahmani steels in Cuddapah and there was talk that the late AP CM Y S Rajashekhar Reddy had alloted them 17,000 acres to set up a Rs 25,000-crore steel plant there. Another 4,000 acres of land was also allotted to construct an all-weather airport to operate aircraft.

The Reddy brothers have been in the news at all times ever since the BJP formed the government with the Janata Dal-Secular. Janardhan Reddy had threatened the chair of then CM, Kumaraswamy by alleging that he had taken a bribe from the mining lobby. This was followed by an attempt to murder allegation by Sriramulu against Kumaraswamy, which finally led to the fall of the coalition government in Karnataka.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru