- Bellary Rural assembly bypoll seen as fight between the state BJP and rebels within
- The rebel face is B. Sriramulu (above), Reddy brothers’ confidant now contesting as an independent
- JD(S) not fielding candidate; Kumaraswamy backing Sriramulu
- Ex-CM Yediyurappa on poll trail, but after major cajoling by party
Bellary and the Reddy brothers have never been out of the news since the BJP came to power in May ’08 in Karnataka. They were a big reason for the BJP coming to power; they were the reason for its periodic instability; and now, the question being asked is, will the final dismantling of the saffron government, the implosion of the party in the state, begin with the Bellary Rural bypoll? B. Sriramulu, a Reddy confidant, is contesting the seat as an independent candidate. The bypoll was necessitated by his resignation as a BJP legislator after Gali Janardhana Reddy was imprisoned and the Lokayukta mining report felled the B.S. Yediyurappa government. Sriramulu, a former health minister, was, like the Reddys, left out of the new BJP government, when D.V. Sadananda Gowda took over.
What has put the BJP government on notice is that some six of its MLAs and a couple of MPs have openly identified themselves with Sriramulu. The party has meekly accepted the defection as taking disciplinary action would disturb the delicate numbers in the state assembly. Irrespective of whether Sriramulu wins or loses, the number of BJP rebels is expected to swell to about 15 soon. BJP state president K.S. Eshwarappa’s helplessness is apparent in his statements. He recently appealed to the ‘self-respect’ of the rebels, asking them to quit the party before they go with Sriramulu. The BJP has fielded local businessman P. Gadilingappa for the bypoll while the Congress candidate is one Ramprasad.
The Reddy camp has publicly said that they felt ignored and ‘discriminated against’ within the party after Janardhana Reddy’s arrest and the mining report was submitted. A senior cabinet minister admits they “made a mistake. When we could go to jail to see Yediyurappa, we should have at least met Reddy’s wife after his arrest. After all, he had worked hard to bring the party to power.” It’s not that the BJP did not try to convince Sriramulu to stay back, but it was seen as “too little, too late”.
What has added to the complication is the coming together of two foes: the Reddys and the JD(S) led by H.D. Kumaraswamy. In a shrewd move, the JD(S) hasn’t fielded a candidate but has indicated support for Sriramulu. An alliance with Sriramulu is bound to fetch dividends for the beleaguered party in the long run.
Amidst all this sly manoeuvring, the Congress also hopes to gain from the BJP’s inner divisions. Some observers even say it might not be a surprise if the Congress does well. They also add that if the mood turns in the BJP’s favour (an initially reluctant bsy has begun campaigning, which may swing matters), the Congress might not even mind a Sriramulu win. Another reason for the confidence is that the Dalits, who number around 25,000, now hold the key after the splintering of other caste votebanks. And kpcc chief Dr Parameshwar is a Dalit. Muslims, with a strength of 37,000, will also play an important role.
In this election, the BJP high command, once a ubiquitous presence on the Bellary political terrain, has been conspicuous by its absence. A top mining company official explained, “As more CBI raids take place on Reddy’s henchmen and more laptops get seized, there is a lurking fear among some top BJP leaders that embarrassing details may emerge.” Karnataka promises to be an interesting place in the coming days.