Bellary (Karna): The fall of the once powerful and mighty Reddy brothers is evident in the infamously called 'Republic of Bellary' but the influence of mining lords has not diminished going by their presence in the fray for the May five Assembly polls. Flashback 2008. The BJP made a clean sweep of Bellary district, winning seven of the nine seats in a region where the Congress had traditionally maintained an unbroken hold.
The Reddy brothers, G Janardhana Reddy, G Karunakara Reddy and G Somashekara Reddy, ruled the roost then with their unchallenged supremacy, mostly attributed to the BJP's strong emergence in the district. Now, Janardhana Reddy is cooling his heels in a jail in Hyderabad since September 2011 in connection with an illegal mining case in Andhra Pradesh. Karunakara Reddy has moved to Harapanahhali in neighbouring Davangere district.
Somashekara Reddy is with BSR Congress of former Minister B Sriramulu, a trusted lieutenant of the Reddy triumvirate, who floated his outfit after breaking from BJP. Somashekara Reddy, who won from Bellary city in 2008, is not contesting.
At the height of their influence, the Reddy troika - two of whom were ministers and the third Somashekara Reddy Chairman of Karnataka Milk Federation, were often accused of running the BJP government. Their clout has vaporised later.
The mining mafias stranglehold and blatant flouting of rules had prompted the then Lokayukta Santosh Hegde to refer to Bellary district as "the Republic of Bellary." But the Reddys' downfall has by itself not broken the hold of mining barons, reflected across the political spectrum in this election too in mine-rich Bellary and elsewhere.
Eight men who are facing questions over mining business are seeking entry to the Assembly. The opposition Congress which let no opportunity go to haul the government over the coals on illegal mining, has fielded Rajya Sabha member Anil Lad, causing consternation among some vocal local partymen who were in the forefront against illegal exploitation of iron ore.
Lad managed to convince the party leadership to allot him a ticket. He was in BJP earlier but the overbearing presence of the Reddy brothers led to his exit from the party and joining Congress.
Anil Lad-owned VS Lad Mining Company is included in Category 'C' mines in the report of the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee on illegal mining and had been indicted in the Lokayukta. The CEC placed 49 mining leases in which it found maximum illegalities in category C.
Abdul Wahab (Vijayanagar constituency in Hospet), E Thukaram (Sandur) and Asundi Vannarappa (Bellary Rural) are other mining men fielded by the Congress. Another mining baron, Anand Singh, has been fielded as a candidate in Vijayanagar by the ruling BJP which managed to retain him in its flock after he had almost quit BJP.
The Apex Court had recently cancelled 49 mining leases, including those of Lad and Wahab and BJP's Anand Singh. B Sriramulu is seeking election from Bellary Rural. He had won on a BJP ticket in the last polls. His relative Suresh Babu, elected on a BJP ticket in 2008,is seeking re-election as the BSR Congress candidate. Lad's cousin Santosh Lad, also a miner politician, is the Congress candidate from Kalghatgi in Dharwad district.
The Reddy brothers shone in 1999 when BJP leader Sushma Swaraj contested against Sonia Gandhi in Bellary and lost the battle. The boom in construction activity in China saw their rapid emergence in 2003-2004 that put them in the league of the super rich.
Their march once looked unstoppable until their alleged illegal mining activity came into national focus, particularly with the findings of the then Lokayukta Hegde, which claimed the scalp of BS Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister over donation received by a family-run trust from a mining firm.
Reddy's trouble worsened after an inquiry was ordered into illegal mining activity in Andhra Pradesh border that led to him being sent to prison. With money and muscle power in all its ugly manifestations in the last elections, electoral authorities are leaving nothing to chance so as to ensure free and fair polls.
Electoral officials have been checking helicopters, frisking VIPs and mediapersons, monitoring bank accounts and money orders for suspicious election funding. Bellary Deputy Commissioner Amlan Aditya Biswas, known for tough handling of the illegal mining issue, said over Rs 70 lakh in cash, 50 autos and six other vehicles have been confiscated for violating the model code of conduct. "This apart, individual bank accounts are also being monitored," he added.