Karnataka Election 2018: BJP-TDP tussle, history with Bellary Reddys present twin troubles as party eyes dwindling support

Bellary: The BJP, which has been painting India saffron one state at a time and is currently in power in 22 states, either on its own or in an alliance, has shifted its sight down south to Karnataka, where the Assembly election to 224 seats is slated for 12 May.

However, the party, which is trying to ride the anti-incumbency wave in Karnataka, seems to have jeopardised its prospects in the state with its policies and decisions at the Centre. To begin with, it may have to pay heavily for its breakup at the Centre with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), led by Andhra Pradesh chief minister (CM) Chandrababu Naidu.

The TDP, which walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after the Centre refused to accord special category status (SCS) to Andhra Pradesh, has a significant support base among the Kammas, who are a deciding factor in at least 12 Assembly constituencies in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region in the ensuing election. These Telugu-speaking voters, mostly farmers hailing from Andhra Pradesh, migrated to the neighbouring Karnataka over 50 years ago, setting up over 1,000 camps in Bellary, Koppal, Yadgir, Raichur, and Kalaburgi districts of the state. They remain fiercely loyal to their homeland and the denial of SCS to Andhra Pradesh hasn’t gone down well with them. Staunch TDP supporters, they usually vote for the political party or candidate selected by local Kamma sanghas.

Sources in the Akhil Karnataka Kammawari Sangham said that their population in Karnataka could be nearly about 35 lakh, with three to five lakhs concentrated in the Hyderabad-Karnataka border region. In Bellary Rural Assembly segment, 30,000 voters belong to this community. Their votes could also be the deal clincher in the Assembly constituencies in Koppal, Gangavathi, Kampli, Shiraguppa, Manvi, Raichur, Sindhanoor, and Yadgir districts.

Supporters of SCS for Andhra Pradesh have even started a social media campaign with hashtags like #APSpecialstatus, #BJPCheatedAP, #APdemandsSCS, etc. The community leaders are also engaged in spreading the word among the Kammas about the issue. Kamma community leader and advocate Koteshwar Rao said, “There is no doubt that the community is in dissidence with NDA and BJP. We are having second thoughts about supporting a party that denied due rights of our state.”

N Madhu, who owns an educational institution in Raichur, said, “We are spreading awareness among the Telugu-speaking people of Karnataka and worldwide about how the Centre has done injustice to Andhra Pradesh. This will definitely have an impact (on the election). We are urging them to act against the party (BJP), which is cause for this injustice.”

However, what may go in favour of BJP is the fact that the upper-caste and Hindutva-aligned Kammas are traditionally opposed to Congress. Bellary-based political analyst K Narasinha Murthy said, “It is true that there is some level of dissatisfaction and anger among the Telugu-speaking people in Karnataka over the Centre’s decision. However, it is not easy for the community, which enjoys upper caste status in Andhra and strongly believes in Hindutva, to accept Congress either. The Centre’s stand on SCS should not have any impact on BJP’s stronghold.”

Keeping the Reddy brothers in tow

The other support base that the saffron party has in Karnataka — the Reddys of Bellary — also seems to be under threat with BJP national chief Amit Shah distancing the party from G Janardhana Reddy, prime accused in an illegal mining scam. The Reddy brothers — G Karunakara, G Janardhana, and G Somashekara — hold considerable clout in Bellary.

In a recent visit to Mysuru, BJP national president Amit Shah said the party has nothing to do with Janardhana. However, according to reports, BJP is planning to field the other two brothers — Karunakara and Somashekhara from Harapanahalli and Bellary City — who’ve been avoiding Janardhana in public.

Meanwhile, the party has fielded MP and former minister B Sriramulu, who was once a “close aide” of the Reddy brothers, from Molakalmuru (ST) constituency in Chitradurga district. Sriramulu had quit BJP in 2011 over the treatment meted out by the party to his mentor Janardhana but later rejoined it in the run-up to the 2014 election to contest from the Bellary Lok Sabha constituency.

In 2008, the Reddy brothers, including B Sriramulu, had helped the saffron party come to power for the first time in a southern state. While Sriramulu, Janardhana, and Karunakar Reddy had secured ministerial berths, Somashekhara got the post of KMF president.

However, the illegal mining scam hurt the equation between BJP and Janardhana, who is still facing a trial in courts in connection with the case. Since Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah has had a role to play in targeting illegal mining, particularly in Bellary, the Reddys see BJP as their only chance at settling scores. But, they are losing ground in strongholds like Vijayanagar and Kudligi where sitting MLAs Anand Singh and B Nagendra, respectively, have moved to Congress. Also, in Raichur constituency, Fakirappa of BJP has shifted loyalty to Congress.

While Janardhana has been promoting Yeddyurappa as the next chief minister, it doesn’t seem viable for BJP to put the scam-tainted Reddy brother at the forefront of their campaign.

“Cases registered against Janardhana in connection with illegal mining are politically motivated because these were filed when the UPA was ruling. There are no accusations against me regarding illegal mining, and hence BJP leaders can’t deny me a ticket,” said Somashekhara.

Choosing not to respond to Shah’s statement about there being no links between BJP and Janardhana, his other brother, Karunakara, said he was hoping to get a BJP ticket from the Harapanahalli Assembly segment. “I have contributed much towards the strengthening of the party. So, (I think) I will not miss ticket,” he said.

Bellary-based political analyst N Veerabhadragowda said the crucial role of Reddy brothers in de-establishing Congress in Bellary district cannot be ruled out. While BJP is trying to distance itself from their corrupt image in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the brothers do depend on the saffron party’s fate in the absence of an alternate option to consolidate power in the region, he said.