Bellary revolt rumble in Bangalore - Reddy brothers lead legislators in standoff against 'autocratic' Yeddyurappa

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By AJAY SUKUMARAN in Bangalore
  • Published 12.06.09

Bangalore, June 12: The sleepy town of Bellary is not a beehive of activity, but every rumble from the cash-rich mining hub finds an echo in the Karnataka capital.

Now, the rumbling has just got louder as the mighty Reddy brothers, whose writ runs large in Bellary, 350km north of Bangalore, engage in a standoff with Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, whom they propelled to power in the 2008 Assembly elections.

The brothers — mining magnates Karunakara, Janardhana and Somashekara — lead a pack of legislators and ministers who are apparently unhappy with Yeddyurappa’s style of working, some describing the chief minister as “autocratic”.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley dashed to Bangalore yesterday to mollify leaders who resent the chief minister’s style of functioning. “There is no dissidence, only some minor differences. I have met and heard the views of several leaders and asked them to maintain discipline,” Jaitley said today.

The brothers, however, did not meet Jaitley whose arrival coincided with Janardhana’s birthday — an occasion the mining tycoon marked by gifting a diamond-studded crown to the Lord Venkateswara temple at Tirupati.

The crown is said to cost over Rs 40 crore and could be the most expensive gift in recent history, prompting some to draw a parallel with the gifts made to the temple by the 15th century Vijayanagara kings whose capital Hampi falls in Bellary district.

The animosity between the brothers and Yeddyurappa reached a peak this week after a build-up over the past fortnight that saw them boycott the BJP government’s first anniversary celebrations and even breakfast meetings with the chief minister on an official trip to Delhi.

Although a thaw seemed likely when they attended Yeddyurappa’s cabinet meeting back home, Karunakara again slipped back into discord on Tuesday by skipping the chief minister’s discussions with deputy commissioners having pre-empted the move with his own meeting a day earlier.

While the only grievance to be publicly aired came from youngest sibling Somashekara, who said the chief minister was sidelining legislators, the Reddys have apparently been meeting a section of the disgruntled legislators. None of the brothers could be reached for comment.

The brothers, along with health minister B. Sreeramulu, helped the BJP win key Assembly seats during the 2008 elections and also were at the forefront of a move to lure legislators from rival parties to shore up numbers.

“Definitely they (Reddys) have contributed to the party gaining power, but have they come to a position of gaining top leadership?” a senior BJP leader said. “This (revolt) will fizzle out… the chief minister is also very tough in these matters.”

The Reddys are said to be demanding that Yeddyurappa drop at least six members from the cabinet, while other disgruntled ministers like K.S. Eshwarappa (energy), whose separate squabble with the chief minister has been simmering, are rallying for a role in decision-making.

The brush with the Bellary brothers — who own the Obalapuram Mining Company that falls in Andhra Pradesh and are also known to be on good terms with the chief minister in Hyderabad, Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy — is a first for the year-old BJP government in Karnataka. Also, it comes at a time when Yeddyurappa has consolidated his position by winning 19 of Karnataka’s 28 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP’s best state tally in the country.

But political observers say it won’t be easy to topple Yeddyurappa even if the dissenters rally together because of his stature as a leader from the Lingayat community, the state’s largest voting block.