DHARWAD/GADAG : The ‘Republic of Bellary’ has played a dominant role in Karnataka’s electoral landscape in the past two decades -- it is the seat where Sonia Gandhi crossed swords with Sushma Swaraj, where the Reddy brothers rose from the ore dust and ruled, holding the key to the BS Yeddyurappa government in 2008, and also causing its fall. Bellary, a Congress bastion, swung from the grand old party to the BJP after the Reddys turned it into their political fiefdom. Now, the loss of both money and power has hit the party hard.
The April 23 election is crucial to both parties: While the Congress is trying to regain power, having won six of the nine assembly segments, the BJP, which won three segments, is digging its heels in to claw back to prime position. However, both have seem internal troubles and no one is focusing on issues like drinking water, irrigation and desilting of Tungabhadra dam.
Darur Purushottam Gouda, chairman, Tungabhadra Raitha Samithi, says they will not support those who make big promises. “They should help us remove 33tmcft silt. We do it ourselves every year. At least let them build a parallel reservoir for storing 40tmcft of water.” Veeranna Gouda, a farmer from Kampli, said every election, political parties raise the issues of drinking water and irrigation. “But farmers get nothing. Chilli prices have dropped drastically, but no politician helped us. We need a strong MP, irrespective of party. But can these leaders, who are fighting among themselves, help us?”
Gouda has hit the nail on the head. The Congress, which won the Lok Sabha bypoll in November 2018, is a divided house, with its MLAs rebelling against senior leaders. Four of its six MLAs who had ensured the party’s victory -- V S Ugrappa trounced B Sriramulu’s sister B Shantha by an impressive 2.4lakh margin -- are in the news for the wrong reasons. There was speculation that they might quit the party after they were denied cabinet berths. Besides, the ugly incident at Eagleton Resort near Bengaluru, where Kampli MLA Ganesh assaulted Vijayanagar MLA Anand Singh.
Ballari Rural MLA B Nagendra and Hagaribomanahalli MLA Bheema Naik went ‘missing’ in January, sparking rumours that they had fallen victim to BJP’s Operation Lotus, and returned to campaign only recently. Naik is still in a sulk because former MLA Shiraj Sheikh was made Campaign Committee chairman. However, Congress leaders believe these are minor internal glitches. “Things will fall in line and I will win by a massive margin again. I will be Bellary’s voice in Parliament,” said Congress candidate V S Ugrappa.
Bellary had been a Congress fortress since 1952 and this dominance continued till 1999, when the Sonia-Sushma contest gave the constituency star status. While Sonia gave up the seat, Sushma got the ‘Taayi’ tag and the three Reddy brothers turned mining czars and set about making it their ‘republic’.
Gali Karunakar Reddy created history by winning over two-time Congress MP K C Kondaiah, Gali Janardhana Reddy, backed by the mining cash cow, won assembly and parliamentary elections -- the seat was won by J Shantha in 2009 and her brother Sriramulu in 2014.
After the Reddys’ fall from grace, the party dropped them like a hot potato, and gave the ticket to Y Devendrappa, who has not connected to the Reddys or Sriramulu. For the first time, there is no talk of Janardhana Reddy, who rewrote the political history of Karnataka. This election may be a Modi-Rahul contest, but in Bellary, it is between political giants D K Shivakumar and the Jarkiholis, played out by Ugrappa and Devendrappa, who is related to the Jarkiholis. “I will win this elections with help of my party colleagues and well-wishers,” said Devendrappa, who believes his direct contact with the people is his strong point.
Sirigere Pannaraj, a local political watcher, says Ballari needs somebody to speak about issues pertaining to Article 371J. “There is a petition in the High Court, demanding quashing of 8% reservation in non Hyderabad-Karnatak areas for admissions to professional courses. This issue needs to be raised, it’s the people’s right.”