The "King" has not only abdicated the throne but is also on the run to escape arrest. We are talking about the "King" of the "Republic of Ballari", as Karnataka's mining baron and former BJP minister Gali Janardhana Reddy was once called by the state's Lokayukta.
Reddy disappeared on Wednesday, when the Central Crime Branch (CCB) of the Karnataka police began to look out for him. The new case has nothing to do with any iron-ore fraud but is related to a Rs-600-crore Ponzi scam. The mining don allegedly struck a Rs 18-crore deal with the scamsters apparently to use his good offices with BJP and save them from the clutches of Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The police have formed special teams to trace Reddy and others involved in the Ponzi scheme in which some 15,000 people were allegedly cheated out of their investments after they were offered high returns.
Coming just day after the BJP's crushing defeat in the by-election to the Ballari Lok Sabha constituency, the new case against Reddy adds to the party's troubles when the 2019 Lok Sabha election is only months away. The BJP candidate (Shantha) who lost the Ballari seat is the sister of B Sriramulu, a party MLA and a close associate of Reddy. Despite BJP's clumsy efforts to distance itself from the mining mafia, it's common knowledge that Reddy is a key wheeler-dealer of the party in the state.
Links with Congress too
Reddy's mining kingdom was linked not only to BJP but even with the Congress in the past, as well as late Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy (not related to him), whose son YS Jaganmohan Reddy, now, heads YSRP Congress in the neighbouring state. It's another matter that Jaganmohan Reddy is now cosying up to BJP in Andhra Pradesh. But it's the alleged nexus that Janardhana reddy has with the Karnataka BJP, especially its state president and Lingayat veteran BS Yeddyurappa, that appears to be strongest and most direct.
Congress in Karnataka has been accusing Yeddyurappa of hobnobbing with the mining mafia especially since 2008 when Reddy helped BJP win the state assembly election and the Lingayat leader became the chief minister. Janardhana Reddy, his brother Karunakara Reddy and his friend B Sriramulu became ministers, while another brother Somashekhara Reddy was made the chief of the state's powerful milk federation.
In 2011, scams led to Yeddyurappa's resignation as chief minister and Reddy's arrest by CBI. Reddy came out after nearly four years, but Siddaramaiah, who became chief minister in 2013, sent him back to jail in 2015. He got out on bail, one of the conditions being that he should not enter Ballari. This forced him to operate from a village close to the Ballari border.
BJP's reliance on Reddy
Though BJP national president Amit Shah publicly disowned Reddy during the May 2018 Assembly election, the party relied on him heavily. Reddy himself was not given a party ticket, but eight of his family and friends were. They included Sriramulu, who was even tipped to become BJP's deputy chief minister if the party won the election.
Even Congress and JD(S) shamelessly fielded several mining scamsters as candidates, but it was kingpin Reddy's direct involvement with BJP that got the party in trouble.
Reddy promised BJP he will win a good number of seats for the party in the assembly poll, but delivered only a few. Of the nine seats in Ballari district, the party won only three. This should have made it clear that his political influence was on the wane, but BJP ignored the warning bells, and fielded Sriramulu's sister as the Ballari by-election candidate.
The new case against Reddy has come as a timely stick for Congress to beat the BJP with in the 2019 Lok Sabha election run-up. Congress will try to hit BJP where it will hurt most. Congress will punch holes in BJP's proclamations on being a scam-free outfit and an epitome of lily-white innocence. At national level, Congress has been desperately trying to use the Rafale deal to charge Prime Minister Narendra Modi with corruption without any shred of hard evidence, but the Reddy affair is a relatively sharper weapon it could use against BJP in Karnataka in the weeks and months to come.
Yeddyurappa's position as the state BJP chief, which came under a cloud after this week's humiliating by-election defeat in Ballari, may become even more untenable after Reddy's implication in the Ponzi scam. While the by-election disaster came in handy for Yeddyurapa's enemies within the party to once again scream for his scalp, the latest scam only makes Amit Shah's task of cleaning up the state unit even more urgent.
'Your CBI versus our police'?
Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal (Secular) and former chief minister Siddaramaiah of Congress, who made a spectacle of their differences after their parties formed the coalition government six months ago, became united in fighting the five Lok Sabha and Assembly by-elections on 3 November. Having notched up an impressive 4:1 victory, Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah now have another reason to be even more united in their mission of going after Reddy. Both were once Reddy's personal targets.
The Ponzi episode also gives the Congress-JD(S) combine to taunt BJP with the jibe 'your-CBI-versus-our-police'. The Modi government is being accused of using central agencies against political rivals, the latest among them being Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and BJP's ally-turned-enemy Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam. Naidu is trying to forge an anti-BJP alliance along with parties that include JD(S) and Congress.
Congress may also use the Reddy affair to sling some mud on External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, pointing out that he campaigned for her in Ballari Lok Sabha seat, where she was a candidate against Sonia Gandhi in 1999. The party's trolls are already doing that on social media, ignoring the fact that Reddy got his first mining license many years after 1999.
But it's Yeddyurappa who must be wary of what's in store for him.
The author tweets @sprasadindia