Karnataka elections: Controversial mining baron Reddy is still BJP’s poll face

Molakalmuru: Controversial iron ore mining baron G. Janardhana Reddy’s days start early these days and end late at night: that’s how long it takes to visit each village in the Molakalmuru assembly constituency.

Reddy does what candidates in the 224 constituencies of Karnataka have been doing in the run-up to the 12 May assembly elections. He obliges every selfie request, delivers speeches atop campaign vans and meets local party workers.

There’s just one difference: Reddy isn’t actually fighting the elections. Rather, he is supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose candidate, his close aide and friend B. Sriramulu, is also fighting in a second constituency, Badami, to take on chief minister Siddaramaiah.

But for many in the Molakalmuru, Reddy is the face of the BJP. With Sriramulu busy in Badami, the responsibility for Molakalmuru has fallen on Reddy.

“Sriramulu is taking care of campaigning in the entire state and Badami and I am taking care of Molakalmuru,” Reddy said outside his modest looking farm house on the outskirts of Ballari.

Reddy has become both the BJP’s biggest strength and its greatest weakness. Despite the BJP top leadership’s refusal to acknowledge Reddy’s presence in the party, his influence is there for everyone to see.

Restrained by a court order from entering Ballari over alleged illegal mining and other cases, Reddy has focused solely on Molakalmuru, which has a significant population from his own community. He has been using his proximity to the mineral-rich district to mobilize support and channel his resources for Sriramulu.

“We don’t know Sriramulu well but we admire Reddy. It’s because of him that many of us had jobs before,” one resident of Honnuru, a small hamlet in the constituency, said.

Reddy, whose home and campaign vans are plastered with posters of the BJP’s top leadership, is a controversial figure. In 2011, he engineered the removal of B.S. Yeddyurappa as chief minister and held the then BJP government to ransom by locking up several ministers and legislators loyal to him, in a resort outside Bengaluru.

The ruling Congress party has spared no opportunity to attack the top leadership of the BJP over Reddy. Unperturbed by the attacks, Reddy has been travelling to all the regions in the 40-plus degrees Celsius heat, to campaign for Sriramulu. Reddy has, however, shied away from too much media glare. “I have been given clear instructions not to speak,” Reddy says, but won’t say by whom.livemint