Bellary Brothers and the Crisis in the BJP

V Shankar

The BJP, ‘the party with a difference’ has become a ‘party of differences and factions’ everywhere. It is not surprising that the entire central and state leadership of the party, including its ideological leadership, the RSS, had to, unashamedly, kneel down before the mining mafia in Bellary, given the nature and process of its growth in Karnataka. In fact, it was the mining mafia, more than the BJP’s ‘characteristic’ communalism, which was instrumental in installing the BJP in the seat of power in this state.
The process of internalization of the mining mafia, to the extent that it would not just dictate terms, but be installed at the helm of affairs, started since 1999, when Sushma Swaraj contested the Bellary LS seat. The mafia was consciously nurtured as the king of North Karnataka and a kingmaker in the state BJP by the central leadership from the beginning. In fact, the Reddys were calling the shots even when the previous BJP-JD(S) coalition government was rocked with the accusation of corruption against the then Chief Minister Kumaraswamy. Venkaiah Naidu who visited Bellary to warn the mafia had to return empty-handed and the central leadership bowed before the mafia. The BJP might not have attained the state power without the ‘generous’ contributions from the mafia. ‘Operation Kamala’ was basically an ‘Operation Money Power’ of the mafia; the requisite numbers of MLAs to form the government were literally ‘bought’ with crores of rupees provided by the mafia to the party. They did all this with the purpose of running an independent political and illegal mining empire in North Karnataka districts bordering Andhra Pradesh. It was not just the introduction of the cess of Rs.1000 per truck-load of iron-ore but the encroachment of unwritten borders of political power by the CM Yeddyurappa that led to the crisis in the BJP.
It is not only BJP and Karnataka where the Bellary brothers’ writ runs. In the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, too, every concern of the mafia was taken care by YSR until his death while the darker side of YSR’s interests was taken care by the mafia. With the demise of YSR, the mafia lost their mentor and made a bid to foment political rebellion in the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh through Jaganmohan Reddy (an attempt which, has for the moment been stalled). The recent order of the AP Chief Minister Rosaiah favouring a CBI enquiry into mining operations of Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC) in the region bordering Karnataka is a political move to put the Reddy Brothers, and also YSR’s son Jaganmohan Reddy, on tenterhooks.
OMC was sanctioned around 68 acres of land for mining purpose in Anantapur district only as a captive mine for the proposed Brahmini Steel Plant in Kadapa district, which was expected to launch its operations in 2010. It had no licence to export iron ore. Illegal mining, both in Bellary and Anantapur, is the main stake for the Reddys which they do not want disturbed by any government.
The share of exports from Bellary today is more than 21% of total iron ore exports at the all-India level and most of it is from illegal mining. The mind-boggling amount to the tune of Rs. 2000 crores is being earned in the district every year (unofficial estimates put it even higher). The natural resources and minerals, supposed to be owned by the people of the state, are being exploited to the hilt, to the advantage of the mining mafia, especially the Reddy Bros. The time is ripe for the people’s movements to demand government intervention to nationalize all the mining operations in the country.
The crisis of the BJP in Karnataka, expressed through the demand for the ouster of the Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, is not an isolated incident but part and parcel of the larger drive for liberalisation in economics (opening of export licenses in mining sector) and its consequent expression in politics. No party, including the BJP, Congress and JD(S), is an exception to this process. This phenomenon is becoming more apparent by the day, especially in states like Karnataka and Jharkhand, but also in Orissa and other mineral-rich states. Only reversal of the drive for liberalization and nationalization of mining and related operations can put brakes on the mining mafia’s stranglehold on politics.