Mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy and his tryst with BJP: Rise, fall, exile and return

Janardhana Reddy made his electoral debut in 2006 when he was nominated to the Karnataka Legislative Council by the BJP.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Mar 26, 2024 | 7:47 PMUpdatedMar 26, 2024 | 7:47 PM

BJP former CM BS Yediyurappa welcomed former minister and mining baron Gali Janardhan Reddy to the BJP on 25 March. (Supplied)

Man who made the infamous “Operation Kamala”, mainstream — multi-crore mining scam accused, Karnataka MLA Gali Janardhana Reddy, returned to the saffron folds on Monday, 25 March. The prodigal son has returned after a long gap of nearly 13 years.

Rising through the ranks in BJP, rubbing shoulders with stalwarts like Sushma Swaraj, reigning as the money and muscle man for the party, booked and imprisoned for scams, tagged ‘corrupt’ and ostracised by party and now a homecoming, Reddy’s tryst with the BJP is a journey of love, friendship, greed, heartbreak and desperation.

The Gangavathi MLA has also merged his one-year-old Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha (KRPP) with the BJP. He had formed the party in the run-up to the 2023 state Assembly polls and fielded 43 candidates, reportedly upset over the saffron party’s reluctance to welcome him to the party.

Janardhana Reddy had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi on 14 March following the latter’s invitation. Less than two weeks after holding talks with Shah, on 24 March, Reddy announced his party’s merger with the BJP.

The mining baron was expelled from the saffron party in 2011 following his arrest in a case related to illegal mining on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border.

Also Read: Amid discontent in Karnataka BJP, Yediyurappa says efforts on to resolve issues

How Reddy ventured into politics

Janardhana Reddy was born in a middle-class family in Ballari in 1967. His family originally hails from Chittoor town in Andhra Pradesh. Reddy’s father, a police constable, migrated to Ballari after independence.

His older brothers G Karunakara Reddy, and G Somashekara Reddy are currently with the BJP. Karunakara and Somashekara are graduates but Janardhana Reddy possesses only matriculation level education.

Janardhana Reddy ventured into business by setting up Ennoble India Savings and Investments India, a finance company, in the 1990s. The company was closed in 1998 for not complying with Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines.

After the failure of the financial business, the three brothers took a plunge into politics. They came in contact with B Sriramulu in 1998 and kickstarted their political careers with the Congress.

When Congress denied a ticket to Sriramulu in the 1999 Karnataka Assembly polls, he along with the Reddy brothers quit the party and pledged allegiance to the BJP.

Also Read: CBI court orders issuance of request letters to 4 countries in illegal mining case

Association with Sushma Swaraj

People in Ballari believe that Janardhana Reddy’s political career witnessed a turning point after he came in contact with BJP’s tall leader Sushma Swaraj during the 1999 Lok Sabha Polls.

In 1999, the Ballari parliament seat witnessed a high-voltage electoral battle as Sushma Swaraj contested against Congress’ Sonia Gandhi.

Ballari was a Congress fort in the early 1990s. Sonia Gandhi defeated Swaraj in the Ballari segment in 1999. Sonia had also won from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and chose to represent the same seat in the Lok Sabha.

The 1999 elections brought Janardhana Reddy and Sriramulu closer to Sushma Swaraj as the duo, who used to refer to her as mother, not only campaigned extensively for her but also took the responsibility of the entire constituency on their shoulders.

Despite her loss in the elections, Swaraj was impressed by the duo, which became a turning point in their political careers. She is said to have played a key role in nurturing Janardhana Reddy and Sriramulu during their early days in the BJP.

Further, Swaraj became a regular guest in the events organised by the duo in Ballari.

She visited the residence of Janardhana Reddy to for Varamahalakshmi puja, a major Hindu annual religious event during the Shravana month (a holy month in the Hindu calendar).

She inaugurated mass marriage ceremonies organised by the duo. These events brought much-needed popularity to the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu and resulted in their elevation in the BJP’s Karnataka unit.

However, Sushma Swaraj put an end to her annual ritual of visiting Ballari to take part in Varamahalakshmi puja, after the Reddy brothers were jailed on the allegations of illegal mining scam.

Also Read: How reentry of Janardhana Reddy spiced up poll scene in Karnataka

Janardhana Reddy’s elevation in politics

After establishing his clout in the mining business and Ballari’s politics, Janardhana Reddy made his electoral debut in 2006 when he was nominated to the Karnataka Legislative Council by the BJP.

Two years before his debut, in 2004, his brother G Karunakara Reddy was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Bellary seat. However, he returned to state politics after being elected from Harapanahalli in the 2008 Assembly elections.

In the same elections, his second brother G Somashekhara Reddy and B Sriramulu were elected from Bellary City and Bellary Rural respectively.

Following the 2008 Assembly elections, Janardhana Reddy was allocated the tourism and infrastructure portfolio, Karunakara the Revenue portfolio, and Sriramulu the health and family welfare portfolio in the BS Yediyurappa government.

However, Janardhana Reddy had to resign as an MLC before completing his tenure following his involvement in the mining scam.

Also Read: Dissent in Congress as aspirants demand reconsideration of candidates

Row with Kumaraswamy

Two months after becoming an MLC, Janardhana Reddy levelled ₹150 crore bribery allegation against the then chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and two Cabinet colleagues.

In 2006, the BJP-JD(S) alliance was in power in Karnataka, headed by Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa was his deputy.

He had alleged that Kumaraswamy and his two Cabinet ministers MP Prakash and C Chennigappa had allegedly taken a bribe of ₹150 crore from mine owners in July 2006.

He also released a CD, defending his bribe allegations. However, it could not provide substantial evidence against the involvement of Kumaraswamy and his Cabinet colleagues.

Following the allegations, the then state party chief DV Sadananda Gowda suspended Reddy from the party.

“Janardhana Reddy was suspended for violating the party discipline by making a sweeping statement against Kumaraswamy,” Gowda had told reporters then.

Subsequently, he filed a defamation suit against Kumaraswamy in August 2006 for calling him mentally unstable. However, Reddy withdrew the case after the intervention of Sushma Swaraj.

A year later, his suspension was revoked.

Also Read: BJP moves EC against Karnataka minister for anti-Modi remarks

Father of Operation Kamala

Janardhana Reddy is also popularly attributed as the “Father of Operation Kamala” — the BJP’s infamous move to poach rival MLAs by offering money and posts.

In the 2008 Assembly elections, the BJP led by Yediyurappa won 110 out of the 224 seats and fell short by three seats for a clear majority.

However, the BJP had managed to convince three Congress and four JD(S) legislators to resign from their MLA posts. These seven legislators then contested as BJP candidates in the by-polls. Five of them won the polls.

It is said that these defecations were organised and financed by Janardhana Reddy.

The strategy benefited the BJP whose strength went up to 115, and the party formed the government, for the first time in South India.

Interestingly, BJP leaders termed it a “political innovation”. Circumventing the anti-defection law, Janardhana Reddy managed to put the BJP at the helm in Karnataka.

This political engineering by Reddy was termed “Operation Kamala”. The BJP then went on to hold power for a full term between 2008 and 2013 but witnessed three chief ministers and the sudden collapse of the Reddy empire.

Also Read: BJP names Narasimha Naik its candidate for Shorapur assembly by-poll

The mining scam

Following the sudden demise of the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) in 2009 and the arrest of Yediyurappa, the Reddy empire began to collapse in terms of business, and politics.

The Reddy brothers encountered trouble in the mining case shortly after the tragic death of YSR in a helicopter crash.

Following an investigation, a centrally powered committee of the Supreme Court uncovered significant violations by Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC).

It also declared the mining lease granted to the company — which was run by Janardhana Reddy and his family — by the YSR government illegal.

Reddy was allotted 10,760 acres of government land by the YSR government in 2007 for the setting up of a ₹ 20,000-crore captive steel plant.

As a remedy, the committee recommended suspending mining activities until boundary pillars were erected and boundary posts laid along the state border.

Responding to these findings, the Congress government under K Rosaiah in Andhra Pradesh suspended mining operations by Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC) and requested a CBI investigation in December 2009.

In response, the Reddy brothers sought legal recourse and obtained a stay, albeit temporarily. However, this stay was lifted in December 2010, allowing the CBI probe to proceed unhindered.

CBI arrested Janardhana Reddy and his brother-in-law BV Srinivasa Reddy, who was the managing director of OMC, from his residence in Ballari on 6 September, 2011.

According to the CBI, OMC-led-by Reddy violated the environmental and mining rules by excavating iron ore illegally in Karnataka’s Ballari district and Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur district border.

Also Read: G Janardhana Reddy, accused in multi-crore mining scam, rejoins BJP

The fall of Janardhan Reddy

It was a mining scam spearheaded by the then minister for tourism Janardhana Reddy and his associates that led to the collapse of the BS Yediyurappa-led BJP government almost 13 years ago, on 31 July, 2011.

Yediyurappa, credited for bringing the BJP to power for the first time in a southern state, also became the first ever chief minister of Karnataka to be jailed. He had, however, resigned as Chief minister days before his arrest. The Karnataka Lokayukta had indicted him in the mining scam.

After his release from jail during the 2018 state Assembly polls, Janardhan Reddy made efforts to return to the saffron party but the then BJP national president Amit Shah was not ready to budge.

Shah objected to Janardhana Reddy’s return citing that it would affect the party’s poll prospects. BJP wanted to keep a person tainted by corruption allegations away considering anti-corruption was its poll plank.

However, Reddy campaigned for Molakalmuru BJP candidate B Sriramulu — with whom he made his political debut.

Janardhana Reddy, during his first innings with the saffron party, had heavy clout in the state unit of the party. He was Yediyurappa’s go-to person during times of crises, financial or political.

Though he tasted quick success in mining and politics, he also witnessed his downfall at the same pace.

Also Read: JD(S) to announce LS candidates after core committee meeting

Sriramulu’s new political party

In September 2011, former minister Sriramulu made a significant decision that reverberated across Karnataka’s political corridors.

Sriramulu resigned from his MLA post, severed ties with the BJP, and alleged that Janardhana Reddy, his friend and mentor, was humiliated by the saffron party.

With the backing of Reddy, Sriramulu embarked on an independent political journey, contesting successfully in the Assembly by-polls of the Bellary Rural constituency.

His victory underscored a shift in the political landscape, laying the foundation for the birth of a new regional party: the Badavara Shramikara Raithara Congress, commonly known as the BSR Congress, in 2011, reported the Economic Times.

While the BSR Congress managed to clinch only four seats, its presence disrupted the political equation, particularly in the Kalyana Karnataka region in the 2013 Assembly polls.

Similarly, Yediyurappa, who had also parted ways with BJP, had floated a new regional party Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) in 2012.

The regional party had managed to win only six seats but had a greater impact in dividing the vote bank of the BJP, taking away 9.8 percent of the total voters in the 2013 Assembly elections.

The BJP, facing the brunt of divided vote shares, saw its seat tally dwindle to a mere 40, marking a significant setback.

A year after the electoral setback, Sriramulu and Yediyurappa sprung a surprise by merging the KJP and BSR Congress with the BJP, expressing a shared vision to propel Narendra Modi to power in the 2014 general elections.

Also Read: Karnataka Deputy CM asserts Mekedatu project will be implemented

The 2018 Assembly polls

If everything had gone as scripted, Janardhana Reddy would have made his comeback to the BJP in 2018.

However, the then-party national president Amit Shah kept him away from the party, citing criticism from the ruling party in Karnataka.

After getting out of jail on bail, Janardhana Reddy was making necessary preparations to make his comeback to the BJP, including campaigning for his friend B Sriramulu in Molakalmuru in 2018.

The party had also given tickets to his brothers Karunakara Reddy and G Somashekhara Reddy from Harapanahalli and Bellary City, respectively.

As the BJP high command gave tickets to Reddy’s brothers and a few of his close aides in the Kalyana Karnataka region, the then-incumbent Congress government criticised the BJP leadership.

Following the criticism, Shah reportedly instructed the state leaders to restrict Janardhana Reddy from campaigning openly for the party. Shah had also cancelled his rally in Ballari in 2018.

Thereafter, Janardhana Reddy tried multiple times to reach the party high command, especially Shah, to make a comeback to the saffron cadre. However, he was not entertained.

Upset over not re-inducting him to the party, Reddy announced his new political party KRPP on 25 December, 2022. In what comes as a full circle, Reddy is now back in the BJP and if one were to go by his claims, it was on invitation by Amit Shah.

(Edited  by Muhammed Fazil)