In the red ravines of India’s richest mining town Bellary, Karnataka, 10000 trucks, speed away in a sinuous frenzy to the Belekari port. The trucks ply for the Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC), run by the brothers Janaradhan and Karunakara Reddy (both incumbent ministers in the BS Yedyurappa cabinet) Somashekhara Reddy (the MLA from Bellary) and their close confidante B.Sreeramulu.
The Bellary mining story began almost a decade ago when Janaradhan Reddy set up OMC in Andhra Pradesh. In 2007, with the support of the late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, YSR Reddy, OMC acquired leases to mine iron ore in Anantpur district, an area close to the Karnataka border. However, Janaradhan Reddy realized that the real money lay across the border in Bellary. The superior grade Bellary iron ore is amongst the finest available India and slack government regulations were conducive for easy pickings. Flexing his newfound political clout, Reddy arm-twisted mining companies in Bellary to transfer their mining leases to the OMC. In the years, leading to the Beijing Olympics, OMC transformed itself into a mining behemoth. The Olympics had lead to a frenzied construction bustle in China that exponentially increased the demand for iron ore. OMC ravenously scavenged Bellary to feed a burgeoning and hungry Chinese economy.
The large-scale iron ore exports brought in enormous profits for the OMC and made the Reddys the most powerful men in the Karnataka-Andhra mining belt. Owing to his strong relationship with YSR, Janaradhan Reddy tried to install YSR’s son, Jagan Mohan, as Andhra Pradesh’s chief minister after YSR’s demise. The political campaign to build support for Jagan Mohan, funded entirely by the Reddys, was so powerful that it took a resolute repudiation from the Congress High Command in Delhi to stop the Reddy juggernaut.
When his flirtations with the Congress failed, Reddy supported BJP veteran Mrs. Sushma Swaraj and began nursing her prime ministerial ambitions. The growing influence of the Reddys impelled Karnataka Chief Minister, BS Yedyurappa to reign in corruption in the Bellary mining belt. The act provoked Janaradhan Reddy to round up supporting MLAs and threaten the BJP led coalition government with impending dissolution. It took all of the BJP senior leaderships’ persuasive skills and a teary public apology by the Chief Minister to assuage the Reddys. Not content, Janaradhan Reddy forced Yedyurappa to sack his trusted cabinet ministers and replaced them with his lieutenants. The brazen ostentation of power by the Reddys was just the beginning of a protracted media saga orchestrated in Karnataka.
However, all the swank earned the Reddys powerful enemies. Following allegations by Lokayukta Justice Hegde, the Reddys find themselves at the centre of the Belekari Port Scam, where 0.8 million tons of illegally dumped iron ore disappeared in contravention of a Supreme Court order. The sacking of Mr. R. Gokul, the Deputy Conservator of Forests who reported the scam on frivolous grounds and the ensuing resignation by the Lokayukta has worsened the case for Reddys. In a rare demonstration, the opposition parties in the state are unanimously clamouring for an independent inquiry against the Reddys and the OMC. Bowing to the pressure, the governor of Karnataka HR Bharadwaj has called for the sacking of the Reddy brothers citing misuse of office for personal profit.
Nevertheless, even for all its potboiler twists, change may never visit Bellary and the mining belts situated on the ambiguous Karnataka-Andhra border. For, the political fortunes of the two neighbouring states and Messers Jagan Mohan Reddy and Mrs. Sushma Swaraj lie umbilically connected to the mines of Bellary and to the man who fancies himself to be the King of Karnataka politics – Gali Janaradhan Reddy.