The BJP views him as a strong grassroots leader, who can be pitted against heavyweight politicians.

From being Janardhana Reddys aide to becoming a power centre Rise of B Sriramulu
Karnataka Elections Karnataka 2018 Friday, April 27, 2018 - 19:27

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decision to field MP B Sriramulu in Badami against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has raised a few eyebrows across the state. Not only was Sriramulu picked over BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa, he is also going to contest from two constituencies – from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga and Badami in Bagalkot.

But for those who have observed Sriramulu’s rise from close quarters, the news comes as no surprise. Rather it only highlights how Sriramulu has risen through the BJP ranks and emerged as a political force in his own right in a party oft-criticised for lacking local leadership in the state.

The BJP has relied heavily on central leaders in its campaign to return to power in Karnataka, but in Sriramulu, the party has a leader who is considered by residents of Ballari, Chitradurga, and its neighboring districts, as one of their own.

Speaking on the sidelines of his campaign trail, he refuses to let his new-found reputation distract him. “I am a simple party worker. People are talking about a Deputy Chief Minister post if BJP wins, but I have no expectations like that,” he tells TNM.

Sriramulu’s cause is aided by the fact that he speaks fluent Telugu, which is spoken in Ballari and Chitradurga, as they border Andhra Pradesh. Sriramulu is also considered a top leader of the Valmiki Nayaka community and brings in a significant number of votes because of his caste.

But it his closeness to Gali Janardhana Reddy, a former Union Minister and the prime accused in the 2011 Ballari mining scam, that is considered as a major factor in his rise through the BJP’s ladder.

Sriramulu was moved from Ballari to Molakalmuru in Chitradurga in an apparent bid to allow Janardhana Reddy to campaign along with him. Janardhana is barred from entering Ballari, the heart of his mining empire, as per his bail conditions. He has since taken up residence on the border of Ballari and Chitradurga in Molakalmuru and has been actively campaigning with Sriramulu.

This, in spite of BJP National President Amit Shah’s claim that the party had “no relationship with Janardhana Reddy” in a public meeting in Mysuru on March 31. Sources in Molakalmuru and Ballari admitted that party members have been visiting the home of Janardhana Reddy to chalk out the BJP’s campaign for Sriramulu.

Janardhana Reddy, ‘a childhood friend’

When asked about the Reddy dichotomy in the BJP, Sriramulu tries to strike a balance: “What Amit Shah is saying is right, and I have nothing to say against it, but when a karyakarta wants to help out a friend, nobody can do anything about it. Janardhana Reddy is not a party member nor does he have any role in the party. Whatever he is doing, he is simply helping me out as a friend and there is no other intention behind it.”

Sriramulu also reveals that his close friendship with Janardhana Reddy goes back to their childhood days. “He is a childhood friend and we have been friends for a long time. I have been by his side on good days and bad days. Even when he was jailed, I was with him,” he adds

Even today, the duo live next to each other in lavish houses on the outskirts of Ballari.

Sriramulu, however, dismisses the idea that Janardhana Reddy’s history will have a bearing on his election campaign, and instead points out that in the Ballari mining scam, both Congress and BJP leaders were arrested. “What about Congress leaders Anand Singh, Nagendra and Anil Lad?” he asks.

Janardhana Reddy has already campaigned openly in favour of the BJP. He shared a stage with Sriramulu and BS Yeddyurappa in a programme held on April 21. A picture of Janardhana Reddy also features on the campaign vehicle of his brother Somashekara Reddy, the BJP candidate from Ballari City.

2018 – A Reddy-Sriramulu homecoming?

It was the Sriramulu-Reddy combination that helped the BJP corner 8 out of 9 seats in Ballari in 2008, which allowed the party to come to power in the state for the first time. However, after Janardhana Reddy was accused in the mining scam, Sriramulu resigned from the BJP and floated the BSR Congress.

The BSR Congress contested against the BJP in 2013, winning two seats in Ballari including the seat Sriramulu won when he swept the Ballari Rural constituency. The BJP then was beginning to see Sriramulu’s value and moved quickly to re-induct him into the party before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Fast forward four years and Sriramulu has ascended to the top of the party’s hierarchy and is set to contest against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in Badami.

The threat of rebel Thippeswamy

However, Sriramulu can ill afford to focus solely on the contest in Badami. His main challenger in Molakalmuru is set to be independent candidate Thippeswamy, who was dislodged by the BJP to make Sriramulu its candidate from the constituency.

Thippeswamy is the current MLA of Molakalmuru, but the BJP leader was left in the cold when the party announced Sriramulu would be contesting instead of him. He was named as the BJP’s candidate from Chitradurga instead, but he rebelled against the party and is set to contest against Sriramulu in Molakalmuru. “Thippeswamy rebelling and contesting as an independent was not welcome, but we are confident it isn’t really a threat,” says Sriramulu.

Local BJP leaders concede that Thippeswamy commanded a significant number of followers in Molakalmuru as he hails from Nayakanahatti in the area, but stopped short of predicting that it would threaten Sriramulu in any way.

They also believe that it is in a situation like this the added political influence of Janardhana Reddy will come in handy for Sriramulu. “With Janardhana Reddy taking care of Sriramulu’s campaign in Molakalmuru, he is free to focus on his campaign in Badami as it will be against the CM,” explains a local BJP leader.

Sriramulu visited several villages in Molakalmuru on Friday, stopping at each village to give a short speech. It was the first time he was visiting villages including Machenahalli, Ashokasiddapura, Hoskote, Devasamudra, Ramasagara, Veerapura, Roppa, but residents in most villages already knew of Sriramulu by reputation.

Ever since Congress leader Nijalingappa rose to become Chief Minister of the state in 1962, Molakalmuru is yet to see a candidate from its constituency become a minister. But residents believe that with the steady rise of Sriramulu, that could all change next month.

 

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