Home to mining barons Reddy brothers, the Bellary Lok Sabha constituency is among the most keenly contested seats in Karnataka. Bellary turned a BJP bastion ever since Gali Karunakara Reddy, the elder of the Reddy brothers, was elected to Parliament in 2004. His younger brother, Gali Janardhana Reddy, the more prominent of the Reddy brothers, shared close ties with senior BJP leaders at the centre which became the springboard for their rise to power and influence.
Even though Sushma Swaraj failed to win the elections, Janardhana Reddy had made his presence felt at the elections and was able to influence the BJP at the national level. He was inducted as a Member of Legislative Council (MLC) in 2006. In 2008, he was made a cabinet minister in the then BS Yeddyurappa government. Karunakara Reddy was also made cabinet minister during the same term.
B Sriramulu, another close ally of Sushma Swaraj in 1999, had lost the assembly elections held in the same year. However, he became a confidante of the Reddy brothers and become a minister alongside the Reddys in the BS Yeddyurappa government in 2008.
Sriramulu’s sister, J Shantha, took over the constituency from Karunakara Reddy in 2009. She won a close election by a margin of 2,243 votes. However, Reddy brothers faced a major setback when Janardhana Reddy was jailed after allegation of illegal mining was leveled against him. And this had a severe impact on the BJP as well in 2013 as the party was reduced to two assembly seats out of nine.
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However, the BJP was successful in retaining the Bellary Lok Sabha seat in 2014 to complete a hat-trick win after B Sriramulu, who had developed himself as a firebrand leader by then, won the contest. However, he renounced the Lok Sabha seat after winning the Molakalmuru assembly constituency in Chitradurga in 2018 and moved all political his activities to the new district.
This set the stage for Sriramulu’s sister Shantha to contest again but she lost in the bypoll held in November 2018, to Congress leader VS Ugrappa. Ugrappa is now seeking re-election as a Congress-JD(S) nominee.
Now with a Supreme Court ban on Janardhana Reddy’s entry into the district and Sriramulu shifting his focus away, it became difficult for the BJP to name its candidate for the constituency.
The party finally fielded Y Devendrappa as the candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Interestingly, Devendrappa happens to be a relative of the Jarkiholi brothers, sugar barons from Belagavi.
Cases of illegal mining, the arrest of former minister Gali Janardhana Reddy and Shantha’s humiliating defeat set the stage for the introduction of Jarkiholi brothers.
Hailing from Belagavi, over 300 kilometres away from Bellary, the Jarkiholi family has a history of being among the influential families in the state. Their rise presents a rags-to-riches story of businessman Laxmanrao Jarkiholi and his five sons.
Ramesh Jarkiholi, the eldest and most prominent among them, is currently the Congress MLA of Gokak, the headquarters of Belagavi district. However, he is said to be unhappy about not being offered a cabinet berth. However, Satish Jarkiholi, the second sibling, is a minister at present. The youngest, Lakhan, continues to be with the Congress even though it was rumoured that he would join BJP this poll season.
However, the other two – Balachandra and Bhimishi are with the BJP with the former being the MLA from Arabhavi constituency.
Also considered to be strong influencers in the Valmiki (Naik) community, the Jarkiholi brothers are gradually becoming BJP’s trump card in the district to consolidate maximum votes for Devendrappa.
The BJP is also trying to bank on ‘rebel’ Congress leaders in the constituency. As campaigning in the constituency gets intense, DK Shivakumar, a Congress minister took a dig at the Reddy brothers vis-a-vis the BJP leadership asking, “Have they (Reddy brothers and BJP) done anything for your welfare?”
Will the Jarikholi family take over the space left vacant by the Reddy brothers?
Only time will.