How China changed the politics of Karnataka

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Hunting for a scapegoat is India’s national pastime. And as the chief ministerial ambitions of B.S. Yediyurappa get cruelly chopped off by the devious designs of Deve Gowda & Sons (and daughters-in-law), every side can find plenty of pigs to explain the denouement.

The BJP can take the high moral ground and again call it “the worst betrayal ever”, ignoring its patent desperation to sleep with a promiscuous partner. The JDS can take the only road available before it—the low one—and say all it wanted was an pre-nuptial agreement on stamp paper, probably given its own sterling record of sticking to promises.

The Congress can take the middle road, rubbing its hands in glee at the “communal forces” being stumped, not once but twice, and hope that somehow something will happen that will give it get another shot at power. And the astrologers, who were proved wrong just a week ago, can claim that it was all an astral aberration.

But a good exercise at this juncture is to inspect “the foreign hand”.

For over two decades now, “the foreign hand” has been political shorthand for Pakistan. An inheritance of the Indira Gandhi era, it has been used to explain everything that went wrong in the country.

A bomb explosion, a stock market implosion, an assassination, trouble in Kashmir and Punjab, everything was traced back to the “foreign hand” of Pakistan and its ISI, although even after five years Lal Krishna Advani could not quite come to deliver the “white paper” he promised.

The nausea-inducing politics of Karnataka gives us a chance to ponder a real and more tangible foreign hand: that of the People’s Republic of China.

Think about it: Beijing through Bellary.

Bellary with its rich iron ore deposits has become a goldmine that no political party wants to take its hands off. In 2005 alone, the mine owners are said to have made profits of Rs 3,100 crore. Illegal mining is said to have cost the State Rs 25,000 crore in lost revenues.

Excavators dig through hills and hillocks, day and night, as if there were no tomorrow. And the famous high-quality ore (65%+ Fe content), trucked to and exported from Mangalore, have made millionaires out of many, some of them politicians with helipads in their homes to ferry kids to school.

The BJP first tapped Bellary’s value when Sonia Gandhi stood for elections from there in 1999 and Sushma Swaraj took her on. And there has been no looking back since.

# Real estate prices have zoomed 400 per cent in three years.

# Bank withdrawals in Hospet’s SBI have shot up from Rs 3 crore every six months to Rs 40 crore per week.

# Local press reports say Bellary will soon have Asia’s highest per capita concentration of private helicopters.

But it is the lasting imprint that the easy lucre of Bellary’s ores have left on Karnataka’s soil on their way to China in the last couple of years that is truly mind-boggling.

The first stone against H.D. Kumarawamy—the Rs 150 crore bribery charges—was thrown by G. Janardhan Reddy, who owns the Obalapuram Mining Corporation. Reddy’s brother N. Karunakar Reddy is the BJP MP from Bellary.

The currency notes counted on camera by inspector-turned-minister C. Chennigappa were earned by the sweat and toil of the mine workers. HDK’s political secretary was M.P. Suryanarayana Reddy, one of Bellary’s biggest miners and an MLA.

D.K. Shiva Kumar, with mining interests in Kanakapura himself, established through documents how the humble farmer’s family had attained mining interests in Bellary. M.P. Prakash, who made a minor bid to form a government, is also from the area, with his son M.P. Ravindra a go-between miners despite the father’s protestations.

JDS legislator Santosh Lad, who owns V.S. Lad & Co and was instrumental in installing Kumaraswamy was—no surprise, no surprise—a major player in the failed attempt to install Prakash as CM with the Congress’ support. And his cousin Anil Lad is with the BJP.

And finally, B. Sriramulu. The minister who filed a criminal complaint against Kumaraswamy is from Bellary with his own mining interests and is close to the Reddy brothers. The JDS is opposed to his inclusion in the Yediyurappa government, and it is the very renumerative mines and geology portfolio that the JDS wants.

No wonder the first action of the BJP after the Kumaraswamy government fell was to revoke Janardhan Reddy’s suspension from the party. No wonder the JDS wants the mining portfolio. No wonder BJP doesn’t want to let go.

It takes no genius to see that greed and avarice have become the leit motif of our parties and politicians. But who would have guessed that China’s insatiable thirst for steel could be fuelling it in a small corner of the globe, altering the political landscape—and political integrity—of the region, possibly for all time to come?

Also read: Mining frenzy

Iron ore politics