In Indian mining town, nexus between politics and crime plays out

Apr 22 2014, 18:43 IST
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SummaryStooping to feed grain to a black cow as a religious offering at his unfinished mansion, Indian politician and rags-to-riches millionaire B.

by Indian standards. When finished, his imposing house will be the size of a hotel and feature a swimming pool.

Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a civil society group, shows that one in six candidates registered for the first five stages of the 2014 general election faces criminal charges, slightly more than in the 2009 ballot.

These candidates have a far higher win rate than others, meaning nearly one in three lawmakers in the outgoing parliament face pending criminal cases.

"In the absence of an impartial state which can deliver benefits, protection and justice without bias, 'tainted politicians' can and will find support," said Milan Vaishnav, a South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Whether locals support Sreeramulu and others like him could have a major impact on the outcome of the vote, and signs on the ground are that the contest for Bellary is desperately close.

At the last parliamentary election in 2009, the BJP won by only around 2,000 votes in the district of 2.5 million people. This time Sreeramulu is up against an elderly former judge with a clean image representing Congress.

"The Congress candidate is new, but he's a judge with no scandals," said Shivaji Rao, an unemployed mine operator in a Bellary town called Sandur, who said the BJP candidate had little support there. "Sreeramulu has too many scandals, although it's not proven, and Reddy is in jail."


He was referring to Janardhana Reddy, Sreeramulu's former business associate and mentor who, along with his brothers, accrued power and fabulous wealth by exporting iron ore to China but is now behind bars on charges of illegal mining.

The Supreme Court suspended virtually all mining in the area in 2011 as a result of the case, putting thousands out of work and bringing down the BJP's first ever Karnataka government - in which Janardhana Reddy and Sreeramulu served as ministers.

After paying his respects to the cow tethered to the bamboo scaffolding of his half-built mansion, Sreeramulu jumped into a white SUV for a last day of campaigning.

Plunging on foot into a teeming market, guarded by two armed policemen, he met vendors who told him business was better when he and the Reddy family ran the district before the mining ban.

Sreeramulu himself has been hit relatively hard, with his personal wealth now less than a third of the $8 million he declared during a local election

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