7 days before polling

It’s April 14, seven days before voting in Karnataka. Shivakumar Malagi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate from Bellary, is on stage. In the sea of white Gandhi topis with the words Main Hoon Aam Aadmi emblazoned on them in black Devanagiri script, he stands out. His is the only cap that has the words emblazoned in red: a small touch to separate the common man’s candidate from the common man.

The temperature in Bellary is already hitting 40°Celsius, and the press club, recently refurbished with vitrified tiles and flat-screen televisions, is buzzing with sweat-soaked journalists. Cameramen from three television channels are jostling for space—with each other and with party activists—on the platform.

Malagi is seated on the platform with six other AAP members. He adjusts his cap to make sure the words are visible to the camera, clears his throat, and begins the press conference. He apologises for the delay, and starts listing out questions for the Congress candidate, Justice N. Y. Hanumanthappa. It’s a tactic straight out of the playbook of his party’s founder Arvind Kejriwal.

“Why did Justice Hanumanthappa say that illegal mining in Bellary was no longer an issue? Since the last election, when he contested and lost, why did he not raise the issue either with the government or in the media? Why did he not visit Bellary even once since the last election? Why did he not do anything for Bellary when it was hit by a drought two years ago? Is there a secret understanding between him and the BJP candidate?”

Malagi then opens the floor to journalists.

“Why are you not asking these questions of the BJP candidate?” “I will be posing questions to him next week.”

“Why do you say that Hanumanthappa should do something about illegal mining when he had lost the elections?” “Because he got nearly four lakh votes, and he is accountable to those who voted for him.”

“If illegal mining has stopped, why do you bring it up as an issue?” “Because the culprits are still not punished”.

At the far end of the room, a journalist in his late forties thunders, “What is the difference between you and other national parties? Everyone says the same thing.” Malagi, taken aback by the boisterousness of the gentleman, replies “Well, our party has really begun functioning only in the last three months. We are saying that we will clean Bellary of corruption if you elect us.”

The journalist continues to heckle him. “But what have you guys done in these three months? What community service have you done for Bellary so far?” Malagi’s smile is  intact as another party member replies. “We have given a memorandum to the deputy commissioner to improve school facilities.”

“That’s trivial,” says the journalist.

 “Please understand that we are a new party, and we will be taking up more people’s issues in the coming days.”

 “You’re all the same,” the journalist shouts back.

Malagi tries to pacify him, saying that he is looking for guidance from journalists as he embarks on his political career. The conference eventually ends in a cacophony as journalists and party members begin to talk over each other.

For a fledgling party like the Aam Aadmi Party, there is a lot of scepticism on whether they can make inroads into rural constituencies like Bellary. For Malagi, his new career as a politician is turning out to be a trial by fire, especially in front of journalists. It was only a month ago that he was on the other side of the equation, when he himself questioned politicians as a journalist.



alagi has not changed much since I last saw him. The lanky frame of the fiery journalist has given way to one suited to a mellowed, middle class family man. His face retains the thin, neatly-trimmed moustache, and bushy eyebrows accentuate his intense eyes.

I first met Malagi during my first job at Hubli where both of us worked at The New Indian Express. I was a reporter, and Malagi was the person who helped me find a place to stay and helped me with assignments. Over my year-long stint at Hubli, Malagi came across as a smart reporter with a keen understanding of politics, but who often got in trouble with the newspaper’s senior editors. Despite this, his reporting was looked upon with great interest by the Bangalore office.

One morning in December 2007, as I arrived at the office after an assignment, Malagi came in and excitedly took me aside. He had just attended a membership drive by the Karnataka 

Youth Congress at the Glass House in Hubli. He told me that the response was poor and his report on that would cause serious damage within the Congress.

News reporting in towns like Hubli is rarely very exciting, and I couldn’t understand why this was exhilarating to him. At the time, Sadanand V. Danganavar was the president of the Karnataka Youth Congress. He was from Hubli, and it had hardly been six months since he took charge. Rahul Gandhi was heading the Youth Congress at the time, and the membership drive was part of his programme.

Danganavar was outside the state on tour while the membership drive was taking place in his hometown. From Malagi’s account, the response was insipid. Malagi wrote a harsh piece on the failure of the Congress Youth president to conduct a successful enrolment drive in his own hometown. He also ensured that a picture was taken, and the report appeared in the newspaper in the inside state pages. Within a week, it was rumoured that Malagi’s story had reached Rahul Gandhi. Two weeks later, Danganvar was asked to step down in favour of Krishna Byre Gowda, who has since become the agricultural minister in the current Congress government.

Eventually, I transferred out from Hubli to Bangalore. Malagi left Hubli and The New Indian Express for Bellary and The Deccan Chronicle. I met him a few times there while reporting on illegal mining in Bellary. Mostly, I did what I could with my sources within Bangalore, while Malagi—who had better access to miners and activists fighting illegal mining from within Bellary—inevitably broke some of the bigger stories. I viewed it as friendly competition with an old colleague, until the mining issue died down after the arrest of some conspirators, and the judgment of the Supreme Court.

A year after I had last heard from him, Malagi and I bumped into each other in March, near MG Road in Bangalore. He was in the city to meet Manish Sisodia, a senior AAP leader, to get a ticket from the party to contest the Lok Sabha elections. While he kept playing down his chances, he was clearly very excited about the idea of contesting.

Malagi told me that in the intervening year, he had been active in the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. When the movement split to form a political party, he decided to join the AAP. He was a founding day member of AAP, and showed me a photograph of himself, holding a placard with the words Aam Aadmi Zindabad at Jantar Mantar on November 20, 2012.

Since then, Malagi and a few party enthusiasts managed to enroll close to 6,000 members to the party within Bellary. “Of course, within the scheme of things, this is not a big number,” he says. “But we do have significant support bases in various places.”

Malagi’s heart was always in politics over journalism, and all this was not really surprising. But I always presumed he would join the Congress, and not a fledgling party like AAP. I reminded Malagi that during our discussions when we worked in Hubli, he would talk about how he was a Congressman at heart. Malagi says that he still has a soft corner for the Congress, but with all the corruption scandals around it, the party has lost momentum.

“Moreover, I see no future for the party with Rahul Gandhi leading it,” he says.



fter the press conference, Malagi invites me to join him on his campaign trail around Bellary. Our first destination is Gudekote, a village 50 kilometres south of Bellary. It’s 2 p.m., and the temperature has risen to 39°C.

The AAP convoy consists of three vehicles: a Toyota Innova for the candidate and his campaign managers, a Force Trax Toofan to carry 20 volunteers, and a mini-tempo fitted with a platform, microphone and speakers for canvassing.

Once we arrive at the village, Malagi calls the local AAP party worker. They decide to abandon campaigning in the village since it is too hot and there is nobody to listen to him. According to Malagi, this is the biggest disadvantage of campaigning in Bellary during summer.

“Though campaigning is allowed till 10 p.m., there is very little one can do before 4 p.m.,” he says. Some campaigning is done between 10 a.m. and noon, but people cannot bear the heat long enough to hear a full-fledged speech. So they just do a padayatra with the candidate through the village, with music blaring from the speakers.

Once it’s clear that no campaigning is going to take place here, we move on the next town on the agenda: Kotnur. With two hours left before the campaign can start, Malagi decides to visit the Sri Guru Basaveshwara Matha temple in Kotnur. We then proceed to a lodge; it is routine for Malagi to freshen up before the final stretch of campaigning for the day. “Some people think it is vanity on my part, but it is necessary to look good before your constituency. People here always like to vote for others who at least appear to be from a higher economic background,” he says.

While his deputies go to the local police station with permission letters from the deputy commissioner to hold a padayatra, Malagi gets ready. Wearing a long, pencil-striped grey kurta and blue jeans, Malagi walks to the mini-tempo with the slight limp that he has been carrying ever since I’ve known him. He climbs onto the platform atop the mini-tempo, and begins to move slowly through the town. The vehicle is plastered with photographs of himself and Kejriwal accompanied by anti-corruption messages.

The speakers blare a speech made by Kejriwal, which promises to pass a Lokpal bill that will strip anyone guilty of corruption of all his wealth. This is followed by a version of Vande Mataram by A. R. Rahman. After the song and speech are played three or four times, the convoy stops at the town circle in front of the vegetable market. Malagi lifts a broom (the party symbol) in one hand, a microphone in the other, and starts to speak.

“My name is Shivakumar Malagi, and I’m from the Aam Aadmi Party,” he says in Kannada. “This is the common man’s party, this shopkeeper’s party, this rickshawallah’s party, and the party of the poor.”

Malagi speaks hesitantly at first, introducing himself as the son of a farmer. Around 100 people gather around the mini-tempo, listening despite the frequent passage of vehicles around them. The pitch is low-key, and one person next to me tugs at his earlobes to hear over the din. Malagi grips the microphone firmly with both hands, like a schoolboy delivering a speech.

Malagi says that AAP was formed so that even regular men like him could get into politics. He talks about illegal mining in Bellary, of how mining resources belong to the common people but people are not taken into consideration. As he gets into the heart of his pitch, the rhythm of the language settles into the region’s dialect: a confluence of Kannada, Telugu and Dakhni words, with an accent that leans more towards Telugu. His hands loosen. As his confidence peaks, he begins to gesture with one hand, his voice modulating from high to low and back.

The speech goes on for about 45 minutes and ends with an incantation of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki Jai. There are pockets of applause in the crowd. Malagi gets off the mini-tempo and gets into the Innova. As the convoy passes through the village, he respectfully folds his hand and waves at passersby.

It’s now nearly 7 p.m. and the convoy travels through two other villages. The routine is repeated. The response is better here as there is more spontaneous clapping among the crowd.

After his last speech for the day, Malagi meets some of the local volunteers. A young man with a skull cap asks if they have any pamphlets so that they can campaign for him in the village. Malagi says yes. The young man asks if he will contribute to a loan for his nephew’s school fees. Malagi tries to change the subject and says he will call back. He asks the driver to leave.

“Everybody wants money here,” he says. “The district has been spoilt by the flow of money in previous elections. Some will ask me directly, but often, people will ask indirectly through contributions to loan, or ask them to purchase a cycle.”

The convoy stops at a khanavali, where jowar rotis with brinjal curry, rice, sambar, and curd are served to the volunteers. It’s 10 p.m. by the time dinner is done, and the journey back to Bellary takes more than two hours.


6 days before polling


alagi and company set out for South Bellary at 10 a.m. In the car, he reviews all the newspapers and is pleased with the coverage of the press conference. Even the boisterous journalist who asked him all those uncomfortable questions gave him a four-column story in the paper. He’s happy.

The road from Bellary is marked by granite hills and rocks. This is where the mythical Kishkinda is located, the monkey kingdom where Hanuman is believed to have been born. Boulders 10 to 15 feet high stand atop hills, creating the effect of a heat bowl in summer. Nowhere else is this stark geography seen in its full glory than nearby at the ruins of the 14th century Vijayanagara empire at Hampi.

Half an hour into the drive, the landscape changes to greener pastures. Herdsmen struggle with their sheep across the road. The herdsmen, many of whom like Malagi, belong to the Valmiki community, a Scheduled Tribe community.

We are getting closer to the Tungabhadra dam, the lifeline for agriculture in these areas. While Bellary is classified as an arid region in terms of rainfall, the Tungabhadra dam has provided irrigation for 1.57 lakh hectares: nearly 30 per cent of the cultivable area. The result is visible as we pass through fields of paddy, jowar, and maize.

Malagi’s campaign is primarily managed by two party members. Sridhar Kawali is a photographer who worked with Malagi at The Deccan Chronicle. Besides planning the actual campaign, Kawali is in charge of making sure the volunteers distribute pamphlets, that they are well-fed, and also taking photographs of the campaign. Many of the volunteers are boys still in college, and most of them come from backward communities. Malagi occasionally offers them words of encouragement, but it is Kawali who ensures that they are in a good mood. Instead of the much more pleasant ride in the air-conditioned Innova, Kawali travels in the Toofan with the volunteers, making jokes and offering advice.

I ask Kawali why he decided to join Malagi. Kawali mentions the recent financial troubles that his newspaper has undergone in the last two years. He hints that getting paid was an issue, and says that he owes a lot to Malagi for getting his work published. “When he decided to enter politics, I had no hesitation in joining him,” he says.

The second member of the team is Rakesh V., an assistant reporter and DTP operator with Suddi Moola, a Kannada newspaper. Rakesh is in-charge of media operations; he prepares press releases and mails them to various newspapers from his laptop, while Kawali takes the photographs. Rakesh says that he has taken a sabbatical from work to be able to help with the campaign, and plans to return to his job once the election is over. He says that he used to bump into Malagi at various press conferences, but was not very familiar with him. “Sridhar (Kawali) and I have been good friends for a while, and he roped me into the campaign,” he explains.

Given the limited funds and manpower they have for campaigning, the AAP strategy for these elections has been to maximise media coverage. Every morning, Malagi scans the English and Kannada newspapers. If there is any coverage, he personally telephones the reporter to thank him. He then enquires after the mood of the region the reporter is from, and asks him for advice.

It’s a tactic that often works because apart from the Congress and the BJP candidates, Malagi is getting a fair amount of coverage when compared to other candidates. For instance, the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate hardly receives column space in any of the newspapers, despite being a significant force in the state.

However, media interest in the AAP is not solely for newsworthy reasons. Malagi tells me that many journalists—whom he considered to be his friends—came up to him and asked for money in return for coverage. “This really surprised me,” he says. When the mining issue was hot, he told me, due to his access to sources, he was the first to usually get hold of important reports from the Supreme Court and the CBI.

 “Many times, journalists would gather at my house and I would distribute copies of the reports. We would discuss whatever was newsworthy, and would file our stories. It was a little disappointing to hear them ask for money.”

Malagi says that journalists in the region imagine that he is flush with cash since he is contesting elections. “They imagine I have money to pay for such coverage,” he says.



fter scanning the newspapers, Malagi announces that he wants to visit Mylara, a temple town about 165 kilometres southwest of Bellary. “It’s right on the edge of the constituency. Nobody usually visits over there. I think it’ll be a nice gesture,” he says.

We first go to Mariyammanahalli, a small town near Hospet. The convoy arrives at about 1 p.m. near a mosque, where people are emerging from Friday prayers. Party workers from the town are ready with a garland for Malagi, and he goes from shop to shop, asking for blessings.

In Mariyammanahalli and across Bellary, there appears to be significant support for the Aam Aadmi Party among the Muslims. “My guess is that Kejriwal’s decision to stand for elections against Modi at Benares is behind it. There’s a lot of sympathy for Kejriwal among the Muslims in Bellary,” Malagi says.

After lunch, we proceed to Huvinahadagalli. It’s 4 p.m. by the time the convoy reaches, and Malagi goes to a lodge to freshen up. By 5 p.m., Kejriwal’s speech and Vande Mataram are playing, after which Malagi delivers a speech in the town’s main area. It’s mostly similar to the one he gave the previous day, but is peppered with a little more detail on his work as a journalist.

It’s 7 p.m. when they wrap up, giving the group only three hours to reach Mylara. “We must get there by today,” Malagi tells the volunteers.

Three villages are visited on the way, so we reach Mylara with only 10 minutes left to campaign. Malagi makes a quick round of the town on foot, and then stands with the volunteers for a group photograph in front of the temple. “Not the ideal campaign, but I’ll take it,” he tells me.

After dinner, we return to Huvinahadagalli, to the lodge Malagi used in the evening. “This is the only lodge in town,” he says apologetically as we look around inside. “This place has been raided twice for prostitution. You must understand that nobody comes to visit small towns like these. There’s nothing here. So, the proprietors cater to a clientele who wants to engage in such activities.”

We discuss the Aam Aadmi Party’s chances and the support he is getting from the party. He says that the leadership in the state is still finding its feet; no one from Bangalore has visited Bellary. He accepts that they will not have much impact here. “Unless Kejriwal comes to Bellary, it’s all up to my effort,” he says.

I ask him why Kejriwal is not visiting. “He has bigger battles, and I don’t blame him,” he says.

What about Prashant Bhusan, who represented the petitioners fighting illegal mining in the Supreme Court? Malagi says that Prashant’s trip a few days ago was cancelled at the last minute. “There was some work at the party headquarters, and he had to call it off.”


5 days before polling


he convoy starts earlier than usual, and we are campaigning in the first village by 10 a.m. The mood is buoyant. The group has just received reports of a raid conducted last night. Election officials had raided the residence of Parashuram Puria, a moneylender in Bellary and a dealer in explosives for mining, who is popularly known in the local media as “Chor Babulal”.

Election officials found ₹9.5 crore in Puria’s residence, stashed in three almirahs and trunks along with fixed deposit receipts, land records, and cheques. The signed cheques were worth ₹5 crore, while Kisan Vikas Patra worth ₹4.30 crore was also confiscated. Deputy commissioner Amlan Aditya Biswas said the moneylender provided huge sums to political parties. They also found a cheque from the BSR Congress—the party that BJP candidate B. Sriramulu had founded and left only a month back—allegedly to repay the loan taken in the previous election.

This election has seen unprecedented scrutiny by district officials to check such allurements to voters. The deputy commissioner installed nearly 50 CCTV cameras outside houses of candidates and party members, including one outside Sriramulu’s house. The live feed from all 50 cameras was being monitored 24x7 at the deputy commissioner’s office. Election officials also roped in more than 1,000 volunteers from different villages, providing them with mobile handsets and SIM cards to report poll violations. The raids on Puria were done after one such volunteer made an anonymous phone call to the election helpline.

The Times of India reported Amlan Aditya Biswas as saying that Puria intended to distribute ₹50,000 for every booth in Bellary district. In a separate raid, the police found ₹1.22 crore in an Innova car in nearby Hospet.

Malagi tries to address this issue in most of his election speeches. “I hear that parties are giving ₹500 to ₹1,000 to people to vote for them,” he says in a speech at Hoovinahadagali. He urges them to not do so with simple mathematics.

“An MP has five years in office, which translates to 1,825 days. Divide the ₹500 you get with that. You are being paid 4 annas per day—pretty poor return I would think,” he points out. “Isn’t it better if you vote for an honest candidate who can guarantee employment that pays much higher than that?” At Hoovinahadagali, this is accompanied by fervent clapping from the audience, but at some other places, the response is lukewarm.

When I ask Malagi about how much money he has for campaigning, he tells me that the party has given him close to ₹2 lakh. Prashant Bhushan’s fighting of the illegal mining case allowed him to gather another ₹2 lakh from the party. In addition, the party had enrolled nearly 6,000 members in Bellary, and contribution from them added another ₹1.5 lakh.

When I asked this question again on the last day of campaigning, Malagi replied that he was able to further arrange around ₹2 lakh, bringing his total up to nearly ₹8 lakh. While this is a decent sum for a party that began only three months ago, it pales in comparison to what mainstream parties were spending, officially and unofficially. Under the recently-amended expenses code, candidates are allowed to spend a maximum of ₹70 lakh for Lok Sabha elections. More importantly, both the Congress and BJP candidates are alleged to be spending much more to lure voters.



fter lunch, Malagi announces that we will be campaigning in his hometown Kamalapur, about 10 kilometres from Hampi. Malagi first visits his mother’s house, a house by a small lake in Kamalapur. After freshening up, the convoy embarks on a padayatra.

The crowd is strong and the reception is excellent. Children run behind the convoy, requesting volunteers to distribute the Aam Aadmi caps that the party has sent from Bangalore. Two children climb onto the Toofan’s side steps and roar to the children behind them until a volunteer makes them climb down.

The padayatra proceeds through the market to the town’s main circle. Unlike other places where he had nobody to introduce him, here Malagi is felicitated with a grand homecoming by the locals. The man who introduces Malagi mentions that for the first time, a man from their neighbourhood is standing for parliamentary elections. He mentions Malagi’s background as a journalist who fought illegal mining in Bellary, and talks about how he is the right person to clean up Bellary politics.

The microphone is handed over to Malagi. With five days of sustained campaigning under his belt, he delivers the speech like a veteran politician: getting the crowd to laugh, firing them up with Vande Mataram, expressing scorn for the candidates for the BJP and the Congress.

An elderly man from the crowd comes up to the mini-tempo and beckons to Malagi. He leans down and the man touches his forehead and blesses him. Malagi folds his hand and thanks him. A group of people comes forward—old men and women—and they all touch Malagi’s folded hands and announce that they will vote for him.

This has been a successful outing.

I ask Malagi what he thinks the outcome of the election will be. “I understand we are not going to be anywhere close to winning this election,” he says. “My primary aim in this election is to get my name out there.”

He says that his party has built a strong base in Sandur, Hospet and Kudligi. “I’m confident we’ll do well in these parts,” he says. He is in it for the long game, he adds. With assembly elections due in four years, Malagi says he will choose one of these constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes. “There’s a vacuum of good candidates from outside the mainstream parties in the district. I think I can fill that.”

I point out that it’s almost impossible to win in any Bellary constituency without the support of miners. “I’m not against mining as such,” he says. “There is legitimate mining, and if the mining takes places with the approval of the Gram Sabha or the Gram Panchayat, I would not oppose it.” He says he is open to receive donations from miners. “Our party is not against small-time businessmen. Our stance is only against crony capitalism.”

When asked who he would not take money from, he replied that there was no way he would accept funding from the Jindals.



o understand Malagi’s decision not to oppose mining, one has to look at the history of elections in Bellary. Till 2004, Bellary, along with a handful of constituencies in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, was the Congress’s safest constituency in the country. They had won all elections in this constituency, going back to the first parliamentary election in 1951.

The constituency is dominated by two communities: the Lingayats who emerged in the 12th century from the teachings of Basaveshwara, and the Scheduled Tribes. Each is estimated to constitute between 25 to 30 per cent of the total population of the constituency.

In Bellary, politics has been traditionally dominated by the Lingayats. In addition to being one of the principal constituents, Bellary’s iron ore-rich mines were also largely controlled by Lingayats such as VESCO and the KMP Group who have been mining in Bellary for decades.

The combination was effective: in 1977, 1984, 1989 and 1991, the constituency was won by a Lingayat candidate. In 1996 and 1998, K. C. Kondaiah, an OBC candidate who owned a steel mill backed by the mining lobby, won the constituency handsomely.

Two events changed Bellary politics since then. In 1999, Sonia Gandhi, who had taken over the Congress, was in search for a safe seat to contest in addition to Amethi, and locked down on Bellary. The BJP put up Sushma Swaraj to fight her and this introduced Gali Janardhana Reddy and his cohorts into the BJP. They began campaigning aggressively for Swaraj. Though Sonia Gandhi won with a handsome margin, the Reddys established deep political roots in Bellary. Under the patronage of Swaraj, who frequently visited Bellary, the Reddys had begun to dominate local politics.

Flush with money after taking over some iron ore mines in 2002, the Reddy brothers added money power to the already formidable muscle power they exercised in the district. In the 2004 Lok Sabha and state assembly elections, the BJP won three out of the eight assembly constituencies in the district. Importantly, Janardhana Reddy’s brother Karunakara Reddy managed to wrest the Bellary Lok Sabha seat from the Congress for the first time.

One of the BJP MLAs from the Reddy coterie was Sriramulu, who hails from the Valmiki community, a Scheduled Tribe. Sriramulu would prove to be crucial in the next assembly election for the BJP and the Reddy brothers to dominate Bellary politics.

The second event that changed Bellary politics permanently was the redrawing of constituencies in 2008. The Delimitation Commission was charged with assigning reserved status for Scheduled Tribes to constituencies with the highest share of such communities. In Bellary, out of five out of nine assembly constituencies were marked for Scheduled Tribes, and two for Scheduled Castes.

With Sriramulu as the ST face of the party in Bellary—and the phenomenal wealth that the Reddy brothers accumulated during the iron ore export boom to China prior to the Beijing Olympics—the BJP was a favourite to sweep the district. Add to this the support of B. S. Yeddyurappa, the Lingayat chief ministerial candidate, and the BJP was able to lock the Lingayat and the ST vote, and also had the required money power on ground. In the 2008 assembly elections, the BJP swept eight out of the nine assembly constituencies with its roster of candidates from Sriramulu’s extended family in the reserved constituencies, and the Reddy brothers in constituencies where they were eligible.

Even as the Reddy brothers with Sriramulu dominated Bellary completely, the illegalities in their mining operations began to catch up with them. In 2011, Lokayukta Santosh Hegde (the state’s anti-corruption ombudsman) submitted a report to the government indicting the Reddy brothers for large-scale illegal mining. Yeddyurappa was also forced to step down from the Chief Minister’s post after it was found that a trust operated by his family was the recipient of `30 crores from a mining company operating in Bellary.

Simultaneously, a Supreme Court-appointed committee, on the basis of a PIL filed by an NGO called Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, also came to similar conclusions and recommended a CBI investigation into the Reddy brothers. The CBI arrested Janardhana Reddy and as a fallout, Sriramulu and the remaining Reddy brothers were left out of the government. Sriramulu decided to part ways with the BJP, and formed a new party: the Badava Shramika Raitha Congress (BSR Congress). In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP was shut out of Bellary with the BSR Congress winning four and the Congress winning five seats. The BJP, however, has retraced its steps and has brought both Yeddyurappa and Sriramulu back into the fold. Both have been given tickets to contest elections this time in an effort to reach 272 seats in Parliament.

Given the history of elections in Bellary, Malagi feels that it is almost impossible to win elections without the help of the miners. He foresees a role where he can balance the needs of the people and the miners in a mutually beneficial way. Whether he can do it is still to be seen.


4 days before polling


alagi is back at the press club, and he is holding a press conference to issue 18 questions to Sriramulu. He’s prepared a booklet this time, and intends to distribute it to voters. The press conference is less explosive than last time as it is a Sunday, and most journalists want to go home as soon as possible.

 The previous evening, Malagi, Kawali and Rakesh discussed whether they should attempt something dramatic. Rakesh suggests that Malagi and the volunteers march to Sriramulu’s house and give him the booklet. Malagi is excited by the idea, but Kawali shoots it down. “Once you enter Sriramulu’s neighbourhood, we will be surrounded by his goons,” he says. 

Malagi replies that Sriramulu wouldn’t dare attack him during elections. Kawali agrees, but points out that there is no guarantee of safety once elections conclude.

“Many of our volunteers don’t even weigh 40 kilograms. They are in no position to defend themselves,” he says.

Half an hour later, the plan is abandoned. Instead, Malagi issues a challenge at the press conference, asking Sriramulu to debate with him on the 18 questions at a time and place of his choosing. There is no response from Sriramulu in the subsequent days.


2 days before polling


fter three hectic days in rural Bellary, Malagi has planned a grand padayatra for the last day of campaigning in Bellary city. He has arranged for an all-women troupe to perform the traditional Dollu Kunitha, a drum dance accompanied by singing which is typically performed by tribal communities. The padayatra begins at 11 a.m. and they walk for two hours in the blazing heat, covering nearly two kilometres.

The party then retires to Malagi’s house, where Malagi and Kawali admire the resilience of the Dollu Kunitha performers in this heat.

“These women are made of stern stuff,” says Kawali. “Most people would wilt in this heat.” He tells me that they had employed the same troupe when Malagi had filed his nomination at the deputy commissioner’s office.

The padayatra resumes at 4 p.m. They start from a Muslim neighbourhood in Old Bellary and proceed toward the city bus stand, where they pause for Malagi to deliver a speech. He’s at his fiery best, delivering the speech in Kannada, Urdu and English, exhorting people to vote for him.

There’s still half an hour to 6 p.m., the mandated deadline to cease all public campaigning. Malagi wraps up his speech and gets off the mini-tempo. He takes over one of the drums from the troupe. They march to the city’s historic clock tower, and, against the background of the city fort, begin performing the Dollu Kunitha. Malagi is at the centre. He is drumming vigorously.

I move closer to Malagi to hear his drumming. It’s overpowered by the drumming of others and he is out of sync with the rest of the troupe. But slowly, the drumming gets louder and his timing improves.

The crowd cheers him loudly.