big money

No demonetisation blues here: The obscenely opulent Reddy wedding shows us the politics of money

Bellary mining baron Janardhan Reddy pulls off a Rs 550-crore wedding for his daughter, with BJP and Congress leaders in attendance.

Of the nearly 50,000 guests invited to the wedding of Bellary mining baron and undertrial Galli Janardhan Reddy’s daughter Brahmani in Bengaluru on Wednesday, the Barjatyas of Bollywood did not make the list. The Barjatya clan, specialists in making big fat Indian wedding-themed films, could certainly have learnt a trick or two from Reddy to reinvigorate their jaded genre.

Sample this for a scene: Janardan Reddy, out on bail after over three years in jail on illegal mining charges, is barred by the courts from entering Bellary. The doting father is heartbroken that he cannot even perform his daughter’s kanyadan from their family home, Parijata. The memories of growing up in the house are too precious for the girl. So, with the help of film production designer and stagecraft artist Shashidhar Adapa, Reddy builds not just a replica of Parijata but also of the Hyderabad home of groom Rajeev Reddy. Brahmani would symbolically step out of Bellary and walk into Hyderabad, at the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru.

For many, the three-day wedding gala that reached its finale on Wednesday was a brazen display of ill-gotten wealth, especially at a time ordinary Indians have been compelled to queue up outside banks to access rationed quantities of their own hard-earned money.

Temple run

The scale of the Reddy wedding is mindboggling. The custom-made invitation comprised an LCD screen inside an ornate cardboard chest that featured a music video of the two sets of Reddy families requesting the attendance of friends. That alone is estimated to have cost Rs 5 crores. The entire wedding reportedly cost Rs 550 crores.

At the functions, there were 3,000 security men and in excess of 500 bouncers in black suits. Almost every luxury hotel within a five-km radius of the venue was booked for guests. The song and dance events attracted the who’s who of the Telugu film industry. However, 500 dancers were also drawn from troupes in Chennai and Hyderabad.

The temporary architectural marvels eclipsed the Tudor-style Bengaluru palace in the vicinity. Designer Adapa’s mandate was to recreate the magnificent Vitthala temple at Hampi, famous for its musical pillars, and the Venkateshwara temple in Tirupati.

The Hampi Vitthala temple was recreated for the wedding in Bengaluru.
The Hampi Vitthala temple was recreated for the wedding in Bengaluru.

“He [Janardhan Reddy] is a big fan of Krishnadevaraya [an emperor of the Vijayanagara Empire] and asked for the Hampi Vitthala temple to be built, so the family could perform all the pre-wedding pujas there,” said an employee of the family. “All this is made from fireproof and eco-friendly material.”

The Tirupati replica where the wedding took place, conducted by 10 priests from real Tirupati, was kept out of bounds to both the bride and groom. “This was the big surprise, Reddy wanted his daughter to be shocked by the setting when she first entered the mantapa,” he added.

Political power

Janardhan Reddy and his brothers Karunakara and Somashekara – known as the Reddy brothers – with their confidante B Sriramulu, now the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Bellary, ran a Rs 5,000-crore iron ore mining empire in the region using their proximity both to the BJP and to the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Congress leader. Before Janardhan Reddy’s arrest in 2011, the family was said to run a “republic of fear” in connivance with the state and with total disregard for the rule of law.

The money power and the rough and ready methods of the Reddys and Sriramulu formed the glue that held together the BJP government in Karnataka between 2008 and 2013 under three different chief ministers. After 2011, the brothers quit the BJP, as did Sriramulu, who also gave up his ministerial berth in the process. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, however, all differences were papered over as Sriramulu rejoined the BJP and duly won the Reddy pocket borough.

The wedding in Bengaluru had BJP leaders in a quandary. Attending an obscenely opulent wedding at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was defending his “surgical strike” on black money and the cashless common man was suffering presented a moral dilemma. The commencement of the Parliament session in Delhi on the day of the wedding, though, presented some of the invited MPs with an escape. However, the eventual participation of BJP state chief BS Yeddyurappa (freshly acquitted in the mining scam) and other prominent party leaders showed that political calculus and money usually trump matters of morality.

Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa at the wedding.
Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa at the wedding.

Both Congress and BJP leaders present at the wedding sang from the same score sheet. “We are here because we have known Brahmani as a child and we are here purely to bless her,” was the standard response across party lines.

But, at a time when the entire country is reeling under a cash crunch, how did the Reddys manage a wedding of this scale? Surely it required mountains of hard cash?

“See, we outsourced everything to the event management company,” explained a family member. “It was their headache to arrange everything. The family had begun planning for the wedding six months in advance, and all payments were through cheque only.”

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