Karnataka Polls: Old Mysore: Congress Favourites, JD(S) and BJP Have A Hard Battle Ahead In This Unique Region
The enigma that is Old Mysore
Mandya: The BJP (43 seats at present), has set itself an unrealistic target of 150 seats. The Congress (121 seats at present) insists there is no anti-incumbency factor working against it. The JD(S) (29 seats) is hoping to be kingmaker again, given that those denied seats by the BJP and Congress are rushing to it hoping for a ticket. No wonder the canny party leader, former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, has held off announcing his party’s candidates list.
Yet, some poll pundits see a weakening of the JD(S) in its traditional stronghold of old Mysore. Though the party, by and large, retains its strength among its caste base of Vokkaligas, they see an erosion in support for the party among voters from other caste groups like the Dalits, Muslims and other backward communites, which could prove significant.
The party’s Vokkaliga base in the 56 assembly seats of the old Mysore areas of Mandya, Malavalli, Srirangapatna, Nagamangala, Maddur, Melkote, Krishnarajanagar and Krishnarajapete assembly constituencies will be challenged by Vokkaliga candidates put up by the Congress, with potential additional support of other religious and community groups.
But then, these other groups, along with the Lingayat population in these areas, are what BJP too is targeting in a big way. While the personal fiefdom that H D Deve Gowda has carved out for himself and his family in Hassan and Holeynarasipura has not gone down well with voters of Old Mysore who are in no mood to vote for a party that will split the popular mandate.
Critical Cauvery basin
Votes and seats apart, this region is unique in many ways that gives Karnataka’s politics and society a distinct hue. For one, it is unlike most other agrarian regions in the country where the youth prefer cities and white collar jobs to farming. Here, nearly 85% of the younger generation prefer to stay back and tend to their fields. As a result, over 11 lakh hectares of agricultural land here, which primarily grow water-intensive paddy and sugarcane, now also grow an additional crop of sunflower and other less water-dependent crops. The land does give its educated youth a decent living, given the region’s rich black fertile soil, the adequate Cauvery waters, good weather throughout the year and a rich variety of livestock.
No doubt the recent Supreme Court verdict giving more Cauvery water to Karnataka is a welcome one to the people and candidates of the region. As also the Centre’s inaction over Tamil Nadu’s demand for the creation of a Cauvery Management Board. But it remains a sensitive issue, with the local youth clubs preparing to extract more from the politicians.
“We will take an undertaking from them in our Panchayat katte that they will fight for our rights over Cauvery waters,” said Ashok Narayan Gowda of Mandya Kannada Yuvaka Sangha. “And that they will not use the water issue for advancing their own political careers or that of their parties at the cost of farmers in the Cauvery basin as they did in 2012-13”.
Narayan Gowda’s wish list also includes the hope that “the constitutional provisions of ‘Recall’ will be enacted soon.”
JD(S) has always been quick to take advantage of the political sensitivity of the Cauvery waters among farmers of the region. The issue remains politically sensitive, as Mohammad Kunhi a senior JD(S) leader, pointed out. “Both Congress and BJP have been trying hard to get a firm foothold in this region based on the promises made on the agrarian and riparian issues and swearing in the name of Cauvery, but when the issue with Tamil Nadu erupted both parties hid behind their high commands and did nothing for the suffering farmers,” said Kunhi. “But JDS stood like a rock. We will not budge from our stand in supporting the farmers in this region.”
It is this sentiment that the JD(S) hopes to exploit to improve its strength in the assembly this time. But opinion is divided on how well the party will actually perform electorally. “BJP and Congress have not been able to dent the support the JD(S) in the old Mysore region,” insists Ashwin Gowda, a youth leader in Mandya. Though he admits that the flashes of support the JD(S) saw in Uttara Kannada and Chitradurga in the past may not be the same now.
JD(S) losing leaders to Congress
But it is not just only Cauvery anymore, argue its opponents. Advocate T S Satyananda of Congress contradicts the popular notion that JD(S) is supreme in old Mysore. “Our leaders too are fighting for the farmers, and JD(S) is losing out on minority votes,” he said. “Many JD(S) leaders including Zameer Ahmed Khan and Akhanda Srinivasmurthy joined Congress, challenging JD(S) in Chamarajpet, Bengaluru and Tumkur.”
Zameer Ahmed Khan, the favourite to win Chamarajpet where the JD(S) has tied up with the insignificant BSP, is expected to bring in minority votes in the neigbhouring districts like Ramanagaram and Mandya, where he had toured extensively with his former buddy H D Kumaraswamy during the last four assembly elections. In a brief chat with this correspondent Khan said, “I hold no political grudge against anybody. I am now in a new home and I will work with the Congress leadership.”
The Congress has named candidates for all seats in the old Mysore region while BJP has so far named only 30% with the rest having to wait for its third list. According to party insiders, JD(S) will name its candidates for all 224 seats on April 20, giving them only 72 hours to file their nominations, though the party has already decided on names for some key seats in the region. Party’s state head H D Kumaraswamy had met senior functionaries in a resort in Somwarpet in Kodagu on April 17 and will be ready with the final list after his meeting with his father and party supremo Deve Gowda on April 19 in Bengaluru.
(M Raghuram is a Mangaluru-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)