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Signs In The Wind: In Karnataka, Rural Voters Feel Indebted Towards Sidda

"If not for the rice, we would have migrated elsewhere to survive."

B. Sriramulu, the Ballari strong man, thought Molakalmuru would be a cakewalk. On paper he’s right. The constituency is reserved for Scheduled Tribes, or to the Nayaka community to which he also belongs and has over the years projected himself as their leader. It is about 50 km from his hometown so managing it shouldn’t be difficult and the aura of a State leader representing the constituency could swing votes in his favour.

Unfortunately, nothing has worked in his favour from the day his name was announced, unseating the incumbent MLA S Thippeswamy. Incidentally, Thippeswamy had won from Badavara Shramikara Raithara (BSR) Congress party started by Sriramulu in 2013 which was later merged with BJP following Yeddyurappa’s homecoming. The now disgruntled Thippeswamy is contesting this election as an independent candidate.

“Can you tell me why BJP denied ticket to Thippeswamy?,” asks an angry Mallesh Siddappa a 40-year old farmer from Neralahalli in Molakalmuru. “Sriramlu said that he will give a writing in his blood that Thippeswamy will not be disturbed but he went back on his words.”  The rebel BJP candidate has apparently circulated a WhatsApp audio clip that has Sriramulu saying such things. But that is not the only gripe.  “How can we vote for somebody who lives far away and travels around in a helicopter? Our Thippeswamy is available all the time and is a true farmer,” says Kumar Nayaka of Konasagar.

If there is anger that Thippeswamy was denied a second term by the BJP, it mostly stems from the clash of sub-castes. Nayakas have two sub-sects, Myasa and Oora. Those who lived in forests belong to Myasa and the city dwellers identify themselves as Oora. The Myasas outnumber the Oora Nayakas by three to one in Molakalmuru.

Sriramulu is an Oora Nayaka while Thippeswamy is Myasa. Both Mallesh and Kumar are also Myasa nayakas. Such has been the sharp division within the community that Sriramulu’s campaign is mostly being run by volunteers from neighbouring Andhra. Telugu is as widely spoken here in this constituency as Kannada.

At the far end of the constituency closer to Ballari, MG Lakshmipath from Thimkapura village says “we are hoping that Sriramulu will become Deputy CM if BJP comes to power. He will change the fortunes of this constituency.” The constituency is severely water stressed. The bore-well depths have reached 900ft but even at that depth, water yield is low. “It has been 10 years since we had good rains that filled the ponds,” says Eshwarappa from Thimkapura.

This clash of identities has turned advantageous for the Congress Party who has given a ticket to a 34-year old Yogesh Babu, a sitting Zilla Panchayat member from B G Kere village. He too is a Myasa Nayaka. His main poll plank is water. “If I don’t get water problem solved in the next five years, I will not show my face to you again,” says Babu to a cheering crowd at Obalapura. “Siddaramaiah will be CM again and vote for me to help solve water issues.”

Realising that Nayaka votes are heading for a three-way split, all the candidates have turned their attention on Scheduled Castes, the second biggest community in Molakalmuru. At the Dalit colony near Maranahalli, 66-year old Pennamma said:

“I don’t know who my husband and two sons will support, but we are giving our votes to Siddaramaiah. If not for the rice, we would have migrated elsewhere to survive.” Her daughter Gowri too echoed these views although she is unhappy that sugar and palm olein has been discontinued. “I will vote for Siddaramaiah, that is the least I can do to pay back our gratitude.” Mallesh and Kumar have the same issue at home, “Even in our families, the ladies are saying the same.”

This ‘paying back the gratitude’ is a recurring theme among rural women folk, regardless of caste affiliations in the 18 constituencies I have visited across the districts of Mysuru, Mandya, Tumkur and Chitradurga. Anna Bhagya was the first decision Siddaramaiah took upon swearing-in as Chief Minister in 2013 and this scheme has given Siddaramaiah a sure shot of creating history next Tuesday.

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