Kolar and Chikkaballapur Lok Sabha constituencies, which remained a safe bet for the Congress until now, face an anti-incumbency trend. While former chief minister Veerappa Moily, who comes from Dakshina Kannada district, seeks his third term from Chikkaballapur, former union minister KH Muniyappa seeks an eighth term from Kolar.
Both the constituencies face extreme drought conditions, deteriorating ground water table and urban migration. People voted the incumbent Congress MPs with a hope that they’d keep their promise to bring water through the much-hyped Yettinahole (river diversion) project. But, with water yet to reach farmers, people now look for an alternative.
The Yettinahole project, or the Nethravathi river diversion project, aims to supply drinking water to parch certain districts of Karnataka — Tumakuru, Chikkaballapur, Kolar and Bengaluru Rural. The project faces legal and environmental hurdles as it cuts through the Western Ghats. Chief Minister HD Kumarasswamy, while in Opposition, termed the project as a money making scheme.
Putting up a fight
Not only has the BJP put up strong candidates in both the constituencies, it has also lined up top leadership to campaign for them. Moily contests against BN Bache Gowda, who lost to him by 9,000 votes in the previous election. Meanwhile, Muniyappa will face S Muniswamy, a first-time municipal councillor from Bengaluru, in a seat reserved for members of Schedule Caste.
With support from the workers’ union in Bagepalli in Chikkaballapur, Communist Party of India (Marxist) fielded S Varalakshmi as its candidate. Going against the Congress and the BJP, CPI(M) promises to fight for pro-people policies. This could take away a few thousand votes from the Congress-JD(S) coalition.
“We gave him (Moily) two terms on a promise that he’d bring water to Chikkaballapur. We neither got water nor any development projects,” says Manjunath S, a resident of Chikkaballapur town. “The ground water level dips below 1,500 ft in many villages. Farmers desperately need water.” Though Manjunath does not know much about the BJP candidate, he says people have no choice but to choose him, in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While young voters showed support to the Congress because of development in local areas in Chikkaballapur, middle-aged and senior citizens questioned the failed promises by Congress leaders. In urban pockets, areas that are close to Bengaluru city, the support to BJP is stronger. Earlier this week BJP’s national president Amit Shah held a rally in Yelahanka and Chikkaballapur town.
Meanwhile, in Kolar, the resentment was stronger. And the infighting in Congress party continued. This could take a toll on Muniyappa’s candidature. “We voted Muniyappa to power seven times, every term with a renewed hope. But what is his contribution to the constituency apart from grabbing land? Where are the railway projects and jobs he promised?” questions Lashme Gowda, 79, in Seekallu village in Chintamani.
Even though demonetisation hit Kolar tomato farmers hard and pushed them into debts, many fogive Modi when they think of the local candidate’s contribution the constituency.
Giving it a shot
Both the Congress leaders hope to cash in on the JD(S)-Congress coalition despite the infighting within the party cadres.
In Chikkaballapur and Kolar, the Congress holds five of eight Assembly segments in each and JD(S) holds two. BJP holds only one seat in Chikkaballapur and an independent candidate holds one in Kolar.
In the previous election, JD(S) candidate Kumaraswamy (Karnataka CM) took away one-fourth of the votes in Chikkaballapur. Kumaraswamy broke into the votes of Congress, whereas BJP lost by the thin margin.
Besides targeting the vokkaliga vote bank in the region, BJP builds a narrative that Moily is an outsider to the constituency and he contributed nothing to the development of the region. In turn, it focuses on the development agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and people look forward to it. In 2009, the Congress shifted Moily from his native Mangaluru seat in the coast to Chikkaballapur. The minister, however, expressed confidence that Congress would win the seat with the help of the coalition partner.
In Kolar, a group of MLA’s led by Karnataka Assembly speaker Ramesh Kumar reached out to the Congress high command asking them not to give a ticket to Muniyappa. But the party decided to give ticket to the incumbent MPs with a hope to settle local disputes.
However, on ground, the infighting continues and people talk on those lines. “Leaders fight within their own party. How do we get confidence to vote for them? Modi has no family, no personal interest. We’ll give it a try with BJP this time,” says Lakshmi Devamma in Perumachanahalli in Kolar.