Ground Report: Scant job opportunities in Kuppam make life easier for Bengalureans

Lack of employment opportunities coupled with unlucrative farming make residents of Kuppam Lok Sabha constituency to travel daily to Bengaluru.

BySumit Jha

Published May 05, 2024 | 10:00 AMUpdatedMay 05, 2024 | 10:00 AM

Kuppam constituency

The ebb and flow is continuous, a constant weaved into life’s fabric at Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh.

It begins before the sun paints silvery streaks on the eastern horizon. Silhouettes darker than the predawn darkness hurry toward the railway station, which has become much more active than the rest of the town.

Hurried footsteps echo in the narrow lane, a shortcut from the main road to the railway station. Most people walk to the station, an island of brightness under the high-mast lamps.

Some hurried in on their two-wheelers, which they parked on the station premises before disappearing into the building.

Inside the station, a small queue has formed at the ticket counter. Some felt the clerk was slow. They requested him to issue the tickets faster. The train to Bengaluru from Jolarpettai Junction is about to pull in.

Platform number one was already crowded, as the 5:15 am train, 16519 MEMU, whizzed in and came to a screeching halt. Passengers jostled to board the train, which soon sped away with the multitude of faceless, nameless people that form a significant chunk of Bengaluru’s lower-level workforce.

After nightfall, they will return, and hurry back to their homes through the darkness. This cycle repeats daily.

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Rush hour at Kuppam

A hush fell over the station as the clickety-clack of the MEMU dissolved into the silent darkness beyond the bright red light at the farther end. The silence was brief, as the platform soon buzzed with another batch of passengers, also headed to Bengaluru.

Kuppam constituency

Narasimha and Badri about to board the 6:45 am MEMU to Bengaluru. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Narasimha and Badri from Gokarlapalle village were sitting on a concrete bench, awaiting their train. “We rode here from our village on our motorcycle. We are going to Bengaluru,” Narasimha told South First.

Kuppam, located between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is a microcosm of rural South India. Its geographical location and dependence on the other two states have made the residents fluent in three languages: Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada.

Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu and Kolar in Karnataka are the nearest towns, but Bengaluru provides livelihoods to many. Narasimha and Badri are among the thousands of Kuppam individuals who travel more than 100 km one-way to Bengaluru daily in pursuit of livelihood opportunities.

“For those who can afford the cost of living in Bengaluru settle there permanently or stay in a rented place. Many of us commute daily,” Narasimha said.

Narasimha, a mason, and Badri, skilled in cutting and fitting tiles, rely on a monthly pass priced ₹325 for their daily commute. A single-way ticket would cost them ₹25.

The majority of commuters are blue-collar workers, seeking better wages in Bengaluru. They were like birds, leaving the nests at dawn and returning to roost at night.

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Kuppam on rails

Meanwhile, train number 06292 from Kuppam to Bengaluru arrived at the platform. “This train originates here, making it easier for us to find seats,” Narasimha said as he boarded the train for a long day in Bengaluru.

Kuppam constituency

Sarla (right) and her group leaving for Bengaluru. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Sarla, a babysitter who works in Whitefield, looked composed. “I care for a two-year-old child while the parents, employed in the IT sector, are at work,” she said. She often stays with the family for several days, accommodating their schedules.

The woman said she was taking a later train since the mother would be leaving for work later than usual. “Typically, women employed as maids and babysitters catch the 5:15 am train,” she explained.

Four others, including two women, were with Sarla. They work at a construction site. “We’ve been commuting to Bengaluru for the past 10 years,” one of the men said.

The train departed at 6:45 am. Outside the station, the parking lot is full with around 500 motorcycles. “These belong to commuters from nearby villages, who pay ₹600 monthly for parking their bikes,” the parking attendant said.

The crowded morning trains underscore the lack of employment opportunities in Kuppam.

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Engineer in medical shop

Praveen Kumar operates a medical shop near the railway station. “I hold a degree in BTech Computer Science. After getting the degree, I worked at a medical shop for six years. I have been managing this store for the past two years,” he said.

Kuppam constituency

Praveen Kumar at his shop in Kuppam. (Sumit Jha/South First)

A Computer Science graduate working in a pharmacy spoke volumes about the employment opportunities — or the lack of it — in Kuppam.

“Only two new factories have been established in Kuppam over the past five years. One of them is an apparel factory. It offers ₹7,000 a month as wages. Who will work there,” he asked before answering the question himself.

“Women seek employment there, while men find opportunities in Bengaluru. The absence of an industry capable of transforming the community’s fortunes is obvious. It leads to mass migration towards larger cities,” Kumar remarked.

He also highlighted the region’s historical significance in milk production, supported by cooperative efforts to assist dairy farmers.

“There are three milk factories in the private sector. Consequently, these farmers are forced to follow the discretion of private entities,”  he added.

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Farming a lost cause

Before boarding the train, Narasimha, whose father is a farmer, emphasised the limitations of their landholding, which is less than an acre.

“With three brothers, sustaining ourselves solely through farming is untenable. We are forced to seek alternative sources of income. Unfortunately, local development opportunities, such as masonry work, are scarce, and even when available, the compensation is significantly lower compared to urban areas,” he said.

“As a result, one brother assists our father on the farm, and the other works as a mason in Guntur, while I shuttle between Kuppam and Bengaluru,” Narsimha smiled.

Sarla’s husband, too, has been engaged in farming. The family required additional, stable income to provide a better future for their children. The need brought her to the railway station to catch a train to Bengaluru.

Priorities in life

As dusk approached, Ratna sat outside her house in Rallabaduguru village, sipping tea. The woman in her late 40s said the house belonged to her mother.

File photo of TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu addressing a rally in Kuppam. (Supplied)

File photo of TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu addressing a rally in Kuppam. (Supplied)

“My husband passed away 12 years ago. We used to live in a rented house in Kuppam town. During YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s tenure, we were promised an Indiramma house, but it never materialised,” Ratna recalled.

She has been working as a maid in Bengaluru.

Ratna did not bother about the poll outcome. Her priority was to own a house. “My brother’s family also lives here. It is not practical for me or my daughter, an intermediate student, to continue living here,” she said.

Despite receiving the benefits of Amma Vodi for her daughter’s education, Ratna has been finding it difficult to fulfill her dream of owning a house.

Meanwhile, at Model Colony, Reshama Begus reflected on the positive changes that came with the YSRCP government.

“They have provided everything for us, from Cheyutha pension to Amma Vodi, as well as the Arogyasri scheme. All this was made possible because the ward volunteer took proper care of them,” Reshama said.

Her mother-in-law underwent hysterectomy at a private hospital using the Arogyasri scheme.

Political pulse in Kuppam

TDP national president and former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu is Kuppam’s sitting MLA.

Traditionally, the constituency has been a TDP stronghold since 1983. Naidu first won the seat in 1989 and maintained his dominance ever since.

Even during the 2019 elections, when the YSRCP won most seats in the Rayalaseema region, Kuppam and Hindupur remained with the TDP.

However, recent trends indicated a shifting political landscape. While Naidu’s victories once boasted margins exceeding 50 percent, during the last election, his majority dwindled to 16 percent. Additionally, the TDP suffered significant losses in local body elections post-2019.

The ruling YSRCP has made substantial gains in the constituency, winning 19 out of 25 wards in Kuppam municipality, 75 out of 89 gram panchayats, 62 out of 65 block parishad seats, and all the four zila parishad seats.

“During the 2014 election campaign in Kuppam town, TDP leaders intimidated us, hindering our campaigning efforts. However, the landscape has transformed,” a YSRCP worker said.

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Hope for change

“The Municipality chairman now hails from our party, and people have witnessed the impactful work of our leaders in the constituency. Even many TDP members have come to realise that they can’t impede our progress. We’ve been able to reach every household during the campaign,” he added.

Meanwhile, the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP government has closely monitored the constituency’s development. In February, water from the Krishna River was released into the Kuppam branch canal, fulfilling a longstanding demand of the local populace.

The 123.641-km canal, constructed at a cost of ₹560.29 crore, strengthened the command area by connecting 110 minor irrigation tanks in Kuppam constituency, irrigating 6,300 acres and providing drinking water to 4,02,000 people along its route.

Following the water release, Naidu claimed that 90 percent of the work had been completed during his tenure. He accused the YSRCP government of delaying the project until the last moment.

Additionally, the government upgraded Kuppam Municipality from grade-2 to grade-1 and allocated ₹66 crore for local development initiatives.

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The Chandramouli effect

In the 2014 elections, K. Chandramouli, a 1990-batch IAS officer, resigned from service and contested against Naidu on a YSRCP ticket. Though he lost by a margin of 47,121 votes, he laid the groundwork for the YSRCP and ran again in 2019, narrowing the margin to 30,722 votes. He passed away in April 2020.

Kuppam constituency

YSRCP’s Krishna Raghava Jayendra Bharath campaigning in Kuppam. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Taking his father’s place, Krishna Raghava Jayendra Bharath stepped into the political arena, shifting the dynamics of the constituency.

He was appointed as the YSRCP’s in-charge for the constituency and later became an MLC. Under his leadership, the YSRCP saw significant success in the 2022 local bodies elections.

Now, the 35-year-old MLC is challenging Chandrababu Naidu in Kuppam. Bharath belongs to the Vannekula Kshatriya community, an OBC group, which holds nearly 40 percent of the vote share in the constituency.

At a rally in February, Jagan remarked that the seat rightfully belonged to the OBC community, implying a need for change.

Kumar, the medical shop owner, echoed the same sentiment. “I belong to the Vannekula Kshatriya community, and our community leader, a youth, is contesting from this seat which rightfully belongs to the OBC. I believe people will vote for him,” he said.

Bharath sounded confident. “Until now, no one has truly opposed and fought against Mr. Naidu in this constituency. When my father contested against him, we began building our cadre, and that’s when the real fight began,” he told South First.

Reflecting on the 2019 elections, Bharath suggested that if not for his father’s illness just before polling, the margin might have been narrower, or even in their favor.

“We, as cadres, worked tirelessly, reducing the margin from 47,000 to 30,000. This time, we’re even more active, addressing the constituency’s issues and giving a tough fight,” he further said.

He added that the YSRCP’s cadre strength has increased, setting the stage for a challenging battle against Naidu.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).