With the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 just weeks away, South First is bringing you ground reports from key constituencies. This series brings you voices from the ground, the mood of the voters, and issues that matter — as well as those that don’t — as people make up their minds on who they will elect in the upcoming Assembly elections.
The Chikkaballapur Assembly constituency is among the few seats in Karnataka where the MLA is also a minister in the Cabinet — local MLA Dr K Sudhakar is Karnataka’s health and medical education minister.
Chikkaballapura or Chikkaballapur is home to a diverse population with a mix of urban and rural areas. The local economy is driven largely by agriculture.
The city is close to Bengaluru, and the farmers are mostly dependent on the state capital to sell their produce.
Geographically, the Chikkaballapur Assembly seat shares a border with the districts of Kolar, Bengaluru Rural, and Tumakuru. This region is known for its scenic beauty and is surrounded by hills and valleys.
Farmer woes in health minister’s segment
“Ever since I started cultivating grapes, I have been incurring losses. Most grape growers are reeling under a severe financial crisis — either due to a plunge in market prices or natural calamities. The government is least bothered about it,” Sampath, who cultivates grapes on about two acres of land, told South First.
His is not a one-off story.
Most grape growers in the Chikkaballapur Assembly constituency have hardly managed to make a profit in the last five seasons.
A farmer annually needs to spend anywhere between ₹1.5 lakh and ₹2.5 lakh per acre for grape cultivation and maintenance, but the returns are disappointing.
The Chikkaballapura district is the second-largest producer of table grapes — after Vijayapura — in Karnataka. The grape variety is cultivated on over 2,500 hectares in the district.
Farmers in the region are miffed with the government for failing to regulate fertiliser prices and not addressing the lack of marketing infrastructure.
“In the last three years, the prices of all the fertilisers, labour (wages), and other expenses related to grape farming have skyrocketed. The prices of fertilisers, such as the water-soluble ones, have increased threefold. The government is providing subsidies only to urea and diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilisers,” Sampath said.
He added that while their grievances are heard, no one from the government — present or past — have made any efforts to address them.
Manjunath, a farmer and a resident of Hosahalli, told South First: “It has become very difficult for farmers to survive because of the lack of supportive prices for grapes and flowers and the increase in production costs. Other than giving ₹10,000 under the Prime Minister Kisan Saman Nidhi Yojana, the ruling BJP government has done nothing to improve the lives of farmers.”
Why the complaint despite the cash deposit? Manjunath pointed to inflation and the higher costs of everyday household items.
“The prices of grocery items, fuel, cooking oil, and every product have gone up. The government has remained blind instead of making life more affordable to farmers and the poor. How do we survive in this costly world?” asked Manjunath.
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Other considerations in Chikkaballapur
The Chikkaballapur Assembly constituency is known for its significant contributions to agriculture, horticulture and dairy farming. The region produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, including grapes, mangoes and pomegranates.
The segment is also home to several industries, including silk and cement.
When it comes to education and health, the city has well-equipped district hospitals and many private multispeciality hospitals, as well as professional colleges — including medical and engineering institutions.
Raghavendra Kulkarni, a retired professor and resident of Chikkaballapur, told South First: “After Sudhakar was elected as our MLA from this seat, it has been raining development works in the district headquarters. In the last decade, the city has grown rapidly in terms of development.”
He added: “The basic infrastructure like roads, and access to healthcare and education have improved. There was a time when people used to commute to Bengaluru for employment, health, and education. Now, people prefer going to Bengaluru only for serious ailments.
He continued: “However, the local MLA should put more efforts into bringing industries to provide employment on a large scale for the local residents.”
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Opinion divided on HN Valley Project
Famine was a common phenomenon in the region until 2019. However, with the implementation of the Hebbal-Nagavara Valley (HN Valley) Project, farmers and local residents heaved a sigh of relief as the groundwater levels drastically improved.
The HN Valley Project was announced during former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s regime in 2016. The project was implemented only in 2021. Waste water from Bengaluru City is being treated here and then supplied to fill around 65 lakes in the Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, and Chikkaballapura districts.
Earlier, farmers needed to drill up to 1,200-1,400 ft to find groundwater. After the implementation of the HN Valley Project, the groundwater is available at 400-500 ft.
Though farmers are happy with the HN Valley Project, many allege that its improper implementation has resulted in an increase in diseases among crops — mainly grapes.
Farmer leader Anjaneya Reddy told South First: “The government thumped its chest claiming that it had solved the local water issues with the implementation of the HN Valley Project. In reality, the farmers are facing severe issues — mainly an increase in diseases to their crop.”
He added: “We are happy that the government has made an effort to address one of the serious issues of the region. At the same time, it is its responsibility to implement the solution properly. Waste water from Bengaluru is not being treated as per norms.”
Reddy alleged: “This polluted water is contaminating not only the agricultural lands but also groundwater. This will have adverse effects on a large scale in the coming days. The government has to wake up at the earliest and ensure that the water is properly treated.”
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Dr K Sudhakar is a favourite in Chikkaballapur
The Chikkaballapur Assembly constituency was once a stronghold of the Congress. The constituency elected several Congress leaders over the years.
In the last 15 general elections to Assembly, the Congress won 10 times, the Janata Party and the JD(S) won once each, and thrice it went to Independents.
In the 2018 Karnataka Assembly polls, the Chikkaballapur Assembly segment saw a tough competition between the Congress and the JD(S).
Congress nominee Dr K Sudhakar defeated JD(S) candidate KP Bachegowda, who had won the seat in the previous polls.
Despite K Sudhakar switching his loyalty to the BJP in 2019, he managed to register a thumping victory against Congress candidate N Anjanappa in the 2019 Assembly by-polls. With that, the BJP opened its account in the Chikkaballapura district in a bypoll.
People have no qualms about K Sudhakar joining the BJP. People, mainly in the urban areas, applauded him for the development works he carried out.
In the 2023 Assembly polls, the BJP is expected to field the incumbent MLA. The JD(S) has announced a ticket to former MLA KP Bachegowda, and the Congress is yet to announce its candidate.
Cakewalk on the cards?
Irrespective of the political engineering by Opposition parties, Sudhakar appears set for a cakewalk in the upcoming Assembly polls because he seems to have impressed the voters. Other than his work, his gifting spree has not gone unnoticed.
“The MLAs elected before K Sudhakar did hardly any development works in the segment. Ever since he was elected, he completely overhauled the city. We have better roads, health facilities, regular supply of drinking water, and other basic needs in the city,” Sridhar, a car driver, told South First.
However, a section of people alleged that Sudhakar distributed gifts and freebies to the voters in the run-up to the polls.
“Dr K Sudhakar organised a rangoli competition, where most of the women from the Assembly segment took part. Other than giving prizes to the winners, he gave away gas stoves and other utensils to all the participants in the name of consolation prizes. This is nothing but luring voters,” alleged Manjunath.
He was not impressed with tactics used by incumbent MLA to woo voters.
AHINDA vote dominates Chikkaballapura segment
Chikkaballapur is considered a part of the old-Mysuru region, and the Assembly constituency is dominated by AHINDA votes.
AHINDA is the Kannada acronym for Alpashankhyataru (minorities), Hindulidavaru (backward classes), and Dalitaru (Dalits) — a social engineering tool proposed by former chief minister Devaraj Urs and honed by Congress leader Siddaramaiah.
There are around 2.8 lakh voters in Chikkaballapur, of whom 1.5 lakh are men and 1.3 lakh are women.
Vokkaligas, Muslims, SCs, STs, and Reddys are the influential communities in the segment.
In Chikkaballapura, the people prefer to vote based on the candidate’s image, and not on the basis of the political party.
“The main aspects we look for in a candidate are: Is he accessible to people? How does he respond to individual concerns? Has he done development work in his tenure? We will vote based on these factors. The party is secondary to us,” Vinayak M, a tailor, told South First.