With the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 just days 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.
“When I was a girl of about twelve, I used to stay in a village in north Karnataka with my grandparents. Those days, the transport system was not very good, so we used to get the morning paper only in the afternoon. The weekly magazine used to come one day late. All of us would wait eagerly for the bus, which used to come with the papers, weekly magazines and the post.”
Sudha Murty, Chairperson of Infosys Foundation, gave a glimpse of village life through the eyes of the little girl in ‘How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories.’
Sadly, 41 percent of the population in Shiggaon, Murty’s birthplace, is illiterate. They won’t be able to read her book even if it is in Kannada — unlike 62-year-old Kristakka, the main character in the short story.
Kristakka was adamant about learning to read that she made the little girl her guru. And one Dassara, the elderly woman touched the feet of the girl — her guru — in reverence.
Shiggaon still maintains its rustic charm — clad in lush green with hills and forests throwing a protective ring around it. Several lakes dot the landscape, irrigating the farms where sorghum, maize, groundnut, chili, and sugarcane grow.
But it has come a long way from the childhood days of Murty’s girl. The people thank their MLA and Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai for the change it has undergone.
However, there are voices of discontent. Mahesh Y Budihal, 28, a young farmer of Kalyan village, was upset over the unfair and poor payouts by insurance companies under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana.
“We pay the insurance premium regularly for every crop but the insurance companies con us while paying the sum. The government has to strictly monitor so that the farmers are not cheated,” Mahesh, also a graduate, said.
He had paid ₹200 per acre for the maize crop in the 2021-22 season. He suffered crop loss due to a natural calamity. He did not receive any insurance that was promised for the season.
“The agriculture department officials respond to big farmers and they make the majority of small farmers, who are illiterate, run from pillar to post or else demand bribes to get files cleared,” he alleged.
“This is the state of affairs across Shiggaon,” Budihal said, adding that corruption is rampant in the region.
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Youth seek employment
He was also disappointed over the poor employment opportunities for graduates in the region.
“I am a graduate and worked a couple of years in Bengaluru. I quit my job due to personal reasons and returned home. I have now taken up farming,” Budihal, who grows chilli, cotton, and maize, said.
“Chief Minister Bommai represents Shiggaon in the Assembly. He should have done more work to generate employment,” he opined.
“He has brought a textile park and garment factory to Shiggaon. I am hoping that I will get a job in one of those factories. These two factories will address unemployment to a certain extent in the region,” Budihal is eagerly waiting for the under-construction textile park to become operational.
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Shiggaon taluka is located in the Haveri district in North Karnataka and has a population of over two lakh. The local economy is largely agriculture driven.
The several lakes in the region have increased the groundwater table across the taluka. Over 70 percent of the land is irrigated and the remaining 30 percent is dependent on rains.
Shiggaon has good connectivity as several major roads and highways connect the taluka. The town is also home to several temples and religious places.
The taluka provides education up to graduation level, but to pursue higher education or professional courses, students have to travel to Haveri, Hubballi, or Dharwad.
People are dependent on Hubballi and Haveri for advanced medical treatment as there are no specialised hospitals in the taluka.
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The voters in the Shiggaon Assembly segment give full marks to Bommai for carrying out overall development works across the taluka.
From filling tanks to addressing drinking water issues to developing quality roads in every village to setting up industries, Bommai has taken up several initiatives, voters claimed.
“Shiggaon was one of the backward talukas in North Karnataka. After Bommai got elected from this segment, he changed the picture of the taluka,” Rudresh Boosreddy of Athigeri village told South First.
“He ensured that all the lakes are filled under various irrigation projects. This has not only improved the groundwater table but also boosted farming,” he continued.
“The roads have been improved in the last decade. He has delivered on all the promises he made,” Boosreddy added.
“The unemployment is severe in the region. However, the chief minister has brought a garment and textile park to the taluka. This is expected to provide employment,” Naveen Patil hoped. He is also happy with Bommai.
“We have no complaints about Bommai’s work. He has helped the farmers. The lakes and borewells now have water,” farmer Dayamangouda Patil, also of Kalyan village, told South First.
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The Congress was the dominant force in Shiggaon till 2008, when Bommai wrested it for the BJP.
In the past 11 Assembly elections, the Congress has won six times, BJP three times, and JD(S) and an independent once each.
Bommai is again seeking the mandate while the Congress has fielded businessman Yasir Ahmed Khan Pathan. Shashidhar Yeligar is the JD(S) candidate.
In 2018, Bommai defeated Congress’s Syed Azeempeer Khadri by a margin of 9,265 votes.
“If the Congress had fielded former MLA Azeempeer Kahdri, who is also a religious head, or former minister Vinay Kulkarni, it would have been a tough fight for the chief minister,” political commentator Virupakshappa Tuppad told South First.
“The JD(S) nominee Shashidhar Yeligar belongs to Lingayat Panchamasali, which is dominant in the constituency. He might get some community votes. Bommai made all efforts to appease Panchamasalis by providing them a quota hike and taking up various works for the community in the segment,” he further said.
“The chief minister also has a good rapport with the Muslims. After Lingayats, Muslims are the decisive factor in the constituency,” he explained.
“There was an anti-incumbency at play. After the Congress announced its candidate for Shiggaon, the political equations completely changed. Bommai will comfortably win for a fourth consecutive time from here,” Tuppad opined.
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Muslims bat for Bommai
Despite the Basavaraj Bommai-led Karnataka government taking away the four percent reservation under the 2B category for minorities, a section of Muslims has pledged their support to the chief minister.
“Bommai has not ignored the minorities. He provided funds to build mosques, educational institutions, and other works of the minority community,” Sherif Nadaf, a leader of the minority community, told South First.
“It was the Bommai government that set up the Pinjara Nadaf Development Corporation. It was a long-pending demand of the minorities. The Congress utilises minorities only as its vote bank and has not done any work for the development of Muslims,” he alleged.
“The BJP government scrapped the four percent reservation for minorities but the Supreme Court has stayed the order. I would not like to comment on this as the matter is before the court,” Nadaf said, adding that they would support Bommai in the elections.
The Muslims are also unhappy with the Congress as the party has fielded an outsider, Pathan. He hails from the neighbouring Hangal taluka.
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Lingayats and Muslims are the dominant communities in the Shiggaon Assembly segment. Kurubas and SCs and STs form the rest.
Lingayats have around 70,000 votes, Muslims have over 55,000 votes, SCs, and STs have over 30,000 votes, and Kurubas have around 22,000 votes.
“The people here consider caste, development, and individual relationship while exercising their franchise,” Tuppad said.
There are 2.21 lakh voters in the Shiggaon Assembly segment: 1.11 lakh men and 1.10 lakh women.