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.
Being just 65 kilometers away from Karnataka’s capital city Bengaluru is a boon and bane for Kolar Assembly constituency. Boon, because of the proximity to employment opportunities for the youth of Kolar and bane because of the neglect in developmental activities with all the attention focused on Bengaluru.
With elections just months away, South First is bringing you ground reports from constituencies. This is the first report in as series to bring you voices from the ground, mood of the voters, issues that matter and those that don’t as people make up their minds on who they elect.
Kolar is a 90-minute drive from Bengaluru. Perhaps the reason why Congress Legislature Party Chief Siddaramaiah is leaning towards contesting from the seat. But the more important reason is the demographic composition of the Assembly constituency.
Despite its proximity to Bengaluru, one won’t see big industries or shiny new roads. There are no largescale factories giving employment to local youth, there are hardly any prominent higher educational institutions or renowned hospitals.
“Though we are living very close to the state capital, we have remained undeveloped in all the major sectors, including infrastructure, health and education. The elected leaders have been unresponsive to the major issues,”
Sadashiva Gowda, a businessman and resident of Kolar city told South First.
That sums the biggest concern of voters of the Kolar Assembly seat.
Buzz around Siddaramaiah in an AHINDA seat
Kolar Assembly segment is dominated by AHINDA — the Kannada acronym for ‘Alpasankhyataru’ (Minorities), ‘Hindulidavarau’ (Backward Classes) and ‘Dalitaru’ (Dalits), a social engineering tool coined by former Chief Minister Devaraj Urs and promoted by Siddaramaiah.
There are around 2.2 lakh voters in Kolar, of which 1.11 lakh are men and 1.1 lakh are women. SC/ST votes amount to 50,000 while there are around 41,000 Muslims voters.
Vokkaligas account for 39,000 votes while Kurubas have about 28,000 votes. Other backward classes (BC) communities make up around 30,000 votes while dominant castes like Brahmins, Kammanaidus, Balajiga and communities like Christians and Jains make up the rest.
It is this potent combination of AHINDA votes that makes Siddaramaiah confident of a victory in Kolar, although he is currently an MLA from Badami seat and his home turf is Varuna in Mysuru.
“The strong vote bank of AHINDA is one of main factors for the Congress to dominate in the district. Other than the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it has been tough for the BJP to woo the AHINDA votes,” Narayangowda, a political commentator and resident of Kolar, told South First.
“In recent times, SC/ST, minorities and Vokkaliga votes have been divided due to the political engineering of other parties like BJP and JD(S),” added Narayangowda.
Who has the upper hand in Kolar?
Siddaramaiah is all the buzz in Kolar ever since he announced his interest in the seat. But even if the Congress fields the former chief minister, Kolar is no walkover.
In the last 14 Assembly elections in the Assembly segment, Congress has won five times, independent candidates have tasted success seven times, JD(S) has won once, and the BJP is yet to open its account.
In the upcoming Assembly elections, JD(S) has given a ticket to local businessman CMR Srinath and the BJP is likely to field two-time MLA Varthur Prakash — he won both times as an independent from Kolar.
The incumbent JD(S) MLA K Srinivasa Gowda has switched his loyalty to Congress. He has also declared that he will not be contesting in the upcoming Assembly polls.
With Siddaramaiah declaring that he will be contesting from Kolar, the people are eager to elect the former chief minister.
“The main reason to support Siddaramaiah is that this constituency might improve under his leadership. This segment has been neglected for decades. If the Congress manages a majority, then he is likely to be appointed as the chief minister. This constituency might witness a change in terms of basic infrastructure, education, health, industries, agriculture and other sectors. We will vote for the candidate, not for the party,” Gopalaiah S, a retired bank employee, told South First.
Rajesh Reddy, a businessman told South First: “BJP’s probable candidate Varthur Prakash was elected twice from the same segment but he remained unresponsive to the poor. This attitude of his is one of the main factors he lost in 2018. He contested as an independent candidate in 2008 and 2013 and won both times. Now, he is trying his luck with the BJP.”
“The fight is between the Congress and JD(S) and not with the BJP in Kolar,” Rajesh Reddy added.
There is great goodwill in favour of the JD(S) candidate too.
“CMR Srinath has won the hearts of many people during Covid-19. He ensured that every house got vegetables and grocery items during the pandemic, and medicine for those ill. He has emerged as a new leader for a group of people. His growth has impacted the prospects of Varthur Prakash. Importantly, people here vote for the candidate, not for the party,” added political commentator Narayangowda.
A peak into Kolar and its concerns
Kolar has a rich heritage dating back 1,500 years. A region that is rich in literature and culture, it has been ruled by the Cholas to the Gangas, and was part of the Vijayanagara empire.
Today, a semi-arid region, Kolar is often the victim of drought. Water is a precious resource in a region that is considered the second-largest producer of tomatoes in India — after Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.
The crop is cultivated in over 10,000 acres and around five lakh tonnes are produced every year. Tomatoes grown in Kolar are exported to West Asia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. Agriculture and allied activities like dairy farming, sericulture and floriculture are what a majority of voters in Kolar depend on.
The successful implementation of Koramangala-Challaghatta Valley (KC Valley) lift irrigation project in Kolar under the Congress government led by Siddaramaiah has not only irrigated thousands of hectares of land but also drastically improved the ground water levels.
Farmers, however, are unhappy with the government for not putting enough efforts into building the required infrastructure for the agriculture sector.
Srinivasgowda, a farmer leader, told South First: “Kolar stands at the top when it comes to producing commercial crops in the state, but the market facilities are pathetic. There are no cold storages and processing units, which is the need of the hour.”
Disease affecting the mulberry plant is the primary concern of sericulture farmers. “The government has to find a way to address this issue to save us from loss,” Muralikrishna, a farmer from Gaddekannur, told South First.
Though the Kolar Assembly segment is near to the state capital, it is lacking in many sectors, including industries, education, agriculture and health.
Pointing to the lack of industries, Altaf Ali, a professor and resident of Kolar City told South First: “The city has only two industries: One is Wistron Infocomm Manufacturing (India) Private Limited and another one is Hero automobile company. These two factories provide around 10 percent of the employment opportunities to the local youths.”
“Around 60 to 70 percent of the youngsters are dependent on Bengaluru for jobs. The lack of industries is one of major concerns for Kolar. The government is stressing on developing Tumakuru as an alternative to Bengaluru, but it should also equally distribute or bring industries to Kolar, which is very near Bengaluru,” pointed out Altaf.
“The district has had tall leaders like former Union minister KH Muniyappa and MLA Ramesh Kumar but they have hardly worked on developing the education and health infrastructure. There is not even a single reputed higher education institution in the region. The entire district depends on Bengaluru for both education and health,” said Dr Hanumanthaiah, a Kolar resident.
Nandini Reddy, an eatery owner, told South First: “Kolar has a rich heritage but poor infrastructure. All the main roads are in pathetic condition. Not even a single road is pothole-free in the city. The roads in rural areas are worse. In most of the areas, new roads are being developed because elections are nearing.”
Anti-incumbency against the government is a much talked about issue in Kolar, and so is corruption.
“It is shameful that the ruling BJP government is facing allegations of demanding 40 percent commission in every project. The leaders in the government should stress the development of the state instead of building their wealth,” Gopal, a resident of Kolar, expressed his unhappiness.
Farm leader Srinivasgowda was far more angry. “Now, politics has become a money-making platform for many politicians. It is we the people that have to bring a change by dethroning corrupt governments,” he lashed out at the BJP government.
First-time voters keen on candidates
First-time voters are eagerly waiting to exercise their franchise in the April-May Assembly election.
Sowmya Reddy, 20, a 2nd year degree student, told South First: “I got my voter identity card last year itself. I have been eagerly waiting for over a year to get my finger inked in the coming polls. I will vote for a suitable candidate for Kolar.”
“I will vote for the candidate based on his performance in the previous terms. We cannot vote based on religion, caste and language because it won’t help to improve our constituency. I will vote for the best candidate in this coming poll,” an excited Chirag Gowda told South First.