Ground Report: Congress takes on pro-Marathi outfit MES in Belagavi Rural where women toil without pay

The BJP and JD(S) are lagging behind the Congress and MES even as the campaign for the 10 May Assembly polls has entered the last lap.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published May 08, 2023 | 3:00 PM Updated May 08, 2023 | 3:00 PM

Belagavi Rural Ground Report

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.

The inscription is in Hindi in Uchagaon, the last Karnataka village towards the Maharashtra border. Gramadevatha Shree Malekarni Devi Mandir Uchgaon, the sign in Devanagari script read.

Away from the temple, a large group of women was rushing home from work promised under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) Act, 2005.

They have tubs on their heads from which tiffin carriers peeked, along with clothes and other materials.

Some of them discussed the candidates contesting the Wednesday, May 10, Assembly elections, while others sounded worried over the long-pending wages.

The women slowed down as South First caught up with them near a harvested sugarcane field on the outskirts of the village.

The Gramadevatha, it seems, is testing their endurance.

Home truth

Shakeela Tahsildar is searching for means to repay the loans availed for running her family.

Belagavi Rural MLA Laxmi Hebbalkar reportedly distributed utensils to the voters in December last. (Supplied)

Belagavi Rural MLA Laxmi Hebbalkar reportedly distributed utensils to the voters in December last. (Supplied)

“I have been working under the MGNREGA for the past three years. We work in the hope that the government will pay the promised wages on time,” she sighed.

“We have not been paid for the past two months,”  she said.

“All of us in the family have to work. The price rise has affected our lives severely as the monthly expenses have increased two-fold. To compound matters, the government has reduced the quantity of rice given under the Public Distribution System (PDS),” she added.

The government move has left the women in a quandary. “We have to buy everything from the market. We will hardly be able to saving anything. If the wages are not paid for months, how will we live,” a visibly worried Tahsildar wondered aloud.

Hundreds of women in the Belagavi Rural Assembly seat are hoping that the pending wages would soon be disbursed.

“We are happy that the government gives us employment. Our pay has been fixed at ₹309 a day,” Tahsildar’s friend Gulzar Sanadi chipped in.

“But the government has to ensure that wages are paid every week. It has been over four weeks that I haven’t received the pay,” she is at a loss over how to feed her family.

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Land of rivers

Rivers connect people, and other forms of life, inspiring and sustaining diverse cultures, and values. So have the big four that flow through Belagavi.

Different cultures, traditions, and ways of life have flourished in the Belagavi Rural Assembly constituency. On May 1, 1960, Maharashtra staked a claim for 865 villages in Belagavi, sparking unending debates on linguistic and border issues.

An ideal destination for nature lovers, Belagavi is rich with its sylvan settings, rolling gorgeous hills, and lush agriculture fields irrigated by rivers Krishna, Malaprabha, Ghataprabha, and Markandeya.

Sugarcane, sorghum, mango, and wheat grow in abundance in Belagavi, a district predominantly dependent on agriculture.

Belagavi Rural has excellent educational facilities with government and private medical colleges, the Rani Chennamma University, and the Visvesvaraya Technology University (VTU).

The region has several well-equipped hospitals and clinics that provide a range of medical services. Belagavi is home to the renowned KLE Hospital and Medical Research Centre, which provides advanced medical care.

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Unemployment woes

Belagavi lacks industries that could employ a large number of people. Unemployment is rampant in the Assembly segment.

Ex-serviceman Shivakumar Shinde praised the sitting Congress MLA Laxmi Hebbalkar for the development activities she has taken up in the constituency. However, he has a grudge.

“She failed to bring industries to the region and address the unemployment issue. After retiring from the Indian Army, I don’t have any job opportunities here,” he said.

“It is not only for me, even for the educated youth there are no jobs,” Shinde blamed the government for not developing Belagavi as an industrial hub.

“We are dependent on Bengaluru, Pune, Mumbai, and Goa for employment. Belagavi has all the potential to develop as an industrial hub in North Karnataka,” he opined.

The region has many small-scale industries in the automotive, food-processing, electronics, and hardware sectors. However, these industries hardly provide largescale job opportunities.

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Border debate

There are also linguistic and border issues with Maharashtra. Every year, specifically during the Karnataka Legislative Assembly’s winter session that is held here, linguistic and border issues come to the fore.

Karnataka Elections

Ashok Sunga, a Maratha, says he wants to remain in Karnataka. (South First)

“The Karnataka government has failed to display its commitment by not working for the interests of the Kannadigas. These issues are being utilised for political gains by Maharashtra and its leaders,” pro-Kannada activist and political commentator Ashok Chandaragi fumed.

“Fearing that it may antagonise Maratha voters, who are dominant in some parts of Belagavi, both the Congress and BJP have adopted an appeasement policy. It is being opposed by all Kannadigas,” he said.

“The linguistic and border disputes are not poll issues in Karnataka. But the local political leaders have failed to protect the interests of Kannadigas,” Chandargi blamed local leaders.

The region has a considerable population of weavers. The weavers blamed the government for failing to implement the promises made to them.

“We are residents of Karnataka. We don’t want Belagavi to be merged with Maharashtra, which has poor administration,” Ashok Sunga, a Maratha living in Sunga village, told South First.

“The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) uses the border dispute only for its political gains. It creates unrest in the society,” he alleged.

“We are happy with the Karnataka government as we get all the facilities at our doorsteps,” Sunga, a fruit seller, added.

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Jarkiholi factor

The Belagavi Rural Assembly segment is witnessing a close fight between the Congress and the MES. Other parties, including the BJP and JD(S), are lagging even in the final lap of the campaign.

Karnataka Elections

Pro-Kannada Kannada activist and political commentator Ashok Chandaragi. (South First)

The Congress has fielded Hebbalkar again, while the BJP has nominated Nagesh Manolkar, a former president of the Hindalga Gram Panchayat, at Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi’s behest.

MES has RM Chowgla, an architect and debutant in electoral politics, in the fray. Shankargouda Rudragouda Patil is the JD(S) candidate.

As in Athani constituency, Jarkiholi is actively campaigning in Belagavi Rural. In the past three Assembly elections, the BJP has won twice in 2008 and 2013.

In 2018, Hebbalkar routed the BJP’s two-time MLA, Sanjay B Patil, by a margin of 51,724 votes.

“A win for the BJP here has become prestigious for Ramesh Jarkiholi,” Chandaragi told South First.

“The segment is witnessing interesting political developments as all anti-Hebbalkar forces are joining hands with MES. If this political strategy works, then it will be tough for Hebbalkar.”

Reportedly, Jarkiholi is also part of this strategy.

“The BJP candidate doesn’t have a good image in the segment. Moreover, most of the voters in the constituency don’t know Manolkar,” Chandaragi further said.

“The real fight is between the Congress and MES. As Marathas are dominant in the segment, all political parties, including the Congress, have made efforts to appease the influential community,” he added.

Chandaragi felt that Hebbalkar is leading the race since she created a good, development-oriented image for herself.

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Caste equations

Marathas and Lingayats are the dominant castes in the Belagavi Rural Assembly segment.

Marathas have over 1 lakh votes, Lingayats, have 35,000, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, have over 30,000 votes, Kurubas, have over 15,000 votes and Muslims have around 18,000 votes.

Weavers, Jains, and others combined have around 30,000 votes.

“In this election, the caste factor may have a say. People here consider caste and individual relationship while exercising their franchise,” Chandaragi said.

There are over 2.53 lakh voters in the Belagavi Rural Assembly segment. Among them 1.28 lakh are men and 1.25 lakh are women.