Ground Report: Ex-CM Basavaraj Bommai’s popularity is up against Congress’ guarantees in Haveri-Gadag seat

Corruption, marketing woes, irrigation neglect grip Haveri-Gadag ahead of Lok Sabha elections. A former CM, Basavaraj Bommai, is in the fray.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published May 05, 2024 | 8:00 PMUpdatedMay 05, 2024 | 8:28 PM

A farmer preparing his land for the pre-monsoon agriculture activities in Gadag. (South First)

As Manjunath N, a resident of the Mulgund town in Karnataka’s Gadag district, diligently prepared his land for the impending pre-monsoon agriculture activities amid soaring mercury levels, his decision to revert to traditional oxen-powered tilling — fuelled by soaring diesel prices — spoke volumes about the resourcefulness of tillers.

Behind this steadfast determination lay a tale of hardship and disillusionment — a testament to Manjunath’s struggle to secure an electricity supply for his borewell.

Despite getting water in the newly dug borewell, he is in a bureaucratic maze that entails endless delays and expenses just to access the basic necessity of power supply.

Karnataka Haveri Gadag Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha elections BJP Congress Guarantees Byadgi Red Chilli

Farmer Manjunath N expressed anguish over the increase in corruption in government offices. (South First)

He is unable to utilise the water from his own borewell as he could not arrange for the ₹1.5-lakh fee of the government to get the power supply.

The worn-out slippers that bore testimony to his futile pursuit served as a poignant symbol of his relentless struggle against systemic obstacles.

Manjunath articulated the anguish felt by farmers like him in his own words: “It’s the absence of genuine support from politicians, whose promises fade into oblivion as soon as elections are won.

The dismayed farmer added: “We endured crop losses due to the drought. Yet, government aid remains a distant dream, leaving farmers like me in the region burdened with debts and unfulfilled expectations.”

Also Read: Amit Shah roadshow in Haveri ahead of Karnataka’s 2nd phase LS polls

Corruption, inaction

Manjunath’s narrative sheds light on the crumbling infrastructure of local markets, such as Byadgi and Gadag, which have lost their former significance.

“Farmers are compelled to navigate the labyrinthine corridors of distant mandis in Hubballi and Bengaluru, where arbitrary pricing practices further erode our meagre profits,” pointed out Manjunath.

He added: “The absence of proper price regulation only adds to our frustrations, exacerbating the challenges we face in sustaining their livelihoods.”

The farmer went on to allege: “We have to bribe officials to get our work done at the government offices. The rampant corruption needs to end so the poor and farmers do not continue to shell out money for the work that is free of cost.”

The dearth of irrigation projects in the region compounds the farmers’ struggles, forcing them to rely on borewells for water. Yet, the fulfilling of even this basic necessity is marred by bureaucratic hurdles and exorbitant tariffs, Manjunath painfully recounted.

Despite his perseverance and tireless efforts, the roadblocks he has encountered underscore the urgent need for meaningful reforms and genuine support to alleviate the burdens borne by farmers like him.

Amidst these adversities, the modest financial assistance provided under the PM Kisan Saman Nidhi Yojana offers just a little respite to Manjunath and his fellow farmers.

While acknowledging the broader achievements of the Union government, he lamented the lack of tangible support for those who till the land, highlighting a glaring disparity between rhetoric and reality.

As Manjunath tilled his land using oxen, navigating the challenges posed by escalating diesel prices, his story epitomised the resilience of the agrarian community in the Haveri-Gadag Lok Sabha constituency.

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Peek into Haveri-Gadag

The Haveri-Gadag Lok Sabha seat lies in the heart of Karnataka — in a region steeped in history, culture, and agricultural heritage.

Carved out of the erstwhile Dharwad district in 1997, the Haveri district — along with its counterpart Gadag — boasts a rich tapestry of prehistoric civilisations, as evidenced by ancient stone carvings and inscriptions scattered across its landscape.

Situated equidistant from Bidar in the north and Kollegal in the south, Haveri serves as the gateway to the northern reaches of Karnataka, embodying a vibrant cultural ethos deeply rooted in its soil.

However, despite its historical significance and agricultural prowess, the region grapples with challenges — particularly irrigation infrastructure and market accessibility — for its farmers.

Agriculture remains the backbone of the economy, with rivers like Tungabhadra, Varada, and Malaprabha nurturing the fertile lands.

However, the absence of robust irrigation projects leaves farmers reliant on erratic rainfall patterns.

Consequently, they often find themselves seeking markets in distant cities like Bengaluru and Dharwad to sell their produce, underscoring the need for improved infrastructure and marketing facilities.

Education, too, presents two varying narratives. In one, the district headquarters boasts commendable infrastructure, including government medical colleges and private engineering institutions.

Disparities emerge in the taluka regions, where students often face challenges accessing quality education, necessitating journeys to larger urban centres for learning opportunities.

Similarly, the healthcare infrastructure — though anchored by medical colleges — sees the populace often journeying to Hubballi for specialised medical care.

Unemployment is a pressing concern, with scant opportunities in large and medium-scale industries prompting many to seek employment in neighbouring urban centres like Hubballi, Pune, and Bengaluru.

Techie Sharanappa Kadbinakatti — a resident of Gadag — told South First: “The government has not made any efforts to bring at least small-scale industries to the region.”

He explained: “Considering the skilled manpower present in the weaving sector, the government could have set up garment factories. The constituency has good education infrastructure but barely employment opportunities for the educated.”

Kadbinakatti also said: “The Union government must stress on developing other districts as industrial hubs in the following days. If not Haveri or Gadag, the Centre must develop potential cities like Hubballi as the emerging IT hubs.

Employed in one of the prestigious software companies in Hyderabad, he explained: “This will not only develop the IT sector but also other local economies.”

On the education system in rural areas, Basanagouda Lingangoudar told South First: “Private institutions have dominated in the region. A government degree college was moved to the Badami taluka from the Ron taluka during Siddaramaiah’s regime. The poor students do not have access to government colleges.”

He added: “There are zero employment opportunities for the educated. People are dependent on Pune and Bengaluru for employment. Even industries are being set up in selective areas, while the talukas and rural areas are sidelined.”

Also Read: Children of ex-CMs, expelled BJP leader spice up poll scene in Shimoga

Byadgi chilli mandi cries for attention

Karnataka Haveri Gadag Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha elections BJP Congress Guarantees Byadgi Chilli Market

Byadgi is the second biggest market for dry chilli in India. (South First)

Amidst the lush landscapes of Karnataka lies the illustrious Byadgi chilli market, a local fixture with over a century of history. Yet, concerns reverberate beneath its vibrant facade.

Byadgi Traders Association’s honorary president Raju Moragere paints a sobering picture of the market’s challenges and aspirations.

Byadgi is the second-largest chilli market in India, after Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur mandi. Farmers from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka sell their produce here.

Meanwhile, traders export dry chillies to Malaysia, Singapore, and other foreign countries.

Once a bastion of chilli cultivation, Byadgi now grapples with uncertainties stemming from environmental factors and agricultural practices.

The market’s transformation from a seasonal hub to a year-round trading powerhouse reflects its exponential growth, with an estimated annual turnover of ₹3,200 crore and trading volumes reaching 70 lakh quintals.

Karnataka Haveri Gadag Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha elections BJP Congress Guarantees Byadgi Red Chilli

Byadgi Traders Association honorary president Raju Moragere. (South First)

However, amidst this prosperity lies a tale of systemic inadequacies and unmet needs. Moragere highlighted the plight of farmers, whose struggles were being exacerbated by fluctuating chilli prices and a dearth of government support.

He advocated for comprehensive education initiatives to equip farmers with the knowledge of integrated farming practices and efficient post-harvest methodologies.

Moragere also pointed out: “It is not just the economic policies that affect pricing. The government should look into this. The farmers do not have proper education; the government must teach about integrated farming.”

He added: “Pre- and post-harvesting methodologies should be taught to farmers. An effort should be made to provide them with processed crops for sowing. They should also be provided quality pesticides and fertilisers.”

Moragere also underscored the critical need for infrastructure development, particularly establishing government-run cold-storage facilities.

“The absence of such facilities not only hampers chilli growers but also impedes the storage and sale of other perishable commodities, perpetuating the cycle of hardships for farmers,” he explained.

The vision for a high-tech chilly market within Byadgi remains an unfulfilled dream, despite years of advocacy and appeals.

Moragere’s call for urgent action echoes the sentiments of a community yearning for tangible government intervention to address pressing issues and safeguard Byadgi’s agricultural legacy.

Furthermore, the preservation of the iconic Byadgi chilli variety emerged as a poignant concern. Despite the presence of a research centre, Moragere lamented the government’s apathy towards ensuring the supply of certified seeds and promoting sustainable farming practices.

He noted: “There is a Byadgi research centre, established over around 40 acres at Devihosur in Haveri. And it has sufficient staff. Private companies provide it with processed and improvised hybrid chilly crops at higher prices.”

He added: “There is no effort from the government to preserve and supply the Byadgi variety. I am unable to understand why they set up the research institute. The farmers are unable to get the expected yield despite spending big to grow chilli. The government must ensure the supply of Byadgi variety to farmers.”

Farmer Gurushanth Mali told South First: “We bring chilli to Byadgi because we believe our produce will get good prices here. The prices have witnessed severe fluctuations. The authorities must ensure a minimum selling price for chilli.”

He added: “We invested lakhs of rupees to grow chilli this season, despite a drought. Even the price of chemicals and fertilisers has shot up. We request the chief minister to address our concerns.”

Several other farmers also suffered when the price of chilli dropped 30-40 percent compared to last year.

Meanwhile, daily-wage workers are also demanding wage hikes. One of them, Kariyappa, told South First: “I get ₹9.75 for each sack I unload from the vehicle. We earn ₹2,000-3,000 a day in the harvest season, but it slips to ₹500 at other times.”

He added: “It is very difficult to run the house amid the rising prices of all the essential commodities — including cooking gas, vegetables, and food grains. It has become even more difficult due to the drought this year. We appeal to the government also to listen to grievances of daily wage workers as well.”

Kariyappa also said that he was unable to meet the daily needs of his family due to the price rise of essential goods.

Related: Byadgi farmer protest over dry chilli prices turns fiery

People praise Bommai

The people in the Haveri-Gadag constituency have a generally positive view of the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate Basavaraj Bommai for his development works — especially lake-filling works — during his tenure as the chief minister of Karnataka.

At the helm of the state, Bommai implemented several lake-filling projects in the Haveri and Gadag districts, which addressed drinking-water and irrigation issues in some pockets of the region.

People of the Ron, Neregal, and Gajendragad towns used to get drinking water once a fortnight until 2023. Ever since the lake-filling project was implemented on the outskirts of Ron, people have been drinking water once in four days even in the midst of a severe summer.

Karnataka Haveri Gadag Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha elections BJP Congress Guarantees

Farmer Ashok Neelappa applauds former CM Basavaraj Bommai for implementing lake-filling projects in Gadag. (South First)

Ashok Neelappa, a resident of Ron, told South First: “This lake-filling project was initiated in 2008, when BS Yediyurappa was at the helm. It was implemented during Bommai’s regime in 2023.”

He explained: “After this has been implemented, the drinking water issues were addressed not only in the three towns but also in the surrounding villages.”

Ashok, a farmer by profession, also noted: “Before this project, we used to struggle for drinking water not only for us but also for our cattle. This project has also improved the groundwater levels. We express our gratitude to Bommai.”

Santosh K, a municipal councillor from the Ron Town Panchayat, told South First: “We used to face severe problems when it came to drinking water. This project resolved the water crisis. We are getting a regular drinking-water supply even in the harsh summer.”

Farmers in the region also recalled the Vidyasiri scholarship programme launched by Bommai for their children when he was at the helm.

However, the scholarship programme is said to have been discontinued after Congress came to power in Karnataka.

Also Read: Haveri MLA, 2 sons sentenced to 2 years in jail for corruption

Constituency, candidates, and calculations

Ever since the Haveri-Gadag Lok Sabha constituency was created in 2009, BJP has been winning it: The party has been victorious in all three Lok Sabha polls held since then.

Congress is looking to register its maiden victory here in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

With three-time incumbent MP Shivakumar Udasi announcing retirement from electoral politics, BJP has fielded former Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai.

Congress has given a ticket to Anandaswamy Gaddadevaramath  — the son of former MLA GS Gaddadevaramth — from the same seat. He is contesting the elections for the first time.

The Haveri-Gadag constituency consists of eight Assembly segments: Five are from the Haveri district and three are from Gadag. Seven are represented by Congress, and one by BJP.

Karnataka Haveri Gadag Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha elections BJP Congress Guarantees

Political commentator JK Jamadar.
(South First)

Political commentator JK Jamadar told South First: “The Haveri-Gadag seat is likely to witness a close fight in the Lok Sabha elections.

He explained: “Though Bommai represents Haveri’s Shiggaon Assembly segment, it does not fall under this Lok Sabha seat. It is one of the biggest setbacks for him.”

He added: “Apart from a few lake-filling projects in Haveri and Gadag, there was no major contribution from him for the development of the region when he was the chief minister. Even there are very few voters from his community in this seat,” pointed Jamadar.

Jamadar also noted: “Congress’ Anandaswamy hails from a political background — just like Bommai — as his father was a two-time MLA (from Sirahatti and Laxmeshwar). He has managed to remain in the good books of the people. However, he has no political experience as it is his first election.”

He added: “Congress’ campaign in the region is more systematic compared to that of the BJP. Moreover, women voters are impressed with Siddaramaiah’s guarantees. Thus, women are most likely to support the grand old party in large numbers whereas it is challenging for BJP to bring voters to its corner just on Modi’s name.”

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, BJP’s Shivakumar Udasi defeated Congress’ DR Patil by a margin of 1.4 lakh votes. With this, BJP registered a hattrick of wins from the constituency.

Also Read: 81 arrested for Byadgi dry chilli market violence

Caste equations

Lingayats and Muslims are the dominant communities in the Haveri-Gadag Lok Sabha constituency. Marathas, the SSK community, Brahmins, SCs, STs, and Kurubas are the other influential castes.

There are 17,77,877 voters in the constituency. Among them, 8.95 lakh are men, 8.82 lakh are women, and 81 are “others”.

On condition of anonymity, a political commentator told South First: “People here consider caste, party, work, and the image of the candidates while exercising their franchise.”

He added: “In this election, women are leaning towards the grand old party as the guarantees have reached the masses.”

He, however, also noted that only money and liquor would play a role in the last two days of the polls.

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)