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, mood of the voters, issues that matter — and those that don’t — as people make up their minds on who they will elect in the upcoming Assembly elections.
There was a time when people from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and other states migrated to Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) town in search of work and a better life. Today, the direction of travel has been reversed. Many of KGF’s inhabitants travel out of the town for work every day, some as far as 100 km.
Each weekday, before sunrise, an estimated 10,000-plus people of the town head to the Marikuppam, Champion, Oorgaum and Coromandel railway stations in the town, hurrying to catch the Marikuppam-Bengaluru MEMU special train at 6.30 am.
The region that inspired a blockbuster Indian film, KGF Assembly constituency bears the burden of a distressing present, even as its residents hark back nostalgically to a glorious past.
“If you have to run a family, you have to travel to Bengaluru for work every day. There are zero employment opportunities in and around KGF,” Vinayagam, a resident of KGF, told South First.
“The state government, irrespective of which party is in power, has not done anything to develop the region.”
Vinayagam is not exaggerating. A drive around the KGF Assembly constituency in Kolar district is a bone-rattling experience. The roads, especially in the rural areas, are pathetic.
Everywhere you go, people are dependent on water tanks for drinking water. The lack of infrastructure for industries, higher education, and health is palpable.
All this, along with lack of employment opportunities for the youth and a marked increase in criminal activities, are the biggest concerns of the people of this constituency, which is reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SC).
“Many youngsters are falling victim to marijuana. There are no efforts being made by the government to curb the drug menace in the town. These youngsters are turning criminals,” Lakshmikanth, a visibly concerned resident of the town, told South First.
“This is a very bad sign for KGF,” he added.
‘Golden town’ nostalgia
Kolar Gold Fields was a gold mining town with a history of over two centuries. The once-booming “Golden Town” now stands virtually still, at least when it comes to development. .
In its heydays, KGF town was a cultural confluence of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states.
When demand for labourers to work in the gold mines shot up, people from neighbouring states migrated to KGF town and settled here. Tamil, Telugu and Kannada are almost equally spoken and understood in the Assembly segment.
When the gold fields were operating, the town used to buzz with commercial activity and witness huge development works.
But when the century-old Bharat Gold Mines Ltd (BGML) shut down in 2001, it seemed the doors to good fortune had itself closed on the people of KGF town.
The closure of the BGML left dark scars not only on the former employees of the once-thriving company, but also on the thousands of families that were indirectly dependent on the gold mining industry.
Gold mining’s dark legacy
There are also the residual problems that the gold mining industry has left behind.
Residents of the town allege that many people, including former employees of Bharat Gold Mines, have been diagnosed with serious ailments like silicosis — a long-term lung disease — due to either working in in the mines or because of the cyanide dumps that are found across the city.
There are some 12 to 15 cyanide dumps in the heart of KGF town. Cyanide was used in the extraction of gold and the slurry deposits of the chemical have taken a heavy toll on thousands of people living in KGF.
Sambashiva is a resident of Kempapura village in KGF. He is one among the few employees of the gold fields still alive.
“I was diagnosed with silicosis because of working in deep mining. I underwent surgery recently. It is hard to run a family and take care of my medical expenses with a meagre pension of ₹911. I have lost all hope in the government. I am counting my last days,” a teary-eyed Sambashiva told South First.
KV Lakshminarayan Murthy, also a resident of Kempapura village, said: “In every Assembly poll, all the political parties assure that the gold mining company will be reopened, but none of them make sincere efforts. The company was a lifeline for the people of KGF.”
“The government must bring other industries like textile parks to give employment opportunities and for the development of KGF,” Murthy told South First.
Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) is the only operating company in KGF. However, local people hardly get any employment opportunities in BEML.
Who has the upper hand?
In the last 15 Assembly polls, the Congress party won twice in KGF (1967 and 2018), and the BJP also won twice (2008 and 2013). In the other 11 elections, the regional parties have tasted more success here than the national political parties.
Congress’ Roopakala Shashidhar, who is the daughter of former Union minister KH Muniyappa, is the sitting MLA of KGF (SC) Assembly segment. People are unhappy with the performance of the incumbent MLA.
“It has been over two decades, the entire KGF town is dependent on water tanks for drinking water. None of the MLAs have bothered to address the issue. With elections around the corner, the road works finally started last month,” said the KGF resident Lakshmikanth.
“The MLAs failed to bring industries, create employment for the locals, and provide drinking water. The candidates are bribing the voters by sending them on pilgrimages, etc. This Assembly election might change the fate of the constituency as most of the people have decided to elect a local candidate,” Kamaraj, an autorickshaw driver, told South First.
If locals like Kamaraj are to be believed, the 2023 Assembly polls will see a local candidate like Republican Party of India’s former MLA S Rajendran, who is also Supreme Court advocate, give a tough fight to the sitting Congress MLA.
The BJP, which managed to breach the KGF fort in 2008 and 2013, lost the 2018 Assembly polls despite being on a roll in other parts of the state.
The party’s former MLA Y Sampangi is likely to be the face of the ruling party in KGF. Ashwini Sampangi, who had contested in 2018 Assembly polls on the BJP ticket, is also an aspirant. She is the daughter of Y Sampangi.
The KGF Assembly segment is dominated by AHINDA — the Kannada acronym for Alpasankhyataru (Minorities), Hindulidavarau (Backward Classes) and Dalitaru (Dalits), a social engineering tool that is the brainchild of former chief minister Devaraj Urs and promoted by the Congress party’s Siddaramaiah.
There are over 2.1 lakh voters in the KGF (SC) Assembly segment. Of the total voters, 1.1 lakh are men and one lakh are women.
When it comes to caste equations, Adi Dravida Hindu (SC), Vokkaligas, Mudhaliars, Naidus, Muslims, Christians are the dominant communities in the SC reserved constituency.
BJP and corruption
The series of corruption allegations against the ruling BJP government has infuriated the people across KGF (SC) Assembly segment.
“It is shameful that the government is facing such serious corruption charges against so many Cabinet ministers. We have never seen such a corrupt government. Even when the BJP was elected in KGF, the segment hardly witnessed any development,” charged Shankarappa, a resident of Chikakallahalli.
And finally, no Modi factor
Most people believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma doesn’t work in the KGF (SC) reserved Assembly seat.
“Modi is not likely to make much impact in this Assembly polls in KGF. People here won’t vote by looking at Modi,” contended Gopal Murthy, a retired government employee.
“KGF politics is different from other seats as voters have a greater craze for candidates of local and regional parties than national political parties,” Gopal Murthy told South First.