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 marigolds are in full bloom, and the verdant rolling hills make the perfect backdrop for the resplendent Bhalki on the Deccan Plateau in Karnataka’s Bidar district.
Beneath the yellow carpet of blooming marigolds and rich muskmelon farms is a gloom that has gripped many regions in India. Man-wildlife conflict is rampant in the region which leaves farmers a worried lot.
Farming in Bhalki is not just a gamble with the monsoon but also a never-ending battle with marauding blackbucks and wild boars — a battle that farmers are fed up with.
“Human-wildlife conflict is rampant in the region. Blackbucks and wild boars destroy around 20 percent of crops annually,” Ratan Karale, a farmer living in Bhalki’s Dharajwadi, told South First.
“This is one of the major issues we are facing,” the farmer, who grows groundnut, wheat, and muskmelon, said.
The government is doing its bit to mitigate the problem. “We get compensation for crops destroyed by animals,” he said, adding that a lasting solution is required.
“We have brought this issue to the notice of the local MLA and all the authorities concerned. However, it has remained unaddressed,” he added.
It is the only complaint of farmers like Karale in the Bhalki Assembly constituency.
The Bhalki jugalbandi
The old meets the new at Bhalki Town, some 30 km from Bidar, the district headquarters.
New buildings interrupt the continuity of traditional houses and temples that now dot Bhalki which has plentiful green cover, rocky plateaus, and hills.
Small villages and vast farmlands add to the landscape’s charm. Wheat, maize, sorghum, and soybean grow in the fertile fields nurtured by favourable weather conditions.
The Karanja river irrigates half of the fields, while the remaining is dependent on rain.
The 19th-century Bhalki Fort, believed to be built by Jang Bahadur’s satraps Ramachandra Jadhav and Dhanaji Jadhav, is in ruins. Its downy black basalt stone ramparts still hold on, attracting visitors, and adding a mystic touch to the town.
Bhalki, bordering Maharashtra, has a good infrastructure for education. It even has a private engineering college, owned by Eshwar Bheemanna Khandre, the incumbent MLA.
The town also has well-maintained, wide roads, streetlights, drinking water, and drainage facilities.
People of the segment applaud the Congress MLA Khandre for the overall development of the segment during his past three tenures.
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Wanted: Jobs and markets
Unemployment, price rise, inadequate health infrastructure, and marketing facilities are, however, issues in Bhalki.
“The elected members failed to address unemployment in the taluka. The taluka houses many professional colleges but doesn’t have employment opportunities,” Somesh K, a resident of Kadlabad, told South First.
“The youth migrate to Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Pune, or Mumbai for jobs. If the MLA manages to bring in industries, it will be a big relief for the youth,” Somesh, an engineering graduate, added.
Besides jobs, marketing farm products, too, is an issue in Bhalki.
“Most farmers prefer to market their crops in Maharashtra as it has good mandi (market) facilities and also offers a better price,” Ramesh Shinde, a farmer, told South First.
“The farmer gets anywhere around ₹300 to ₹500 more for their produce in Maharashtra,” he explained.
“The government should set up a high-tech mandi and provide good prices for the farm produce. This is one of the major issues of the farming community,” he added.
When it comes to the health infrastructure, the taluka has primary healthcare facilities. People take patients to Bidar, Kalaburagi, or Hyderabad for advanced treatment.
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Battle of relatives
The electoral battle is between Eshwar Khandre and his relative and BJP candidate Prakash Khandre.
The Congress has the upper hand in the segment. In the past 11 Assembly elections, the Congress won seven times, the BJP twice, and Janata Paksha and an independent once each.
The JD(S) has fielded Rauf Patel. The party has not won a single election in Bhalki.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, former minister Eshwar Khandre defeated the BJP’s Dr K Siddaram by a comfortable margin of 21,438 votes. Prakash Khandre, then the JD(S) candidate, settled for third place with 15,142 votes.
“During his three tenures, Prakash Khandre changed the landscape of Bhalki. He has done development works not only in Bhalki town but also in the rural areas. He has a good rapport with the people,” political commentator Suresh B told South First.
“Prakash has represented the segment twice (2004 and 2008) but has not made any impact. He lost elections five times. He is gaining sympathy in a few areas. There is no BJP rebel here,” he stated.
“Dr K Siddaram, who was the BJP candidate in 2018, joining hands with Prakash has boosted the party’s confidence. It is likely to be a close fight between the Congress and BJP. However, Eshwar has an edge over his rivals,” Suresh added, saying the JD(S) has no strength in the segment.
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Lingayats and Marathas are the dominant castes in Bhalki.
Scheduled castes and tribes, Brahmins, and Muslims are the other influential communities. Lingayats have over 60,000 votes, Marathas, have around 45,000 votes, and SCs and STs have over 25,000 votes.
“The people here vote based on caste, individual relationship, and development. The voters won’t consider political parties while exercising their franchise,” Suresh pointed out.
There are 2,22,472 voters in the segment. Of the total voters 1,16,904 lakh are men and 1,05,560 are women voters.