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, 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 Veerabhadreshwara Hill provides a breathtaking view as shadows start lengthening in Gangawati.
The setting sun adds to the golden glow of the ripened paddy fields, waiting to be harvested. Green expanses of other crops add to the mesmerising scenery of Gangawati — previously known as Neelavathi.
The Tungabhadra river is the lifeline of Gangawati in Karnataka’s Koppal district, aptly called the state’s rice bowl.
At first sight, Gangawati presents a picture of abundance — and of happiness. On closer look, however, the canvas presents a different view of reality: Of discontent, disappointment, and anger among the thousands who toil to feed the state.
Bheemesh Jeli, 23, a farmer living in Jabbalagudda, is one of them.
The farmer’s tale
Jeli is angry at the ruling BJP government in Karnataka. Donning Liverpool Football Club colours, he stopped for a chat with South First.
His words were concise and sharp like a forward’s clean shot that harpoons past the rival goalkeeper.
The unregulated prices of fertilisers and unscientific pricing of paddy have left him seething.
“The cost of production has doubled over the past few years due to the surge in fertiliser price. The government has hardly done anything to regulate the price of fertiliser,” he said.
“This is affecting not only the paddy growers but also the entire farming community,” he added.
Besides paddy, groundnut, sorghum (jowar), maize and wheat also grow in Gangawati’s arable expanse.
Jeli added that they have been paid less for the paddy. “This is an election year, and the price of paddy is now around ₹1,400 to ₹1,600 per sack. In the other seasons, the price would be as low as ₹900 to ₹1,200,” his words reflected the mood of the farming community.
“We are under severe stress. We have repeatedly appealed to the government to announce scientific prices for the paddy. But nothing happened,” Jeli said, adding that he is pinning his hopes on the next government.
“I will vote for the Congress,” the young farmer revealed the party he will support on 10 May, the day of polling in Karnataka.
The reality Jeli painted was stark like the barren rocky hillock that borders Jabbalagudda, beyond the peepal and coconut trees behind him.
The farming community is not the only one in Gangawati that is fuming at the BJP government — like the liver bird on Jeli’s jersey, flapping wings to rise as if in rebellion .
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The millers’ tale
Gangawati is also home to more than 40 rice mills. The mill owners want the government to set up a separate board for paddy, similar to that of coffee, coconut or grape.
A paddy board, they felt, will regulate the export of rice and aid the overall development of the farmers.
“The government has to set up a separate board for paddy growers. The rice produced is exported to the Middle East and other foreign countries,” Gangawati’s Rice Mill Owners Association president Nekkanti Suribabu told South First.
“Gangawati has to be developed as an export hub for rice by setting up a separate board. It will benefit the farmers and generate employment,” he opined.
“The government should also fix a scientific price for paddy. Rice is the staple food of about 42 percent people in India but the paddy growers are in distress,” he said.
The government should respond to the grievances of farmers and millers, and roll out initiatives to help them,” Suribabu offered a solution.
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A peek into Gangawati
Gangawati in Kalyana Karnataka is also rich in heritage and resources. The Unesco World Heritage Site Hampi is located barely 13 kms from the city and the Tungabhadra reservoir is also situated nearby.
The city houses several popular heritage sites including the Hire Benkal megalithic site, which was recently shortlisted to be named a Unesco World Heritage Site, and Kumarabetta.
The megalithic site dates back to 800 CE to 200 BCE.
The Gangawati Assembly constituency has a sound educational and health facilities, but unemployment is its major concern. The youth are largely dependent on Bengaluru, Hubballi, Mangaluru and other cities for employment for decades.
“Farming is the main occupation here. There is not even a single industry in the taluka that can provide largescale employment opportunities to the youth. The next elected representative should work towards bringing more industries rich in resources to the region,” social activist and dentist Dr Shivakumar Malipatil opined.
“The segment has better infrastructure in terms of education and health as the city has agriculture, engineering, law and other professional colleges,” he added.
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Tourism potential ignored
The dentist then pointed to another official apathy: “There are around 30 to 40 tourist spots, mainly historic sites, in the region, but the government has hardly bothered to develop them.”
The government’s focus only on developing Anjanadri Hills and other heritage sites are being ignored,” Dr Malipatil listed out the major issues.
On 1 August, 2022, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai asserted that the monkey god, Anjaneya, was born in Anjanadri or Anjanadri Parvatha.
He made the assertion by refuting Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh’s claim that Anjaneya was born in those states.
“Lord Hanuman was born in Anjanadri Hills. There is proof in Kishkindha (the present-day Hampi),” he said.
Will his claim help the BJP retain power? The going seems tough for the ruling party with one of its former leaders deciding to field himself from the constituency.
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Braving the soaring mercury, political parties are aggressively campaigning for their candidates in Kalyana Karnataka, especially Gangawati.
All eyes will be on the battle for Gangawati as mining baron and former BJP leader Gali Janardhana Reddy gas decided to contest from this constituency. He has formed a regional party, the Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha (KRPP).
Janardhan Reddy has been credited with masterminding “Operation Lotus”, which took the BJP to power in the state in 2008.
Reddy entering the electoral fray has bothered the sitting MLA, BJP’s Paranna Eshwarappa Munavalli. Soon after Reddy announced his candidature, the MLA met the party high command for a detailed discussion.
Munavalli has represented the segment twice since 2008. South First asked the MLA whether Reddy would split the BJP votes.
“The BJP is a national political party. Our party works on certain ideologies and thoughts. The prime minister and chief minister have carried out overall development works and strived for the upliftment of the oppressed community,” he said.
“We have given a six percent quota hike to SCs and STs. During my tenure, Gangawati witnessed numerous development works. There is no question of party votes getting split,” Munavalli exuded confidence.
“Reddy contesting from Gangawati won’t harm the party’s prospects,” he denied the narrative that Reddy might eat into the BJP votes.
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The BJP has fielded Munavalli once again, while the Congress has assigned two-time MLA Iqbal Ansari to win the segment.
Though the JD(S) is yet to announce its candidate, it may field Chanakeshav, son of former Congressman HR Sriramulu.
The Congress’s Ansari seems to be enjoying the favour of the voters. “Since the BJP has taken over Gangawati, the city has hardly witnessed any development,” former president of the city municipal council Shameed Muniyar told South First.
“Ansari carried out a lot of development work, including setting up new schools and a bus stand. He is also more accessible to people than the other previous MLAs,” he added.
In the past 14 Assembly elections, the Congress won the seat eight times, the BJP and JD(S) twice, and Janata Party and an independent one time each.
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Triangular fight in the offing
Gangawati voted in favour of Munavalli in 2018, and he defeated Ansari by a margin of 7,973 votes.
Since 2004, none of the incumbent MLAs has managed to win two successive terms. The historic city had witnessed close fights between Munavalli and Ansari in the past two decades.
“This Aassembly election will witness a triangular fight between BJP, Congress and KRPP,” Yariswamy Gowda, a local businessman, expressed his firm belief.
“Whoever wins, the margin will be slender,” he told South First.
Gangawati has 1,97,219 voters, with women outnumbering men. Of the total electorate. 99,323 are women and 97,886 are men.
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BJP playing the communal card
Many voters faulted the BJP for seeking votes on communal lines rather than on development activities taken up.
The leaders of the BJP are promoting the Anjanadri Hills as Hanuman Janma Bhoomi on the lines of Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya, Ram Janma Bhoomi, voters said.
Recently, Bommai laid a foundation stone at Anjanadri Hills to develop it as a global religious tourism destination at a cost of ₹140 crore.
It was only major project that the BJP government announced for Gangawati, they alleged.
“The BJP has not carried out any significant development work. They always attempt to pit Hindus and Muslims against each other,” Mallesh Devaramani, a local political commentator, blamed the ruling dispensation.
“It plays the communal card but is mum on development,” he told South First.
Devaramani expressed belief that Munavalli won in 2018 due to communal tensions reported just ahead of the polls.
“Hindus, especially the youth, supported the BJP leader in large numbers. Now, the people are aware of his political conspiracy. There are loopholes in both national parties. Now, Reddy is banking on these loopholes for a win,” he said.
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Lingayats, Muslims, and Kurubas are the dominant communities in Gangawati. The Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), too, have a decent vote share.
Lingayats, including all sub-sects, have around 55,000 votes. The minorities have over 45,000, Kurubas 25,000 votes and SCs and STs have 30,000 and 25,000 votes, respectively.
Reddy has already invoked Basava — or Basavanna — the 12th century CE Lingayat savant and social reformer, who spread his messages through poems, known as Vachanas.
“The people here hardly consider the candidates’ caste while voting. They vote based on the candidates’ performances,” Devaramani claimed.
He opined that Reddy might affect the prospects of the saffron party in this election.
“The Kurubas, SCs and STs are also not so happy with the recent reservation hike due to various reasons. There are chances of the ST votes swinging towards the KRPP as the BJP’s ST leader and incumbent minister B Sriramulu is still in a good relationship with Reddy,” he added.