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.
A few men sat on the culverts flanking the dusty, asphalted road, engaged in an idyllic conversation.
A gateway stands tall beyond the culverts, some 28 km north of Karnataka’s Tumakuru town, the district headquarters, offering a warm welcome to Koratagere.
Further down the gateway, Koratagere offers differing sights: Rocky hillocks dot the landscape with tamarind trees spreading their majestic green canopies. Small patches of barren land, too, are part of the surroundings.
In contrast, verdant coconut trees-lined fields of ragi and groundnuts cover large swathes of land. Lush green coconut groves and areca plantations offer a sense of serenity.
The serenity is, however, superfluous and deceptive. Beyond the perceived calmness, there is anger simmering against the incumbent government in the predominantly farming community of Koratagere.
The farmers are angry due to various reasons. South First spoke to a few of them to gauge their mood ahead of the 10 May elections to the state Assembly.
The cost factor: Farmers at a loss
Hulikunte, a village spread over 382.43 hectares, is located 3 km from the sub-district headquarters, Koratagere.
SC Rangadamaiah, a farmer in Hulikunte, is a disappointed man. He is angry over the incumbent BJP government’s inability in regulating the costs of fertilisers and chemicals, and its failure in providing a proper price for his products.
“The cost of fertilisers, chemicals and labour have increased threefold, hiking the production cost by at least 200 percent,” he told South First.
“We don’t get a proper price for our products. How do we survive by farming when the costs are shooting up,” Rangadamaiah lamented. He produces coconut, areca nut, and ragi.
The farmer said the benefits of various welfare schemes seldom trickle down to him.
“Even the cost of gas cylinders, grocery items and fuel have skyrocketed. The government claims that it is providing free gas cylinders and subsidies for the poor under the Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana. But we hardly get any benefits,” he complained.
Rangadamaiah opined that the government should work for the farmers, women and the oppressed, instead of the rich and businessmen.
“Our lives have hit a rough patch,” he fumed.
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Peek into Koratagere
Agriculture drives the local economy in the Koratagere Assembly constituency, reserved for Scheduled Castes.
The constituency has a decent education and health infrastructure, catering to its primary needs.
However, it is dependent on Tumakuru or Bengaluru — around 100 km away — for higher education and advanced medical treatment.
According to the 2011 decennial census, Koratagere’s average literacy rate of 71 percent is higher than the national average of 59.5 percent.
Though Tumakuru has been developed as an industrial hub, Koratagere is devoid of any industries. It seems industrial development has taken a dramatic pause 28 km away at Tumakuru, represented by BJP’s GB Jyothi Ganesh in the outgoing Assembly.
The lack of industries forces people in Koratagere to commute daily to Tumakuru, Bengaluru, Doddaballapur and other districts for employment.
Girish, also of Hulikunte, said he is not interested in freebies.
“We don’t need freebies like 10 kg of rice. Instead, the government should set up industries to generate employment,” he made his views clear.
“We had a textile factory in the town but it was closed due to various reasons. Over 25,000 people used to work in that factory,” he claimed.
Now, all of them are commuting to Bengaluru, Tumakuru and other areas for employment. Industries are the need of the hour in Koratagere,” Girish told South First, urging the next elected representative to work for bringing industries to the constituency.
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High-five for Parameshwara
Despite the palpable anger over the government’s apathy, the voters are generally happy with the sitting MLA and former deputy chief minister Dr G Parameshwara for carrying out development works.
From setting up four residential schools to improving health infrastructure to developing quality roads and basic amenities, he has carried out several works in the past five years.
Congress leader Parameshwara has represented the segment twice — in 2008 and 2018. The segment backed JD(S) in 2013.
“The segment has witnessed a lot of development works during Parameshwara’s tenure. He has improved the education and health infrastructure,” businessman Abdul Jaffer opined.
“The earlier MLAs have not done anything impressive. The Congress’s contribution has been more in the segment than any other party,” Jaffer added.
“Ever since Parameshwara was elected, the region has seen development works. There are no loopholes in the initiatives that have been carried out by the sitting MLA,” Rahul Chalavadi opened up to South First.
“He has set up four government residential schools, including the Morarji Desai Residential School. This is helping the poor and farmers to provide quality education to their children,” he said.
“However, the region is lacking in industries. The elected members have to ensure industries in the coming days,” Chalavadi urged.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, Parameshwara defeated his nearest rival and sitting MLA, PR Sudhakar Lal of the JD(S), by a margin of 7,619 votes.
The BJP’s YH Huchaiah finished third, a slot ahead of NOTA (None Of The Above). Twelve candidates were in the fray.
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Voters term quota hike for SC/STs a poll gimmick
The BJP’s decision to give a six percent quota hike for SCs and STs has not impressed the voters in Koratagere. They termed it a “poll gimmick”.
The Basavaraj Bommai-led government passed the Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Education Institutions and Appointments or Posts in the Services Under the State) Bill, 2022 in the Assembly’s winter session at Belagavi in December 2022.
The Bill will increase the reservation for SCs from 15 to 17 percent and STs from three to seven percent.
However, this can be implemented only when the Union Government includes the proposal in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution.
Karnataka’s Chief Secretary Vandita Sharma has recently written a letter to the Union Government appealing to include the Bill in the 9th Schedule.
“We are not against a quota hike for SCs and STs. But the timing is wrong. It is just an eyewash before the election. It is merely a poll gimmick,” Koratagere Town panchayat councillor Nandeesh Narasimhappa told South First.
“This was proposed during the coalition government. The BJP is always anti-Dalit. They cannot win the hearts of the Dalits by taking initiatives for the community ahead of the elections. Why didn’t they do it immediately after assuming power,” he asked.
“The seers protested demanding the quota hike for over 10 months but neither the chief minister nor its Cabinet ministers bothered to deliver the promises made in their party manifesto in 2018,” Narasimhappa fumed.
The constituency is home to several mutts.
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The Koratagere Assembly segment has always witnessed a close fight between the Congress and JD(S). The BJP is yet to open its account in the constituency.
The Congress has retained Parameshwara as its candidate for the 2023 Assembly election. The JD(S) has fielded former MLA PR Sudhakar Lal.
The BJP is yet to announce its candidate. However, former IAS officer BH Anil Kumar and local leader Muniyappa are in a race for the BJP ticket.
The people predicted that the electoral battle would be a tough and close one between Parameshwara and Lal. However, Parameshwara has an edge over his rival.
The BJP’s probable candidate, 1987-batch IAS officer Kumar, is confident of the party opening its account in Koratagere. He is extensively campaigning in the segment.
“I have visited 90 percent of the villages. I got a first-hand report on people’s expectations and their feelings, mainly of youth and women,” Kumar told South First:
“The people are interested in the BJP as the party has delivered the promises it had made. The voters of Koratagere are looking for a change. They have given opportunities to both the Congress and JD(S), and are now looking for a new face, which is the BJP,” he added.
Decisive SC, ST votes
Voters from Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes are dominant in the segment and account for over 70,000 votes.
There are around 2.10 lakh voters in the constituency. Of the total votes, 1.6 lakh are men and 1.4 lakh are women.
Vokkaligas, Lingayats and Muslims are the other dominant communities having around 40,000, 30,000 and 12,000 votes, respectively.
“The people look at caste, image and popularity of the candidate and the party while voting. Though there are many mutts in the district, none of them influences voters,” Narayanappa, a resident of Koratagere town, told South First.
“This segment is dominated by SCs and STs followed by Vokkaligas and Lingayats. During the past three polls, the Congress managed to gain upper hand twice. The contest ahead seems to be a neck and neck one for the Congress and JD(S),” he added.