Battleground Karnataka: In the Sugar Bowl of Karnataka it’s all about water

No other district may have witnessed such a drastic change in the political scenario like Mandya, the Sugar Bowl of Karnataka, in the last four and a half years after the Congress rode to power. The titan of Karnataka politics, the hugely popular former CM S.M. Krishna, has switched sides to the BJP, dealing a devastating blow to the  Congress, which however is sure to benefit from the induction of rebel JD(S) MLAs N. Cheluvarayaswamy and Ramesh Bandisiddegowda. In a region where fortunes swing wildly depending on the goodies handed out to farmers and the dominant Vokkaliga community, the 1,600 suicides of distressed farmers is sure to weigh heavily on the minds of voters. It will be worth seeing if the JD(S), after the desertion from its ranks, will be able to retain the four seat it won in the 2013 polls while the Congress, banking on CM Siddaramaiah’s bevy of Bhagyas, will be looking to up its tally from the two seats it won last time. For the BJP, opening its account riding on the popularity of Mr Krishna, will be a shot in the arm in a district  which has rarely favoured the saffronists. Shyam Sundar Vattam draws a picture of the factors at work in Mandya and the steadily emerging patterns

Mandya has witnessed a sea change since 2013 but the big fight will still be between the  ruling Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). While the Congress is riding high on its populist programmes, the JD (S) is striving hard to consolidate its Vokkaliga vote base which is sure to play a vital role in the coming polls.

The district has come a long way after the construction of the Sri Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) Reservoir in Srirangapatna taluk across River Cauvery by the Wadiyars of Mysuru, which changed the economic condition of lakhs of farmers.

The people  owe a lot to the rulers of Mysuru and more so, Sri Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, who was instrumental in building the dam to supply water to the parched district.

In 2013, it was the JD(S) which had the upper hand winning the majority of seats with one seat going to the Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha represented by farmer leader, K.S. Puttanaiah. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then with the BJP, relying on the popularity of a political heavyweight like Mr Krishna, hoping to win at least a couple of seats. Mr Krishna is a 'prize catch' for the saffron party though Congressmen are quick to dismiss him describing the octogenarian leader as a 'spent force.'

What has made the guessing game difficult for politicial pundits this time is the defection of  two sitting JD(S) legislators, Mr Cheluvarayaswamy from Nagamangala and Mr Ramesh Bandisiddegowda from Srirangapatna, who are waiting to join the Congress and contest from the same constituencies but under a different symbol. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's plan to induct Mr Cheluvarayswamy and Mr Ramesh Bandisiddegowda has however not gone down well with local Congress leaders who  question the KPCC’s plan to lure outsiders neglecting committed party workers ahead of the polls.

Already, Mr Suresh Gowda, a fierce rival of Mr Cheluvarayaswamy, has joined the JD(S) and has been promised the Nagamangala ticket. Even former MLA, Mr L.R. Shivaramegowda is keen on taking on  'turncoat' Cheluvarayaswamy and make sure he has a tough time winning his seat.

It’s no different in Srirangapatna where an exodus of local Congress leaders to the JD(S) is on after Mr Bandisiddegowda decided to switch sides and contest on a Congress ticket.  It's worth watching how Mr Cheluvarayaswamy and Mr Ramesh manage to beat the rising resentment against them and win amid stiff opposition from local Congress workers.

Considered the tallest leader in Mandya, the coming Assembly polls will prove if Mr Krishna's influence on voters remains unaffected after he moved to the BJP. The party is trying to make the best from his clout and is planning to take him to all rallies in the district in the coming months to woo Vokkaliga voters.

Trying to take his exit in its stride, the Congress is  relying on the string of Bhagyas launched by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah  and is hoping that it will do party candidates a lot of good in rural areas. The biggest drawback for the ruling party is the huge number of  farmer suicides over debts and crop failure in two years. Congress President Rahul Gandhi did visit Mandya to meet the families of the deceased farmers but doubts persist if this, and the distribution of compensation, will be sufficient to tilt the scales in favour of the party. The bountiful rains in the Cauvery basin during the last monsoon, have eased water woes a bit but it remains to be seen if the fields will continue to receive water as summer approaches.

What is also proving to be a headache for the Congress are the differences of opinion among district leaders. There is a leadership vacuum with actor-turned politician, Mr M.H. Ambarish, its one-time star campaigner, totally alienated from district politics ever since he was removed from his post as housing minister.

Since then, he has been busy spending his time in Bengaluru trying to get his son a breakthrough in Kannada films and hardly visits Mandya.  This attitude of 'Mandyada Gandu' has angered local Congressmen who are deeply worried about the future of their party in the absence of a good leader and a master strategist to take everyone along with him.

As the polls approach, Mandya’s voters will be looking for a new leadership with the political equations radically altered because of the migration of senior leaders.

The JD(S) is on the back foot after the exit of its MLAs and will be looking to make the best of the internal bickering in the Congress to retain its hold while the Congress will be striving to put the  exit of Mr Krishna out if its mind like a bad memory and move on making the best of the Bhagyas and government largesse. For the BJP, winning a seat could be the best thing to happen to it in a district where its state president and former CM B.S. Yeddyurappa was born- at Bookanekere in KR Pet- though he later moved to Shivamogga to make it his political base.

There are no clear winners at the moment with no party forging ahead-for Mandya is keeping its choices close to its heart in the absence of any discernible wave to sweep the Congress or the Opposition off their feet. In this situation, money power and political clout will definitely come into play as the polls near and that will make sure the victor is anyone’s guess. 


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