The salty wind from the beach rattles the doors of Santhosh’s house in Mattu, a seaside village in Karnataka’s Udupi district.
Santhosh is in a hurry to attend a wedding in nearby Ambadi, but agrees walk through the fields near his house where he grows Mattu’s infamous gulla (brinjal).
“Two years ago, to cut down the interference of middlemen and fetch a good price for the brinjals grown here, we formed an association and managed to get a GI tag for them as well,” says Santhosh, pointing to the yellow-green vegetables kept aside in one part of the field.
He adds that government intervention helped form the Mattu Gulla Belegara Sangha (Mattu Gulla Growers Association) and bargain a fair price for these brinjals. “We used to sell it for Rs 10 or 15 per kg, but now we get a price upwards of Rs 20-25 sometimes”, he says.
But he is quick to add that much more can be done to improve the lives of farmers in the village and is hopeful that candidates contesting in the elections will recognize their cause. “So far, we have largely fended for ourselves with little help from the government. Now that we are close to elections, we are planning to ask candidates who are standing to help us ensure a fair minimum price for the brinjals and also help in transporting them to many more areas. Currently, it is transported to Udupi, Mangaluru, Kundapura and sometimes even to Bengaluru,” he adds.
The concerns of the Mattu gulla growers, and that of other farmers in the area who grow paddy, is among a number of issues discussed by residents of the region ahead of the upcoming elections.
“The population here is mostly made up of farmers, fishermen, small businessmen and daily-wage workers. So elections also depend on how well business is doing around here and, for the last couple of years, businesses have taken a hit,” explains Nagesh, who manages a small shop selling a variety of condiments in the area.
Mattu and its surrounding coastal villages fall under the Kaup constituency in Udupi district. Kaup is famous for its lighthouse built by the British in 1901 and has also emerged as one of few spots along the western coast where surfing classes are held.
But, in spite of this, tourists remain few and far in between. The beaches in Kaup are separated by clusters of coconut palm groves and small fishing hamlets, where scenes of everyday coastal life plays out – of fishermen taking out their daily catch, women cutting the fish and leaving it out to dry.
In the town’s newly constructed bus stand, Mahesh is busy looking for a bus that will take him to Malpe, a nearby port town where he works as a fisherman. “Earlier we had to go all the way through the National Highway via Udupi, which would sometimes take about an hour. But ever since the Padukere bridge was built, the commute is now hardly 10-15 minutes,” he says.
The bridge connecting Padukere, a fishing village near Malpe and the Malpe fishing harbor across the Udyavara rivulet was constructed in March 2017 much to the joy of people living in Kaup, Mattu, Padukere and Katpady. Residents who earlier would travel by boat to work at the fishing harbor can now travel by road across the bridge.
“The bridge was under construction for a long time and work speeded up only last year. People here have taken note of that too,” he says.
He also added that apart from improving connectivity and government subsidies for the fisher community, the focus should be on strengthening the education system and the living conditions of workers rather than boat owners.
The issues flagged by Santhosh and Mahesh could play a part in the upcoming elections in Kaup constituency, especially since the margin of victory in the constituency has not crossed 2,000 votes in the last three elections.
The Congress has enjoyed success in the constituency and has won 9 out of the 13 Assembly elections, helped by popular leader Vasanth Salian, who won five times in a row between 1983 and 2004.
Santhosh, resident of Mattu in Udupi
Lalaji Mendon of the Bharatiya Janata Party ended Salian’s run in 2004 when he defeated the Congress leader by a margin of 1,390 votes. He repeated the feat in 2008, even though the margin narrowed to 967. However, current MLA Vinay Kumar Sorake wrested the constituency back to Congress’ favour, winning by 1,855 votes in 2013.
Sorake is set to contest as the Congress candidate yet again and will be up against Lalaji Mendon after the BJP confirmed its candidate from Kaup on Saturday.
Sorake has more than just Mendon to contend with this time around if he hopes to emerge victorious in the constituency. Former DySP Anupama Shenoy will be contesting for the Bharatiya Janashakti Congress (BJC) from the constituency.
Shenoy has already ruffled feathers by accusing Sorake of not initiating development works in the Kaup constituency to which the Congress leader responded by saying he will send her a booklet of the works undertaken in Kaup in the last five years.
The arrival of Shenoy adds an interesting dimension to the historically two-corner fight in the constituency.
But for Mahesh and Santhosh, the concerns ahead of elections remain rooted to their businesses – fishing and farming. It is a recurring theme in many households in the coastal constituency.
“To whoever is contesting from here, we are hoping that developmental works are focused in bringing out the best of what the places here have to offer,” says Santhosh.