“Today, PM Modi has come to Chamarajanagar. But instead of going to Chamarajanagar (town) and holding the rally there, he has gone to Santhemarahalli nearby. This was out of fear. He fears that if he goes to Chamarajanagar he will lose his chair,” Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told reporters on Tuesday.
For someone not familiar with Karnataka politics, this statement may seem strange. But people who have been closely following the political situation in the state would know that this ‘most backward’ district, which lies 170 kilometres from Bengaluru, is infamous for ‘black magic’. In fact, for decades now, many politicians and even bureaucrats have avoided Chamarajanagar town, the headquarters of the Chamarajanagar district, because of the urban legend that those who visit the town will be ousted from their posts.
Coincidences and unrelated events have made many politicians believe that whenever a Chief Minister visits the district, it leads to the collapse of the government – or the Chief Minister being unseated.
It started with late Chief Minister D Devaraj Urs, who visited the town in 1980. The longest serving Chief Minister in Karnataka’s history, Urs lost power within six months of this visit.
After Devaraj Urs, it was the turn of the late Gundu Rao to step down, just months after his visit to the town in 1982.
Even the late Ramakrishna Hegde stepping down as Chief Minister following a phone-tapping scandal was linked to his visit to the town, that was by then cementing its reputation as the ‘graveyard of Chief Ministers.’
In 1988, the then Chief Minister visited the town – and he was forced to vacate office in a few months, owing to dissidence within his party.
In 1990, Veerendra Patil was the Chief Minister, and visited Chamarajanagar. And coincidentally, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi removed him from his post a few months later.
Mahadev Prakash, a noted poll observer says the town has been blamed for no fault of its. “Gundu Rao had lost out due to poor health. SR Bommai was rather unfortunate as the Governor had decided not to give him an opportunity to prove majority before dissolving the Assembly. And Patil was shunted by Rajiv Gandhi himself after a fallout with the state leadership,” he said.
Whether one sees these are a series of unfortunate coincidences, or believes in superstitious explanations, the result is that the district has been neglected. After Veerendra Patil’s visit in 1990, six Chief Ministers avoided Chamarajanagar town, never entering there even for a campaign. Successive Chief Ministers, S Bangarappa, Veerappa Moily, HD Deve Gowda, JH Patel, SM Krishna and Dharam Singh avoided visiting the town. Even Yeddyurappa and his cabinet colleagues had refrained from visiting the district during their tenure.
Importantly, Patel who was regarded as “progressive”, did not even visit the town for inaugurating the district, choosing instead to hold a ceremony in MM Hills.
The condition of Chamarajanagar district, which was carved out of Mysuru only is 1997, has deteriorated over the years. In fact, in 2002, the state government instituted DM Nanjundappa Committee on regional imbalances in the state had identified it as the most backward district of the state.
Finally, HD Kumaraswamy visited the town in 2007, and became the first CM to do so in 17 years.
“I am ready to lose power for the sake of the people. I don't believe in any superstition that my visit will cost me my Chief Ministership," Kumaraswamy had then said.
Rationalist Siddaramaiah, too, has rejected this superstition. And he’s using this to attack the opposition, as they seemingly stay away from Chamarajanagar for fear of their seats.
“I have been to Chamarajanagar town eight times. And because I went there eight times, I stayed in power for five years without fear. Even Yeddyurappa has not gone there,” the Karnataka Chief Minister said.