In the blistering heat on a Thursday afternoon, residents of Melukote’s Pandavapura sit around the village square, discussing the two major candidates from the segment.
As a convoy of motorcycles adorned with cut outs of CS Puttaraju - the JD(S) candidate, passes by, residents look at the extravagant show with wariness.
“We should be careful of Puttaraju. He is forcefully extracting promises from the women. I heard he is sending all the women on a temple tour to Tirupati,” states 78-year old Gangadhar, a village elder.
The free temple tours, that residents claim are being offered to them by JD(S) candidate CS Puttaraju, seems to be all that the residents of Pandavapura and surrounding villages can talk about.
“Two days ago, my sister, who lives in Chikkade village went on a trip to Tirupati. Puttaraju’s men are organising free temple visits. They are paying for the stay and are also giving the women Rs 2,000. The food is also free. Everything is free,” claims Simon Shashikumar, a 57-year-old shop owner.
Residents of Pandavapura, Chikkade, Chinnakurali and Ragimuddenahalli allege that CS Puttaraju is offering free temple visits for a price – the promise of a vote.
“Currently, over 50 buses have gone to Tirupati and returned. Each bus carries 50 people. Once they visit the temple, the people are forced to swear on Lord Venkatesha stating that they will vote for Puttaraju. In my lifetime, I have seen politicians give out money, food, alcohol, free petrol and what not. We are god fearing people. But CS Puttaraju is targeting the vulnerable,” Gangadhar says.
Nirmalamma, a 56-year-old agricultural worker, says she had visited Tirupati on April 24. Nirmalamma alleges that Puttaraju’s men scared her saying bad things would happen to her if she did not stick to her promise.
“How can I go back on my word. I swore on Tirupati Venkatesha. What if I lose my eyes or limbs if I fall back on my promise? I did not know that they would put me in such a situation. Had I known that they were extracting promises, I would never have taken that bus to Tirupati,” she says.
According to Gangadhar, Puttaraju’s strategy works in the villages of Melukote as the residents are fiercely superstitious. “The people care about God and are more scared of his wrath that anything else. They will give up their homes if they believe that God will take away their eyes or limbs. That is why it has become easy for them to extract promises,” he adds.
Speaking to TNM, Shanthamurthy, the President of the youth wing of the Rajya Raitha, a farmers’ outfit, says that he and a few others had informed the local election officer Kumar regarding the violations of the model code of conduct.
“I don’t know why nothing has happened. But we are also creating awareness about this. There is a lot of support for Swaraj India party candidate Darshan Puttanaiah and the JD(S) camp knows this. Everyone remembers his father and loved him. He treated everyone with respect and did everything he could to make the lives of the poor people better. We don’t know how able his son is but we are willing to put our faith in him this time,” says Mahadevamma, a 28-year-old vegetable vendor in Pandavapura.