The son of a farmer leader, Darshan Puttanaiah’s story is one straight out of a movie. He moved to the US in search of success as a software engineer, going on to set up his own company. The untimely death of his father, KS Puttanaiah, brought him back to Melukote in Karnataka’s Mandya district, where he will be making his political debut for Swaraj India in the 2018 Assembly Elections.
Clad in jeans and a shirt with a green shawl over his shoulder, Darshan Puttanaiah enters Ragimuddenahalli in Melukote for a rally and is taken aback by the love the people have held for him in their hearts.
“I never thought of receiving so much love. I have never contested elections before,” Darshan says. The 40-year-old, says he had wanted to make it big on his own. He completed his engineering from Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering in Mysuru and went to the US.
After working there for a while, he set up Qwinix Technologies, a software solutions company in Denver. Now, Qwinix has four branches in four different countries and Darshan Puttanaiah has handed over the reins to competent managers and wants to focus on his father’s dream – of helping the farmers in Karnataka.
‘Determined to continue my father’s work’
His father, KS Puttanaiah was one of the most popular leaders in Melukote, who had contested elections five times and won twice – in 1994 and 2013. KS Puttanaiah-led Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha merged with Swaraj India in 2017.
“This is all very new to me. Even in the past, I had helped my father with his election campaigns but I was never in the forefront. I am determined to continue what my father worked so hard for,” Darshan said, on the sidelines of a rally in Ragimuddenahalli.
Following his father’s death, the Congress chose to not field a candidate of its own in Melukote, deciding to back Darshan instead.
“With respect for Puttanaiah and in deference to his memory, the Congress will not be fielding a candidate from Melukote,” Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had earlier told the media.
Siddaramaiah was close to the late Puttanaiah and had also paid his respects during the farmer leader’s funeral. He had also vowed to support Puttanaiah’s family.
Darshan, a young leader, is seen as a saviour by many in Melukote. His acumen in resolving people’s issues over the past eight months has gained him brownie points too.
With hundreds of people gathered in Ragemuddenahalli, for his rally, Darshan Puttanaiah is seen as a star. His followers are loyal to the bone and one of them even has his face tattooed on his chest.
“Whenever we go to him with a problem, just like his father, he tries to solve it as soon as possible. He has been so successful but he is not arrogant and has never boasted about his achievements. He walks among the people and is always ready to listen to us at any time of the day. He is just like his father and there is some hope that he will continue doing good work,” says Nanjappa, a resident of Ragimuddenahalli.
Poll battle at Melukote
Darshan Puttanaiah is up against the JD(S) candidate CS Puttaraju, who is the incumbent Mandya MP. Although the BJP has fielded Somashekhar, a Lingayat from Melukote, the real fight is between Darshan and Puttaraju.
Speaking to TNM, CS Puttaraju says that he is confident of winning. “Yes, his father was a popular leader but Darshan Puttanaiah has no experience as a politician. I have been an MLA and MP. The people of Karnataka want Kumaraswamy to become the CM this time. So, I am confident of winning,” he said.
His entry to politics may be new but Darshan Puttanaiah says he will continue to work for the farmers even if he does not win. “Even when my father was not an MLA, he was committed to the farmers’ cause and had dedicated his life for them. I will continue to do the same,” he says.
On tackling Cauvery water dispute, farmers’ issues
In Melukote, the Cauvery water sharing issue, has always been a deciding factor for an electoral candidate. “Like my father, I believe that the Cauvery Management Board needs to be formed with people from both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to govern it. The board should have people who deal with problems regarding water on a day to day basis. This should be thought out practically, on how much water is required for the total land in both the states and distributed fairly,” says Darshan.
The young politician believes that integrating technology with farming could bring about positive changes in the current structure.
“It is important to teach farmers how to manage their finances. It is one of the big things. Before even thinking about managing the finances, there is debt. So, the debt is waived off by the government but this leads to more debt. There has to be a minimum support price. If this is not there then the chances of them breaking even for the next crop is very low,” Darshan says.
My father was first an activist. He entered politics because he wanted the voices of the farmers to be heard,” says Darshan. A friend from Bengaluru accompanies him on his campaigns, shooting footage of what might be a short film on the return of the native.
Residents of Melukote, who are mostly farmers, say that the consecutive years of drought has led to immense losses in the region. “Darshan Puttanaiah has gone to the US. He is well-educated and we believe that he can find solutions to our problems. I think people of Melukte should give him a chance. We have had the same Congress and JD(S) candidates contesting elections but all of them made promises and never lived up to it. Maybe he will help us,” says Pradeep Rakshit, a 27-year-old agricultural worker from Chinnakurali village.