Even as the Assembly elections draw closer in Karnataka, the residents of Siddaramanahundi look like a relaxed bunch. Less than an hour's drive away from Mysuru, the Karnataka Chief Minister's ancestral village is off the Tirumakudal Narsipur Road in Varuna. The CM has won here both times- 2008 and 2013- since Varuna was deemed a separate constituency in 2004. This time, however, the candidature has been given to his son Yathindra.
But this doesn’t seem to faze voters in his native village, Siddaramanahundi.
With firewood neatly lined up on either side of the road, the cows are taking their afternoon nap only interrupted by loud squeals of the children. Enjoying the cool breeze outside her house is Chithaiamma, Siddaramaiah’s neighbour. More than happy to voice support to her friend’s son, she beckons to us. Pointing to both their homes, she says, “His mother and my mother grew up together. How can we not support his son? We will obviously vote for Siddaramaiah.”
This could precisely be the reason the CM chose to field his son, a political novice, from here. But the people of Varuna barely seem to register Yathindra’s name, merely referring to him as “the son”. They rely, instead, on what they know of their own MLA.
Says Veera, an agricultural labourer in Varuna, “His son is coming up and is rising to the level of the father. Siddaramaiah is mannina maga (son of our soil) for us. There is no Chief Minister better than him for us. He is the first to complete a full-term in 40 years and he has fought corruption in the government. No one else has done this. This is his legacy. He has kept his promise to us. The other problems in the constituency are regular ones which are being taken care of. In another five years, even these will be solved.”
What Modi factor?
The run-up to the elections in the state has reinvigorated the BJP’s election machine, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah eyeing a victory here as crucial to their entry into south Indian electoral politics.
Anil, who runs a mobile recharge shop in the village, says, “This is a fully Congress area. Nobody else has a chance. Because of Congress, we haven’t faced much trouble in terms of roads or water. There is no disturbance for us. Even when we have to travel to the city, we eat at an Indira Canteen.”
With elections just a week away, both parties are intensifying their campaign. While Siddaramaiah’s social media team has gone into overdrive, Modi announced he would hold 21 rallies across the state from the 15 promised earlier.
Lakshmi and Nagalakshmi, who run training workshops for teachers and students at a school nearby, giggle as we approach with a question on Modi. “Maybe he talks, but we don’t know what he is talking. He keeps saying ji ji ji. But as Kannadigas what is there in it for us? Siddaramaiah speaks in Kannada and he listens to us in Kannada. That is very important for us.”
The campaign on both sides turned toxic with Hindi-speaking national leaders challenging each other to pronounce names in the state language. Even as Karnataka has witnessed the increasing assertion of identity politics, both Anil and Veera believe that Kannada swabhimana or Kannada pride has come to play an important role in these elections. “We are mostly all Kannadigas here, so of course it is important to us,” says Anil.
Veera believes that the talk about swabhimana has been necessitated by the clamour of the saffron party. He says, “The Kannada flag was unanimously adopted by us all because it means something to us; we take pride in it. While the BJP can keep claiming this and that, we can see all their claims have been beaten by the Congress.”
In this poll, Yathindra is standing against Abhishek from the JD(S) and T Basavaraju of the BJP. With the contentious Cauvery River flowing through this region, the three leaders’ local knowledge of the issue may come in handy.
Mahadeva, an entrepreneur from the village, parks his bike outside the local grameen bank and says, “There is more to be done. We had trouble with roads, electricity, but it has been resolved somewhat. Things like the Cauvery Management Board are not his (Siddaramaiah’s) fault. What can he do in front of the rain gods? It is all circumstantial. While people say it is good to form the Board, we don’t know if it will be beneficial to us. It takes control away from us. So we don’t want it. Tamil Nadu may want it, but we don’t.”
Walking through the bylanes, one thing becomes evident – people are willing to bank on Siddaramaiah’s name a second time around, but it is clear that their deep bond with the son of the soil comes with transactional benefits.