Drought, water challenges loom over Mandya’s politics | Bengaluru - Hindustan Times
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Drought, water challenges loom over Mandya’s politics

By, Bengaluru
Apr 24, 2024 07:47 AM IST

Mandya, like much of the region, is grappling with a severe water crisis, leading to a drastic reduction in agricultural output.

In the villages of Mandya, where daily life is often dictated by the cycles of agriculture, a curious scene is unfolding during the afternoon hours. The humble tea stalls, often no more than tin boxes with benches, become bustling hubs of activity at a time that usually saw farmers engrossed in their agricultural tasks. The reason behind this unexpected shift in routine lies in the harsh reality of the ongoing drought, and with their afternoons now idle, farmers are finding themselves drawn to these hubs of conversation and empathy.

Mandya, like much of the region, is grappling with a severe water crisis, leading to a drastic reduction in agricultural output. (AP) PREMIUM
Mandya, like much of the region, is grappling with a severe water crisis, leading to a drastic reduction in agricultural output. (AP)

Mandya, like much of the region, is grappling with a severe water crisis, leading to a drastic reduction in agricultural output. According to government figures, Sugarcane production in the state is estimated to be 52 million tonnes this year, compared to about 75 million tonnes last year.

In Jeegundipatna village, at one such tea stall, Bore Gowda, a farmer,says people made a mistake voting for the Congress in the Assembly elections. “We have the KRS dam here in Mandya but our fields are going dry. The government talks about providing water to Bengaluru but releases water to Tamil Nadu even when our crops are dying.”

In Mandya, agriculture is the livelihood of nearly 90% of the population and the Cauvery River is the lifeline. The matter of water allocation, especially concerning sharing agreements with downstream states, transcends mere political or caste affiliations.

With crop losses and dwindling yields, former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and the Janata Dal (Secular) party -- in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party this time -- have positioned themselves as staunch advocates for farmers’ welfare. “We don’t care much for the BJP, but we believe that once he (Kumaraswamy) is elected, he will be an agriculture minister at the centre.; the BJP leaders are saying that in their campaign,” said Shiva Kumar, another farmer.

To be sure, it is not clear who has said this. There has been no talk in Delhi of possible portfolios should the BJP-led NDA win,

In Mandya, the top contenders for the MP seat are JD(S)’ Kumaraswamy, a former CM of the state, and Venkataramane Gowda, known colloquially as Star Chandru, the Congress candidate.

Much water has flown in the Cauvery since 2019, when Kumaraswamy’s son, Nikhil, faced defeat in his electoral debut against the independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh, who received backing from the BJP. He lost the subsequent assembly polls from the Mandya as well. The BJP and JD(S), then rivals, now find themselves in an alliance. Adding to the intrigue, Sumalatha Ambareesh, after opting not to contest, has aligned herself with the BJP.

With the looming drought, Kumaraswamy’s grassroots appeal has galvanised support for his campaign, painting him as the local hero poised to champion Mandya’s cause. “We made a mistake by not electing Nikhil last time. I will admit that we voted for Sumalatha but it was a mistake. She didn’t do any work. We have not even seen her since she got elected. We will rectify this mistake this time,” said Arun Kumar P, a shopkeeper from Basarahalli.

In a constituency steeped in political history, where the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) have long held sway, the impending elections herald a battle for supremacy. The Vokkaliga community, which makes up over 50% of the nearly 1.8 million voters here, emerges as a crucial demographic, its allegiance up for grabs between the JD(S) and the Congress. Even though the community tilted towards the Congress in the assembly elections, Kumaraswamy seems to have reclaimed some ground.

“The people of the state have understood that the Congress government is running us to bankruptcy, they didn’t stand by our farmers when we were facing a drought. Whenever I travel in the constituency people see me as the solution for the problem,” says Kumaraswamy. “Talking about the Congress, they are in such a bad state here that they couldn’t even find a decent candidate. Half of Mandya doesn’t even know the Congress candidate,” he adds.

Meanwhile, The Congress campaign has focused its attempts on portraying Kumaraswamy as an outsider from Hassan. With an assertive declaration of “I am the son of Mandya,” the Congress candidate aims to strike a chord with local voters, but he remains an unknown figure compared to Kumaraswamy. “We know that Chandru is a businessman but otherwise we have not seen him around,” says Shilpa Gowda, a young voter from Mandya city.

Seeing the fight as a deeply personal battle to establish himself as the pre-eminent Vokkaliga leader, deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar has been actively engaged in campaigning within the constituency and even got former AICC president Rahul Gandhi to headline a massive rally in Mandya.

“Rahul Gandhi called JD(S) the B-team of BJP in the last election. Now, the JD(S) has officially joined hands with the BJP and become one team. Star Chandru isn’t the only candidate in Mandya, DK Shivakumar, Siddaramaiah, Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjuna Kharge are all candidates,” said DK Shivakumar in Mandya.

He added that his government was working to solve the region’s water crisis.

“I have taken an oath to complete the Mekedatu project which will solve the water problems of Mandya. The Centre did not give approvals to the Mekedatu project even when there was ‘double engine sarkar’. Despite difficult conditions, we have given water to the people of this region.”

Muzaffar Assadi, political theorist and former professor of political science at University of Mysore, said even though Kumaraswamy is perceived to have an advantage in Mandya, his recent statement against women could backfire. “The guarantee schemes are popular among the women of the rural parts and with his statement, it is expected that a large section of the women voters could go against him, which could have an impact on the results,” he said.

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