Karnataka: A farmers’ political collective aspires to take on BJP & JD(S) in Mandya

SKP says that more than 70 percent of its candidates are young and are well-educated. Their focus on issues is mostly restricted to those pertaining to the region and to dissuade voters from leaning towards the BJP.

Mandya: The office of the Sarvodaya Karnataka Party (SKP) may be the least prominent among other political party outposts here, but it definitely looked the busiest.

A couple of days before nominations were to close for candidates for the May 10 Assembly elections, Mandya, the heart of Karnataka’s agrarian belt looked like it was yet to catch the election fever. And yet the SKP office was buzzing with activities like laying out freshly printed posters and loading them onto trucks.

The face that stands out prominently, among the posters that are being loaded onto vans, was that of SKP’s lead candidate Darshan Puttanaiah. Son of the late prominent farmers leader K S Puttanaiah, Darshan is contesting from Melkote constituency in Mandya district. Congress is not fielding a candidate here in order to support Darshan and open the constituency up for a direct contest between the SKP and the JD(S) which is hoping to retain its seat.

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SKP is a political offshoot of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a farmers’ association which claims to have more than 20 lakh registered members. It is contesting in constituencies including Melkote, Mandya, Virajpet, Chitradurga, Belthangady and Chamaraj Nagar where a majority of voters are farmers belonging to the Vokkaliga community.

SKP says that more than 70 percent of its candidates are young and are well-educated. Their focus on issues is mostly restricted to those pertaining to the region and to dissuade voters from leaning towards the BJP.

“We have asked all our members not to vote for BJP as it is an anti-farmer party. We have not taken a political stand against any other political party in constituencies where we are not contesting,” Prasanna N Gowda, state general secretary of SKP told PTI.

Meanwhile, with a green shawl over his shoulder, dressed in crisp casuals, the young US-educated Darshan Puttannaiah is busy discussing campaign strategy with his party colleagues.
“There is a big anti-incumbency factor and people want a steady government. Farmers in Karnataka are agitated and they are looking for a stable government,” Puttannaiah, state general secretary of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha told PTI.

Puttannaiah, who calls himself the “Tech guy” standing for “sustainable and holistic rural development” in his unverified Twitter handle, said political parties have done nothing for the benefit of the farmers and youth.

“The concept of Vokkaligas supporting JD(S) is going to change, youngsters are not going to vote on the basis of caste but on the basis of the merit of the candidate. Farmers are also going to go beyond caste” he said.

SKP candidate for Mandya, Madhuchandan SC, an Engineer by profession who has worked in many countries abroad, is confident about cracking the “Vokkaliga-JD(S) support system”.

“I have been working here for the last nine years and know the ground reality much better. The political parties who had been elected from Mandya have destroyed this place. Once one of the richest districts in the country, now youngsters are migrating out from Mandya in search of menial jobs. Our agriculture is dying, our industries have gone,” Madhuchandan said.

According to SKP leaders, the party has a presence in 100 constituencies. “We have shown our strength during local body elections and are now ruling many panchayats. We were never aggressive politically though we spearheaded many agitations against the anti-farmer policies of the government. Now we realise the importance of having a strong presence politically as people want the change,” Gowda said.

He added the party is aiming for the 2028 assembly polls where they believe it could be a considerable force to reckon with. “This election, we are concentrating in only about 10 constituencies.”

The SKP has managed to rally behind youngsters and with the membership network of Karnataka Rajya Raithe Sangha, it is planning to build on this base in the coming years.

Prof. Musafar Assadi, political analyst and Professor of political science, University of Mysore, is skeptical about the plans of SKP. Quoting many examples of farmers contesting elections in several parts of the country unsuccessfully, Assadi said SKP may not be able to consolidate the farmers’ votes nor can split Vokkaliga votes.

“Vokkaligas always voted as a homogenous group. But they hardly considered the peasant issues while voting” Assadi told PTI.

Reacting to the allegations of the farmers’ representatives against BJP, Mandya District BJP president C P Umesh said it has done much more than any other party to help the farmers.

“The (Basavaraj) Bommai government helped reopen many sugar factories in Mandya for the benefit of the farmers. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji also has given Rs 10,000, to the accounts of the farmers directly,” Umesh said. The youngsters in Vokkaliga community will rally behind BJP this time, he averred.

“JD(S) will get about 40 percent of Vokkaliga votes and BJP about 35 percent,” Umesh said.

Political analysts observed farmers in Karnataka have never voted homogeneously as a community. In the 54 seats in Old Mysuru, which is considered a Vokkaliga belt, JD(s) and Congress enjoyed a lion’s share of seats in previous elections.

Mandya is presently represented by the JD(S) in the state Assembly.

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