With just a week left for campaigning for the crucial Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018, the IndianExpress.com traversed three constituencies today (May 4) as part of its coverage for the May 12 elections. Vishnu Varma visited Bantwal constituency in Dakshina Kannada district, part of the state’s coastal belt, in pursuit of a lowdown on local issues and voter trends.
Aaron Pereira travelled to Nipani and Chikkodi — the No 1 and No 2 constituencies in the state. Both fall under Belgavi (Belgaum) district — the sugar bowl of Karnataka. With villages in both constituencies facing severe water problems, we looked at how the election is unfolding in these places.
On the Karnataka election trail: IndianExpress.com travels to three constituencies today as part of its coverage for the May 12 elections.
Prakash Hukkeri, Congress MP, addresses a rally for Kakasaheb Patil in Nipani.
PM Modi to address public meeting in Mangalore tomorrow
To enthuse the party cadre in Mangalore, PM Modi is scheduled to address a public meeting on Saturday. Right now, the party has just 1 MLA in Dakshina Kannada district. Rest 7 seats are with @INCIndia .
Excited for BJP but not for Yeddyurappa
" A sense of the voter mood I got in Dakshina Kannada: There's tremendous excitement about BJP especially among the core Hindu vote base, but nothing at all for Yeddyurappa. Not even a single BJP supporter had a good thing to say about him," @VishKVarma reports
Meanwhile, in Nipani and Chikodi, it's the opposite. There’s no talk about Modi at all. BJP candidates — the Jolle couple — are as popular as the Congress and Samiti, reports @aaronpereira
Siddaramaiah government is 'Super government'
Khaleej, hidden among the clay pots and vegetables, says Siddaramaiah government is 'Super government'. "There have been no problems in last 5 years. Roads are good, there are dams for water supply, power supply is not erratic," he says in broken Malayalam. He knows Malayalam from the numerous trips he's made to Malabar in recent years and his work in Dubai, home to a large number of Malayalis.
Meet Pathrod: he buys a single stone for Rs 20, carves it in a day and sells it for Rs 100.— Aaron Pereira (@aaronpereira) May 4, 2018
"But nowadays who buys these? Everyone wants an electric mixer. But this is the only skill we know. Our forefathers did it to. It's the identity of our community."#LiveInKarnataka pic.twitter.com/7MfMiL7NVf
If BJP comes back to power, we will benefit, says Pathrod, who belongs to Waddar community
Lakhan Bhimrao Pathrod belongs to the Waddar community -- their traditional occupation is stone carving. Belonging to the SC community in Karnataka, families such as that of Pathrod are struggling to make ends meet.
Pathrod buys stones from a quarry near Chikodi. While he would initially purchase a single stone for less than Rs 5, he now has to shell out between Rs 17-20 for the same as the quarry owner blames GST and royalty charges that have now been imposed.
Once he carves the stone into grinders, he prices the small ones at Rs 100. It takes him a day to make one. The larger ones sell for Rs 200. He takes two days to make those.
With elections round the corner, Pathrod hopes the BJP comes back in the state. 'Modi has brought about a lot of development. He has ended corruption and put systems like the Aadhaar in place. We want to be included and get benefits such as housing. If they come to power in Karnataka we will benefit.'
'It's looking very tough' despite Congress MLA working this time, says a BJP supporter
Gopinath (right), who runs another store in Bantwal town, says there are frequent power cuts in the constituency and that those who can afford inverters can buy them. He says the Congress MLA had not done anything in the city till 5 years ago. "This time, he has worked in the town. He has built roads and renovated a hospital. But in spite all this, it's looking very tough. Anything can happen," he says."
In Bantwal town, every vote will go towards BJP. That's for sure. But minorities will vote for Congress," says Nagaraj (on the left).
Both are Gaud Saraswat Brahmins. In their 60s, both are supporters of the BJP as is their community.
"If Ramanath Rai wins, the margin will be very less, not the 18000 vote lead he had last time," Gopinath predicts.
"Modi is coming tomorrow to Mangalore. Are you going?" Nagaraj asks. "After he comes and goes, there will be a shift of 2-3% votes for BJP, you will see," he says.
'Modi daring aadmi hai. When he speaks, lakhs of voters go to hear'
Nagesh S Pai, who runs a stationery store in Bantwal, says incumbent MLA and Congress minister Ramanatha Rai has done a lot of work building roads and infrastructure in the area. But there's a problem. 'He promotes Muslims more. He doesn't care much about Hindus. He said he won here six times with the support of minorities. I read it in the papers myself,' he says.
When asked which way the wind blows, he said he can't say for sure. 'Anything can happen in the last few days. The actual fight here is between Ramanatha Rai and Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, the top RSS leader in the region. It's not Congress vs BJP,' he says.
Asked about the PM, he says, 'Modi daring aadmi hai. When he speaks, lakhs of voters go to hear,' he says.--@VishnuVarma reports
SDPI's decision to withdraw candidate may swing entire minority vote in favour of Congress in Bantwal
Many voters here in Bantwal, especially Muslim voters, said the withdrawal of nomination of the candidate of SDPI, political wing of the Popular Front, is the turning point in this constituency, swinging the entire minority vote in favour of the Congress. The SDPI had withdrawn its candidate choosing not to split the minority vote. 'Young Muslim boys were joining the SDPI in large numbers. Last time, they got 6000 votes but this time, it was set to get more. But now that they are out of the contest, Congress will win for sure,' said a Muslim man who did not reveal his name. He works as a driver in Bantwal.
In a constituency with over 50000 Muslim voters and a small percentage of Konkani Christians, the minority votes are extremely important.
SDPI, active in the northern districts of Kerala as well, mainly draws its strength from the Muslim voter base. In Bantwal, it has been involved in conflicts at the local level with rightwing outfits.
Scene outside Chikodi BJP candidate Annasaheb Jolle's residence
Praveen and Pratap are in class four and five. They don't know much about the #KarnatakaElection2018 but are happy to have a flag tied to their cycle. This, outside Chikodi BJP candidate Annasaheb Jolle's residence #LiveInKarnataka pic.twitter.com/7VOQRWAwpP— Aaron Pereira (@aaronpereira) May 4, 2018
A lifeline of Dakshina Kannada, Netravati remains a major source of drinking water for Mangaluru
The pristine waters of the Netravati river on whose banks Bantwal rests. The river water is essential for more than 2 lakh residents of the town and adjoining villages. It begins in Chikkamagaluru district, flows through Dharmasathala and merges with Kumaradhara river before flowing out into the Arabian Sea. It's a major water source for the coastal town of Mangalore as well, reports Vishnu Varma
'It's always BJP, just like that,' says this ardent BJP supporter
Chetan, who drives an auto in Bantwal town, says the BJP which rules the panchayat in his area has worked on fixing roads, water and power lines. Nearly 300 households, all of which are Hindu, in his neighbourhood, will vote for BJP, he says. He says he doesn't care much about elections or politics, but makes it a point to vote. 'Its always BJP, just like that,' he says.
Police check posts in Nippani ahead of the May 12 polls
At the date for voting in the Karnataka Assembly Elections draws closer, police posts are constructed to check for cash and liquor. Here's one in Nippani.
Police check post stopping vehicles to check for cash/alcohol as the voting date draws closer pic.twitter.com/QkYg51CzRs— Aaron Pereira (@aaronpereira) May 4, 2018
In Nippani, campaigning is at a high
With just a week left for campaigning for the polls, BJP workers are out on door-to-door visits in Nippani. (Express Photo/Aaron Pereira)
Nippani BJP MLA says Siddaramaiah govt has done nothing for farmers
Incumbent BJP MLA Shashikala Jolle tells IndianExpress.com that the Congress government in the state, led by CM Siddaramaiah, has done nothing for farmers. She says much has to be done for the sugarcane farmers in the region. "If we come to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already announced a slew of steps that will be taken to benefit the farmers," she tells IndianExpress.com.
BJP's Shashikala Jolle tells me @siddaramaiah Govt has done nothing for farmers. She says much has to be done for the sugarcane farmers in the region. "If we come to power, Modi has already announced a slew of steps that will be taken to benefit them." #LiveInKarnataka pic.twitter.com/VJk5PLl3ls— Aaron Pereira (@aaronpereira) May 4, 2018
Inside BJP's colourful office in Nipponi
So, Aaron Pereira seems to have finally located the BJP's office in Nipponi! Here's sitting MLA Shashikala Jolle's office. She operates out of her husband's cooperative bank. He too is contesting the polls for the party, but from a neighbouring constituency.
(Side note: Did you notice the colours of the chairs?)
Bantwal: No time for rest despite the heat
After speaking to local party officers, it's time to get an idea of what voters think ahead of the elections. Vishnu Varma is off to the interiors of Bantwal constituency. Stay tuned!
Will Congress' schemes help the party retain Bantwal? This young worker thinks so
This is 27-year-old Ibrahim Nawaz. He joined the Congress from the SDPI just three months ago. He is a gram panchayat member in Bantwal. Nawaz says, "No one needs an appointment to speak to MLA Ramanath Rai, anyone can speak to him. He is approachable." He says this is what drew him to the Congress. Nawaz adds that people-friendly schemes of the Congress have worked on the ground.
In the last five years, he says, several development initiates have been taken. He lists them: New KSRTC bus stand at Rs 10.7 crores, upgradation of Taluk General Hospital at Rs 25 lakhs, a water tank at Rs 125 crore, Ambedkar Bhawan at Rs 3 crore, the building of 22 small dams, a sports stadium at Rs 10 crore and road works of Rs 144 crores.
At the same time, Nawaz says, "What happened to the BJP's promise on black money? What happened to 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao'?"
(Express Photo/Vishnu Varma)
In search for BJP in Nippani
While we wait for our reporter to locate the BJP office, here's an interesting piece of information. Nippani, Karnataka's constituency No 1 is being contested by incumbent BJP MLA Jolle Shashikala. The candidate for Constituency No 2 — Chikkodi — is her husband and BJP's Annasaheb Jolle.
I’m going in circles trying to find Shashikala Jolle’s office in Nipani. All around you see Congress flags. Spotted one BJP vehicle. Office should be around. #LiveInKarnataka pic.twitter.com/InlrtudotN— Aaron Pereira (@aaronpereira) May 4, 2018
Ramanath Rai expresses confidence in winning Bantwal for 7th time
Sitting Congress MLA Ramanath Rai, in an interview with IndianExpress.com, said he would win from Bantwal on the strength of his development works. He said he has solved issues of drinking water shortage, roadworks and communications. "The government has done very good work in the last five years. Most people are happy with me. The BJP doesn't have any issues to fight on so it creates communal problems. How can they say that I am anti-Hindu? I am a secular leader and our party is also secular," he tells IndianExpress.com.
Rai added that Congress president Rahul Gandhi's two rallies in Mangalore and Bantwal have elicited a good response.
Rai is contesting the seat for the seventh time.
Congress office in Bantwal (Express Photo/Vishnu Varma)
Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia rallies in Nippani
Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia is holding a rally in Nippani. Congress' Kakaso Pandurang Patil is hoping to wrest power from the BJP in the May 12 elections.
BJP karyakarta and chairman of an arecanut cooperative Sateesh Chadra talks about party's chances in Bantwal. He claims there's an anti-incumbency wave in the state.
Our reporters compare notes in a quick Twitter chat. You can follow them (@VishKVarma/@aaronpereira) on Twitter for updates.
Guessing it’s as dull as there. Not much campaigning seen add to it the restriction on banners and flyers. So it’s all door-to-door and through ricks like Shahrukh.— Aaron Pereira (@aaronpereira) May 4, 2018
First stop in Belgavi: Nippani
An important agricultural commercial trade centre in Belgaum, Nippani is known for growing sugercane and high quality tobacco. It has a population of nearly 63,000 people. In constituency No 1, BJP's Jolle Shashikala is the incumbent MLA. She beat Congress' Kakaso Pandurang Patil in the 2013 elections by a margin of over 18,000 votes. The two will be contesting the polls on May 12.
In case you're just tuning in, IndianExpress.com is traversing three constituencies — Vishnu Varma in the South and Aaron Pereira in the North — to identify local issues and voter trends. Here's where our reporters are today. Follow our blog through the day for the latest news!
Local BJP leaders in Bantwal are confident of a win
Local BJP leaders in Bantwal express confidence that the overwhelming sentiment in the area is in favour of the BJP. But they allege that the Congress employs 'money power' and could throw cash at the last minute to win the seat.
In Bantwal, 7,000 pramukhs canvass votes for BJP
Abhishek, a Sangh worker, says the RSS and the larger Parivar is very active politically in the Dakshina Kannada belt unlike in Kerala or other states where they don't generally go to the ground to canvass votes for the BJP. This explains the BJP's weakness in Kerala as compared to Karnataka. There are a total of 246 booths in Bantwal and over 7,000 page pramukhs at the ground level.
Aaron Pereira hits the road. He's en route Niponi and Chikodi in Belgavi district. Here, the people have been demanding that the Belgavi, under which there are 18 constituencies, be split as others have almost half the number.
I’m off to Niponi and Chikodi where it’s safe to call it family business. For BJP, the two seats are being contested by the Jolle couple(Shashikala in Niponi, Annasaheb in Chikodi)— Aaron Pereira (@aaronpereira) May 4, 2018
For @INCIndia — MP Prakash Hukkeri’s son Ganesh Hukkeri is contesting in Chikodi #LiveInKarnataka
In other news, the BJP this morning released its manifesto for the elections. Its CM candidate Yeddyurappa has promised to re-introduce the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Preservation Bill, 2012. Meanwhile, Congress president Rahul Gandhi will campaign will hold meetings in Kalburgi, Gadag and Haveri districts today. Track LIVE UPDATES here.
Sitting Congress MLA is anti-Hindu, loves Muslims: BJP leader
A BJP leader in the party's office in Mangalore says that sitting Congress MLA and minister Ramanath Rai is anti-Hindu and loves Muslims. he adds that this sentiment of the Hindus "being ignored" by the Congress will work for the BJP. He also says that there has been no development in Bantwal despite Rai being elected from here six times. The Bhagya schemes may have been introduced by the state government but the funding comes from the Centre, he adds.
Ahead of PM's visit, at the BJP office in Bantwal
Flyers are being prepared and hectic consultations are on in the BJP election office on BC road as the Prime Minister is scheduled to land in Mangalore tomorrow evening (May 5) for a public meeting. (Express Photo/Vishnu Varma)
Meanwhile, from Belgavi...
Meet Shahrukh (left) who gets paid Rs 700 a day to campaign around the city. A poster atop his auto rickshaw is in support of Congress candidate Firoz Saith. On the right, his rival campaigning for Saamaanya Janata Party. (Express Photo/Aaron Pereira)
In Bantwal, not a single poster, flag or campaign notice is seen
On the roads of Bantwal, there isn't a single party poster, flag or campaign notice which is quite refreshing to see. There are no big rallies of public meetings either. This is similar to Mangalore, where there is little defacement of public property. It doesn't feel like an election is underway. Both the BJP and the Congress are relying on door-to-door visits and scanning across large rural parts of the constituency.
While Congress leader Ramanath Rai has the heft of being a sitting state minister and district in charge, the BJP prides itself on having the organisational strength of the Sangh Parivar.