Days before he began full-fledged election campaigning in Karnataka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed BJP legislators in Karnataka through a video conference. Among those who got to ask him a question was Shashikala Jolle. Jolle represents Nipani, constituency No 1 in the Karnataka Assembly.
Her question for Prime Minister Modi was on the plight of farmers in the state: “When the BJP comes to power in the state, how will farmers benefit?”
The electorate in Jolle’s constituency consists primarily of farmers growing sugarcane and cultivating tobacco. The region is well irrigated but what ails it is the lack of adequate power supply.
“What is the use of water if we can’t pump it to our fields? We need better power supply, especially for crops like sugarcane,” says Nahu Parshuram, a 35-year-old who, besides cultivating sugarcane and soyabean, also drives a truck. While the Karnataka government has started the Surya Raitha pilot scheme, providing solar powered pumps to farmers, it is yet to reach Nipani.
There isn’t much campaigning underway for the BJP in Nipani on Friday morning. Jolle’s rival, Congress candidate Kakasaheb Patil, just concluded a rally with party leader and MP Jyotiraditya Scindia. Even after Scindia left, volunteers outside the party office continued to hit the streets waving their party flag amid chants of “Kakasaheb Patil Vijay So”.
“Scindia coming here has got our volunteers all charged up. He speaks very well and connects with the crowd. Plus he can speak in Marathi, which is very important in this region,” a party worker says. Nearly 70 per cent of the voters in Nipani, that borders Maharashtra, are Marathis.
The mood at the BJP office is different. Party workers stream in to meet Jolle in her plush cabin on the first floor of the Shri Beereshwar cooperative credit society branch office. Adorning the walls are photo frames of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Syama Prasad Mookerji, KB Hedgewar, MS Golwalkar, AB Vajpayee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi among others.
Campaigning via WhatsApp
A large framed photo of Parliament House by her side, Jolle is busy strategising for the next few days when campaigning will heat up as May 12 approaches. A group of young volunteers are ushered into a conference room. A senior campaign leader first has some bad news: “15 of them joined Congress yesterday. But these workers are doing a very good job.” Pointing to a young volunteer, he says: “He is part of 15 groups. There is good response.”
Part of the campaigning is underway via WhatsApp. Memes, short videos of election speeches and caricatures are being circulated as are news report clippings from local dailies depending on in whose favour the headline for the day is.
Sushanth, who administers groups for the Congress, says people don’t mind downloading speeches and pictures. “Data is not a problem. It’s very cheap now. People want to know what the candidates are saying,” he says. What about Twitter? “No. People don’t use it much,” he says. What is circulating on WhatsApp though are screenshots of Siddaramaiah and Modi’s war of words on Twitter.
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
In a quick chat with IndianExpress.com, Jolle reiterates what PM Modi said to her in the video conference via the NaMo App. “If we come to power, we will ensure farmers’ loans are waived off entirely not only in cooperative banks but also in national banks. The Siddaramaiah government buckled under opposition pressure and announced it would waive off loans. Still, some are left. Three thousand farmers committed suicide but he (CM) is busy taunting Modi.”
Downstairs from the BJP Nipani party office, two workers are rushing to their cars holding lotus logo pins and Modi caps. “Why campaign on the road when they (Congress) just had a national leader here? We’re focussing on door-to-door today.”
In next door Chikodi (constituency No 2), Shashikala’s husband is contesting on the BJP ticket against incumbent Congress MLA Ganesh Hukkeri.
Asked about whether it violated the BJP’s policy of not having more than one family member in a position of power, Shashikala says her husband Annasaheb Jolle’s hardwork was noticed by the party. “The party leadership took note of the work he has been doing and decided to give him the ticket. We didn’t approach them seeking a ticket. Whatever decision they have taken we accept.”
A different election this time
Party workers from both the BJP and the Congress say it’s different this time.
“Earlier we used to have an understanding. BJP wins Nipani, we win Chikodi. This time around it is different. The BJP is on a mission to ensure they win big. It’s a tough fight,” a Congress party worker said, as he prepared a small stage for Ganesh’s father Prakash Hukkeri, the current MP, to address a gathering of women from the constituency in his home.
Interestingly, there’s very little of Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi in this region. The Modi wave, BJP party workers say, has long gone. “Here the candidates have to win it themselves. People show up only to see the PM.”