Bellary Lok Sabha constituency is poised to witness a direct fight between BJP’s B Sriramulu and Congress’ N Y Hanumanthappa, former chief justice of Odisha High Court.
Once a Congress bastion, the constituency elected the party’s candidates from 1952 to 1999. Since 2004, it has been held by the saffron party. There is strong criticism that the Reddy brothers, during the BJP regime, developed only Bellary city, which got motorable roads, underground drains and drinking water.
However, after the arrest of former minister Gali Janardhan Reddy on charges of illegal mining, infrastructure development such as construction of flyovers, cement roads and beautification of the city have come to a standstill. The hegemony of the Reddys and Sriramulu ended after Janardhan Reddy went to jail and the Congress government took over in the state.
Ban on Mining
Congress leaders are seeking votes bashing the Reddy brothers for their alleged involvement in illegal mining and bringing a bad name to the state and Bellary in particular.
On the other hand, Sriramulu is appealing to the electorate to support BJP to revive mining.
Bellary has changed after the ban on mining. Around 40 sponge iron industries on the outskirts of Bellary on Hospet Road have been shut because of non-supply of iron ore, leaving hundreds jobless. Many people have migrated to Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and those working as labourers in mines are now construction workers.
Open Defecation Still an Issue
Thippavva, a resident of a village near Moka, around 15 km from Bellary city, still waits for sunset to go to open fields to attend nature’s call. Although they are aware of the government scheme that provides financial assistance to build toilets, space is a big constraint. Showing her small house, she asked, “Tell me where is the space to build a toilet?”
Despite the availability of adequate water in Tungabhadra dam, drinking water is still in short supply, and people walk miles to fetch it. Underground water is used for purposes other than drinking, because of the high fluoride content. “The drinking water problem has been there for years. No leader has addressed it. They come to us during elections and they do not look back at us once they are elected. We do not know when we will get potable water,” said Seenappa, who owns a two-acre dry land near Kudligi.
A majority of the voting population is STs, followed by SCs, Lingayats, Muslims, Brahmins and OBCs. Both Sriramulu and Hanumanthappa belong to the Valmiki community (ST), which can change the fortunes of candidates. Congress is relying on the votes of SCs, minorities and OBCs. BJP is wooing ST, Lingayat and Brahmin voters.
Sriramulu enjoys the support of all the communities and this is a matter of worry for his opponents. He has also conducted mass marriages, offered financial help to the poor and is perceived as accessible to voters.
But Congress leaders are banking on anti-incumbency, alleged looting of natural resources by BJP leaders and the populist schemes of the Siddaramaiah government.
But Congress is a divided house with serious differences among local leaders. “They are just participating in the election campaign just like that, without putting any serious effort for Hanumanthappa’s victory. Former minister M Diwakar Babu is not participating in the campaign. If leaders don’t unite, we may have to pay a big price,” said a leader, on condition of anonymity.
Seventy-six-year-old Hanumanthappa was elected to Lok Sabha from Chitradurga in 2004. Subsequently, he came to Bellary, after it became a reserved constituency. In 2009, he lost to Sriramulu’s sister J Shanta of the BJP by a thin margin. Originally from Rampura near Challakere, Hanumanthappa lives in Bellary and plays the sympathy card to woo voters.
Modi Wave in City
Madhava Rao, a resident of Satyanarayanapet, said there is a Modi wave at least in Bellary city. It may not be surprising if the middle class and upper middle class vote for BJP. However, it is different in rural areas where Sriramulu commands support in his personal capacity and not through the party.
Sajjad Pasha of Vijayanagar said voters are aware of illegal mining and they feel the need to support the Congress for “a stable and secular government”. “People may vote for the Congress as it has not tasted victory after Sonia Gandhi won from here in 1999.The populist programmes of Siddaramaiah are definitely going to fetch them votes,” he said.
Of the total of eight Assembly constituencies in Bellary, Congress represents three — Hadagali (SC), Bellary City and Sandur (ST). BJP won in Vijaynagar and BSR Congress in Bellary and Kampli. JD(S) bagged Hagaribommanahalli and an Independent won in Kudligi (ST).