BENGALURU: Shunned by netas for decades as “jinxed” and labelled by the Nanjundappa Committee report as the “most backward district”, Chamarajanagar is seeking to shake off its tags and open up to winds of change. This backward region — which had to deal with forest brigand Veerappan for more than two decades — has progressed visibly in recent years.
There are infrastructural changes, an upcoming industrial estate, higher education institutions, government engineering colleges, a medical college and residential schools, a few new trains, and national highways passing through Chamarajanagar, linking it to neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Despite this turnaround of sorts, Chamarajanagar hit the headlines in recent times for the wrong reasons, like the death of more than 19 people who had poison-laced prasadam at Kichuguttu Maramma Temple, and the worst-ever forest fire in Bandipur National Park.
The district, with 51% forest cover, a vast dry terrain and depleted underground water table, is also haunted by a steady exodus of workers, migrating to look for job in estates in Kodagu and neighbouring states. There are other issues too.
Though a tank-filling project covered around 40 tanks in the first phase, there is a need for greater political conviction and funds to expand the project to all taluks. The tribal population is not happy with just foodgrains, ashram schools and tokenism. They are demanding good schools, a separate Tribal Development Authority, political reservation in panchayats for tribals, to separate them from forest tribes.
Besides, the poll breeze blowing through Chamarajanagar LS seat and the entry of veteran Dalit leader and former minister V Srinivasa Prasad has set things churning again. Prasad emerged from political retirement to contest the polls. Although sitting Congress MP R Dhruvanarayana is eyeing a hat-trick and is set to play the “development” and “accessibility” cards, there were no serious names doing the rounds for the past two months.Now, the BJP has managed to prevail on Prasad to reconsider his retirement and enter the fray in this Congress bastion, that is dominated by Veerashaivas, Dalits, Nayakas and others.
Modi’s Dalit outreach
Prasad’s U-turn on contesting elections also appears to be part of the larger Modi gameplan to win over Dalits, not only in Chamarajanagar, but also to in Old Mysuru.Though Prasad is contesting LS polls after a gap of 20 years , his charisma and large following among Dalits and microscopic communities is a worry for the Congress, as he would cut into Ahinda votes.Manjunath, a resident of Siddaiahnapura, said that many people are still inclined to give Dhruvanarayan a chance because of his workaholic nature. He said the generation gap, old age and ill-health could work against Prasad.
Many JD(S) workers are unhappy that the seat has gone to Congress, and prefer to be fence-sitters for now. “There may be an alliance at the state level, but we have our own local issues and equations to think about,” said Mahadevaswamy, a JD(S) man.
The BJP is confident that the BSP will cut into Congress votes, and are banking on the Modi government’s direct transfer of Rs 6,000 to farmers, at a time when there is some confusion over the loan waiver.
The BSP is looking to do better than their last outing here, as it has a strong base in Kollegal, Chamarajanagar and a few other pockets, and have announced Shiva Kumar as the party candidate. Many Dalits feel that Mayawati has a fair chance to be PM this time.
Govind, of Ramapura, said that Prasad’s entry has set the stage for a keen contest as he cannot be ignored. He said that the election here depends on how Prasad reaches out to people, uses the Modi card and splits the Dalit and Uppara community votes.