Written byAmrita Dutta
| Pandavapura (mandya) |
SIXTEEN YEARS ago, he was a farmer’s son who knew he had to look beyond agriculture for a better life. And so, he left — one of many software engineers sold on the American dream. But Darshan Puttanaiah is back in Melukote — this time, as an electoral candidate, having been wrenched out of his life in Denver, USA by the sudden death of his father and farmer leader, K S Puttanaiah, in February this year.
“I have not even contested a classroom election. This is very new for me. But the people of the constituency wanted me to carry on my father’s work,” he says, as he takes a break at the Swaraj India party office in Pandavapura.
Puttanaiah or KSP, as the immensely popular farmer leader was known in these parts, was the MLA from Melukote. His party, the Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha, merged with Swaraj India last year.
The Congress has not fielded a candidate “in deference to Puttanaiah’s memory” — Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was close to KSP and had attended his funeral where he promised to support the family.
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The other candidates are the BJP’s Somashekhar, a Lingayat, and the JD(S) Lok Sabha legislator from Mandya, C S Putturaju. “There is a Kumaraswamy wave in Karnataka, and Deve Gowda’s work in the Cauvery region will mean victory for us,” says Putturaju.
Melukote is one of eight constituencies under the Mandya parliamentary constituency. This is a Vokkaliga-dominated area, believed to be loyal to the JD(S). In 1994, Puttanaiah won his first election here as a Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha leader — when this was the Pandavapura assembly constituency. He went on to lose in the next three elections — to a Congress candidate in 1999 and to the JD(S)’s Putturaju in 2004 and 2008.
Despite the ups and downs in his electoral fortunes, he remained committed to the farmers’ cause in the Cauvery basin, where the ebb and flow of the river remains a hot-button electoral issue.
“Like my father, I too believe that the Cauvery management board needs to be formed as a bipartisan group. It should include people who deal with these problems day in and day out. Let’s get the numbers straight — this is how much land we have to farm, this is how much water we need to drink — instead of saying I am not giving [Tamil Nadu] water. They are farmers, we are farmers. There is a resource crisis across the world,” says Darshan.
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The 40-year-old, who completed his engineering from Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering in Mysuru, owns Qwinix Technologies, a software company that is based out of four countries and headquartered in Denver. A day in the life he has left behind in the US, he says, was about “sending my two kids to school, going to work, coming back to spend time with the family in the evening”.
In Kyathanahalli, where KSP lived all his life, a group of villagers sits under a sprawling peepal tree, playing pagade, an ancient board game. “KSP was one of us. He was not an MLA. He lived among us, he fought for our rights and he would join us for a game or two as well. We have to stand by his son,” says farmer A Gangadhar, 53. Behind them, a thin stream of water flows through the Chikkadevaraya Sagara canal.
It has been 10 days since water was released into the canal, and it might be a fortnight more before another round of water surges through it. Farmers who grow paddy are about 20 days away from harvesting the grain, and this is a critical time: the absence of water might spell disaster for the crop yield. “If KSP had been around, he would have been knocking on the doors of bureaucrats and ministers, trying to get water released for us,” says Prakash C, 40, a farmer in the nearby Yennehole Koppal village.
“My father was first an activist. He entered politics because he wanted the voices of the farmers to be heard,” says Darshan, clad in a white shirt and jeans, with a green shawl thrown across his shoulder — the insignia of the KRSS, which KSP represented. A friend from Bengaluru accompanies him on his campaigns, shooting footage of what might be a short film on the return of the native.
Across this belt, farmers are in debt. “In this village alone, all the loans will add up to about Rs 5.2 crore,” says B G Nagaraj, vice-president of the Kyathanahalli Cooperative Society.
While Siddaramaiah’s loan waiver has helped some villagers, Darshan points out that it cannot be a substitute for better prices for their produce. “You clear the debt but farmers go back and get another loan to start farming. You know that the prices they will get will not be enough to repay the loan. So it’s a cycle. The biggest problem is that people cannot make a living out of agriculture,” he says.
Farmers say that years of erratic rain, the inadequate water release from the KRS dam and low prices have snowballed into a crisis. “I don’t think I have ever sold paddy for more than Rs 1,300 a quintal, even if the MSP has been nearly double. We need an educated person, who can understand prices, markets and climate to solve these problems,” says Raghu Y G, a 30-year-old farmer.
“These problems are bigger than I thought. And I am not saying that technology is the solution. But I am here. Win or lose, I will stay back to fight my father’s fight,” says Darshan.
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