With his dark floppy hat, darker over-sized glares and toothy grin, Vatal Nagaraj would be any director’s natural choice for a comic villain’s role in a Kannada movie. However, Karnataka politicians can’t dismiss him, as Nagaraj, through decades of peddling Kannada chauvinism, has remained a thorn in their flesh.
After winning thrice from Chamarajanagar constituency, this political maverick hopes his loud protests will ring in the state Assembly for another five years. Whether it's the Cauvery dispute with Tamil Nadu, sharing Krishna water with Andhra or the border row with Maharashtra, Nagaraj's has been the shrillest pitch, often cascading into violence against non-Kannadigas in the state.
"There are two crore people from Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Kerala and Maharashtra in Karnataka who have grabbed job opportunities that should have gone to Kannadigas. Why should Biharis be recruited for railway jobs when eligible Kannadigas are unemployed?" he says.
At the remote Kalanhundi village, Nagaraj is busy wooing farmers, pointing out how his efforts have made Chamarajanagar a separate district. “You travel a shorter distance to meet the Collector,” he says as his daughter Anupama greets people with a smiling namaste.
Though he has put together an outfit called the Kannada Cheluveli Vatal Paksha, Nagaraj has been unable to send any other candidate to the Assembly.
“He is a one-man army, and people have voted for him because of his powerful oratory and his ability to get things done for Chamrajanagar by being a persistent nuisance," quips a local trader.