Karnataka farmers threaten NOTA in polls to protest against parties
Angry farmers of the region – that straddles at least six districts in north Karnataka – have decided to exercise the NOTA – none of the above – option in the upcoming assembly polls, likely in May this year.india Updated: Feb 24, 2018 21:35 IST
A group of people stand outside the modest house of SM Doddagoudar, a debt-ridden farmer who allegedly committed suicide a day earlier on Wednesday after failing to repay loans he had taken from private money-lenders.
People here say it has become a common enough sight in Karnataka’s Gadag district, now the epicentre of a farm crisis and also a peasant uprising against Goa’s refusal to release additional water from the Mahadayi river during the dry winter season.
Angry farmers of the region – that straddles at least six districts in north Karnataka – have decided to exercise the NOTA – none of the above – option in the upcoming assembly polls, likely in May this year.
Sixty-year-old Doddagoudar became the 24th farmer in the district to take his life due to agriculture distress perpetuated by less than normal rainfall. The farmers’ demand for more water from Mahadayi has sparked a slugfest between the ruling Congress and BJP, both accusing each other of failing to settle water dispute with Goa.
However, for the farmers, successive governments led by both the Congress and BJP have failed to solve the water shortage in the region – which mainly grows cotton, lentils and groundnut -- leading to crop failures and subsequent farmer suicides.
“For all three political parties (the Congress, BJP and Janata Dal-Secular) the issue has become an avenue to divide voters so they reap electoral benefits,” said Kumaragouda Hiregoudar, a 37-year-old farmer who cultivates groundnut on his 1.5-acre farm.
The region – known as Mumbai-Karnataka as it was once part of the Bombay Presidency – elects 50 legislators to 224-member Karnataka assembly.
In the last elections in 2013, the Congress won 34 seats. In 2008, it was the BJP which won 36 seats.
The BJP says that its party government in Goa is ready to settle the issue provided chief minister Siddaramaiah is interested. The Congress says the claim is bogus as Goa has been opposing the crucial Kalasa-Banduri Canal project through which additional water from the river can be diverted to Karnataka.
The main water source of the region, the Malaprabha dam, has had deficit water levels for several years. According to the Karnataka Disaster Management Authority, the water in the dam’s reservoir is only 12% of its capacity and is being supplied to homes, which is also not adequate.
As the water situation is unlikely to improve in the dam in the near future, the farmers have pinned their hopes on getting water from the Mahadayi river, a west flowing river, to the Malaprabha basin.
However, farmers in Siddapura and nearby Chikka Nargund say they are angry over the state government’s inability to press for the completion of the Kalasa-Banduri Canal project, through which water from the Mahadayi will be diverted.
The project is the subject of an inter-state water sharing dispute between Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Goa, in particular, arguing against the proposal.
Vijay Kulkarni, an activist associated with the farmers’ protest, said that the state government has failed to provide an “alternative source of water” even after 70 years of Independence.
Kulkarni, who started the Kalasa-Banduri Horata Samiti (Agitation Committee) in 2002, says, the recent politicking over the issue, after former chief minister and state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa read out a letter from Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar at a rally in Hubballi was the last straw for them to campaign for using NOTA in the forthcoming polls.
“We have decided to campaign for the NOTA (none of the above) option in the upcoming elections. We have had enough of this petty politics,” said Kalmesh Sular, another farmer.
Kulkarni said the people “have to embarrass” the parties so “that they take us seriously”.
While the state Congress president G Parameshwara said he will ask local leaders to try and convince the farmers against such a move, BJP spokesperson S Prakash said it was a democratic right of every person to choose NOTA if they are not satisfied with the candidates.
According to Sular, the three parties were obsessed with the Cauvery river dispute.
“When it comes to the Cauvery they can come together, but not to solve our problems, ” he alleged.
First Published: Feb 24, 2018 21:35 IST