Hubballi: Thirty-five- year- old farm labourer, Madevi Mang of the Nadi Ingalgaon hamlet in Athani taluk, is desperately waiting for government compensation to rebuild her house that was washed away in the waters of an overflowing Krishna river during the recent downpour in the region. But with no sign of any money coming her way yet although three months have passed since the floods, she has joined around 30 members of a women self- help group in boycotting the December Athani by-election.
The angry women say their pleas have gone unheard although they have appealed to deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi, who hails from the constituency, to come to their rescue. They complain that they have no source of livelihood after the flood destroyed the standing crops on farms where they worked as labourers, and they are being harassed by moneylenders threatening to seize their belongings if they don’t repay the loans they have taken to make ends meet.
They have reason to be upset as although over 17,000 houses were either fully or partially damaged in 24 villages of Athani taluk during the floods, only 10 per cent of the affected people have received compensation. Disqualified legislator and BJP candidate, Mahesh Kumatalli, and Mr Savadi have been at the receiving end as both have failed to help the people rebuild their lives here.
“We had to borrow from local moneylenders on hefty interest to repay our loans to the Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP) as we have no jobs. But Laxman Savadi snubbed members of the women self- help group when they met him to seek compensation. He asked us to go back to work as the flood had receded. Let him or Kumatalli visit our village to seek votes. We will give them the same treatment, saying we have no time to vote as we are busy working,” said a woman labourer, Bharati Katavi ,with tears welling in her eyes.
Responding to the people’s complaints, the district administration has now formed a team to re-assess the crop loss and the damage to houses, but whether this will repair the damage done to the BJP government’s reputation is debatable.
Moreover, Mr Kumatalli’s image has suffered a beating after his disqualification by the former Speaker for resigning as Athani MLA to bring down the coalition government.
He is also at a disadvantage as Mr Savadi has remained popular among the voters despite being caught watching pornography in the state assembly few years ago. While the youth votebank of the BJP remains intact as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has strong roots in villages and urban areas of the constituency, this would have come in handy more for him had he been fielded in the by-election.
Although the BJP’s national leaders were keen on fielding Mr Savadi in the bypoll as he had lost from it by a slender margin of 2,331 in the assembly poll last year, the Athani ticket went to Mr Kumatalli and there are fears that the saffron party’s workers may not work for him at the grassroots.
“We cannot predict whether the second and third line BJP workers will work for Kumatalli. Also, the voters, especially the flood victims, are very upset with him as he had stayed away during the devastation the region suffered. They didn’t even allow him to get down from his car when he visited once. But it is inevitable for the BJP workers in Athani to support Kumatalli in the by-election as the party has promised him the ticket,” said Mr Arvind Deshpande, the North Karnataka RSS Prantha Saha Sanghachalak (vice-president).
Mr Savadi himself may have no choice but to work for Mr Kumatalli’s victory as he is under pressure following his failure to prove his mettle in the Maharashtra assembly elections. Should the disqualified legislator be defeated he could be held responsible and may even lose his deputy Chief Minister’s post, note political observers here.
The other factor working in Mr Kumatalli’s favour is his caste, according to them. The former MLA belongs to the dominant Panchamasali sect of the Lingayats , who are in strong number in the constituency.
Meanwhile, the Congress has not yet decided on its candidate for Athani. Although the name of Gajanan Mangasuli is doing the rounds, party sources sayit could field former minister, Prakash Hukkeri from the constituency as he worked for it when he was Chikkodi MP....