The land of Sona Masuri, the delicious rice variety which is now on almost every rice lover's plate through the country, is yet to produce a tall leader whose appeal crosses the confines of Raichur and reaches all corner of the state. For this reason, the district, which has the famed Hutti gold mines too (the only producer of primary gold in the country), has never received its due with smaller districts grabbing the lion's share of resources and projects only because of their influential leaders. One leader worth mentioning who made an impact was Basavaraj Patil Anwari, whobecame a minister of state in the Chandrashekhar led Central government while the other was late Basava rajeshwari, who was born in Raichur but won the Ballari Lok Sabha seat three times. Will it be the same this election with no powerful leader appearing eager to test his luck in this land, steeped in history and replete with heroic tales of the Kakatiya kings and the great Krishnadevaraya? Or will the Congress, BJP and the Janata Dal(S) share the spoils like they did in the 2008 and 2013 Assembly polls? KN REDDY explores the politics of Raichur which is rich in resources but is still waiting for the proverbial messiah to take it through the good times.
The droughts have never spared Raichur despite the fact that it is located between two mighty rivers-the Tungabhadra and the Krishna. It was only after the Tungabhadra Left Bank Canal (TLBC) was laid in the Sixties that signs of prosperity started to emerge. This canal network has become the lifeline of the district as it not only irrigates around 4.50 lakh acres of land but is also the single main source of drinking water for hundreds of villages. Thanks to the TLBC, cotton cultivation caught up in Raichur on a large scale during the Eighties and Nineties, leading to the setting up of hundreds of ginning mills. This led to large scale migration of farmers from Andhra tothe well irrigated areas of Gangavathi (earlier it was part of Raichur), Sindhanur and Manvi taluks.
But the hybrid cotton sprang an unpleasant surprise- it failed and the ginning mills folded up paving the way for paddy cultivation, leading to the sprouting of rice mills during the last two and a half decades. Sona Masuri grown in the district, is famous not only in Karnataka, but also in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala.
The scarcity of water has now become a threat to the survival of these rice mills. The scarcity is due to several factors- frequent failure of the monsoon, silting of the Tungabhadra reservoir, illegal expansion of irrigation to over 1.25 lakh acres and over-drawal of water from the upper reaches of the canal. Silt is a big killer of farmers' hopes here. It is estimated that a staggering 31.5 tmcft silt has accumulated in the reservoir reducing the storage level by about thirty per cent. Removing such a huge quantity of silt from the dam is practically impossible and so experts have suggested construction of balancing reservoirs in the lower regions of the canal.
With the debate on whether to remove the silt or build balancing reservoirs going on for the last few years, farmers said they had enough and last summer, launched a 'kar seva' programme to remove the silt. They have vowed to continue the programme this summer too. This issue - failure of the government to remove the silt or build balancing reservoirs- will have a big impact on the Assembly election. The farmers were even barred from cultivating paddy last year due to lack of adequate water in the dam and are worried about their future. The party which could gain from this is the BJP, which completed the modernisation of the TLBC during its five year tenure from 2008-13.
Another issue which may work against the ruling Congress is the failure of the government to provide remunerative prices for crops such as cotton and tur dal. Except for paddy, the prices of other crops have taken a beating and due to lack of market intervention by the government, farmers have been forced to sell their produce much below the minimum support price, leaving them livid. There are seven Assembly seats in the district of which five are reserved-Raichur Rural, Manvi, Devadurga and Maski (all ST) and Lingasugur (SC) while Raichur City and Sindhanur constituencies fall in the general category.
In 2008 when the BJP rode to power in the state for the first time, the Congress won three seats and BJP and JD(S) won two each. No different was the result in 2013 when the enactment of Article 371(J) for the welfare of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region should have swung the tide in favour of the Congress. The Raichurian has also kept the hopes of the JD(S) alive with the party winning two seats despite losing its base elsewhere in north Karnataka.
What could give a shock to all three parties in the fray this time is infighting which started with the recent resignation of two JD(S) legislators- Raichur City MLA Dr Shivaraj Patil and Lingasugur MLA Manappa Vajjal who have since joined the BJP. The saffron party was quick to make the best of the opportunity with party state president B.S. Yeddyurappa declaring Dr Patil as the candidate for Raichur City but it has opened a Pandora's box with senior leaders revolting against the decision. The reason for this-there were as many as twelve candidates aspiring for the ticket. Will they fall in line with Yeddyurappa's diktat or work against the party in the coming polls, remains to be seen.
No better is the plight of the Congress where an open fight has broken out between former MLA Syed Yasin, who represented Raichur City in 2008 and KPCC general secretary N Boseraju. While Mr Yasin, who is the son-in-law of Congress veteran C.K. Jaffer Sharief, is making all out efforts to get the ticket, Mr Boseraju is equally determined to foil his plans. In the midst of this, the JD(S) is playing the waiting game, not declaring its candidate and toying with the idea of fielding Mr Yasin on its symbol, if the latter is denied the Congress ticket. The AIMIM has also entered the scene and has fielded Noor Mohammed.
In the Raichur Rural seat, the BJP has decided to field its sitting MLA Tipparaj Havaldar while the Congress is still undecided with senior leader Satish Jarkiholi's relative Ravi Patil, former legislator Raja Rayappa Naik and former MLA Raja Amareshwar Naik in the race. In the JD(S), sitting ZP member Kashim Naik is the lone aspirant.
For the Devadurga seat, sitting BJP MLA Shivangouda Naik will be the party candidate again while the Congress will field Raichur MP BV Naik's brother Rajashekhar Naik, who lost in the by-election held in 2016. The JD(S) has prung a surprise fielding Shivangouda Naik's brother-in-law Venkatesh Poojary, denying the ticket to Mrs Karemma, who put up a good show in the previous by-election. Mrs Karemma, who is smarting from the insult, has decided to enter the fray as an Independent.