Melukote, Karnataka: On Friday, thousands of people gathered at Pandavapura stadium in Mandya to wish Darshan Puttannaiah success in the election. The 40-year-old is contesting as a Swaraj India candidate from Melkote constituency, previously won by his recently deceased father KS Puttannaiah in 1994 and 2013 Karnataka polls. His father was the only legislator of Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha (SKP), an offshoot of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), which merged with Swaraj India in March 2017. Apart from Darshan, JD(S) MP CS Puttaraju is another prominent contender for the seat.
On Friday, Anvitha, an eight-year-old, narrated to the reportedly 40,000-strong crowd about Puttannaiah and how he used to play with her and amuse her. When the child spoke about Puttannaiah’s values and his concern for the welfare of farmers, the audience broke into thunderous applause. Expressing gratitude, Darshan announced he does not want to return to the US, and said he wanted to work for the people of Melkote irrespective of his success or failure in the elections.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
As the founder and CEO of Qwinix Technologies, you were well-settled in the US. Now you are fighting an election on a Swaraj India ticket. How do you feel about stepping into politics?
Darshan: Yes, I am well-settled with a happy family, comfortable life and lucrative business in multiple countries, just like any other innovative US-settled techie from my time. While many of the tech-savvy first-generation entrepreneurs are returning to India to begin their second innings to give back to the motherland and to reconnect with our roots, I am glad I found my calling a bit early.
Actually, it started much before my father passed away as I put in place a plan for transition and was here for over five months last year. Politics may not be my cup of tea but many will recall that I was a crucial link in my father’s campaign last time around. Stepping into his shoes is a giant task and I am aware of it, but the love and affection I am getting in every village, every house, every day for the last few days has reinforced my decision to work with the people, not just farmers.
But farmers will always have a special place in my heart as I have seen their problems from close quarters and my father fought for their rights throughout his life.
You’ve spent most of your time abroad. Do you know the real problems of farmers in the state, especially in Melkote?
Darshan: If I said I know the solutions to all the problems of the farmers, I would be lying. I have the green army, the Raitha Sangha with me. I am not alone in this battle, and at Swaraj India, we are part of a larger farmers’ movement, where over 196 farmers’ organisations all over the country have united under one banner.
Coming to Melkote, my grandfather was a farm labourer and by dint of hard work, he became a farmer. My father fought all his life to empower farmers, organise them, educate them and be with them in their struggle. I am fortunate to have such an upbringing and am witness to a generation of farmers’ woes. Even when I was in the US, I never lost sight of my brethren here.
I understand it is not just the drought, year after year, failing crops, mounting loans, unreal minimum support price (MSP), but also inadequate access to healthcare, crop patterns, cropping methods, dependence on water, unemployment, primary education... these are only some other issues. Sharing of river waters and climate change are bigger issues. But be it a farmer or a worker, teacher or a student, migrant or a middle-class employee, I want every citizen to know their rights and claim their rights.
What problems of farmers need to be fixed immediately?
Darshan: There are many, but we need to immediately fix the waiver of agricultural loans and MSP for agricultural produce. My party has two demands for farmers all over the country: One, unconditional waiver of all agricultural loans across India by an Act of Parliament. The Centre has to intervene. Two, the remunerative prices (MSP) should be production cost plus 50 percent, which was recommended by the Swaminathan Commission and promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is what Yogendra Yadav and Swaraj India’s Jai Kisan Andolan are demanding immediately.
The younger generation, in general, is not as interested as you in farming. How will you encourage them to return to the field?
Darshan: I am feeling guilty for going abroad in search of greener pastures while a lot of opportunities are available right here. I am confident of creating jobs in this region. For example, we can create employment for more than 6,000 unemployed youth by having a factory to make coconut husk products. Till now, coconut husk was being sent to Tamil Nadu. We can create employment by starting supply chain units to support major companies in Mysuru. These are just some examples.
What is your stand on the Cauvery issue?
Darshan: I had discussions with my father on this issue. I am of the opinion that both states should hold discussions on this issue. Both are not specific about the water that flows back. Both are focussing only on the water that is stored in the reservoirs. Conserving the water by various other methods, crop patterns, farming techniques, using less water... it is a huge science and needs to be grounded in the grassroots in sync with people's aspirations and needs.
A lot of politicians control sugar mills in the state and the prices of sugarcane. Mandya being a sugarcane belt, how do you address this concern?
Darshan: While private sugar factories are profitable, sugar factories managed by cooperative societies have been incurring losses. We have to manage sugar factories run by cooperative societies and make them profitable. If sugar factories focus on producing byproducts, they will get more profit and will be in a position to pay more price for sugarcane. Understanding the business issues and making it profitable for both shareholders and farmers is the need of the hour.
Congress has not fielded a candidate against you. What is your take on that gesture?
Darshan: Congress approached us much before my father died. Other movements have also provided us support. Congress also had talks with the leaders of Swaraj India. But when all the cadre, youths and farmers wanted me to contest and proposed my name, my mother agreed and announced that we would be seeking a ticket from Swaraj India. We stand on our word and appreciate the Congress gesture to the overall farmers' cause.
Have you approached JD(S) and BJP for their support?
Are you confident of winning the election despite being a political novice?
Darshan: My understanding of politics is very simple. Be honest and sincere. Be with the people. Be accessible whether one is in power or not. Once you connect to the people’s pulse and understand the overall paradigm of development that is people-centric, we can bring back swaraj. So, being a political novice is an advantage to usher in the Swaraj India brand of politics: Bringing probity, accountability and transparency into every sphere of political life. Then rooting out black money, corruption, communalism, and bad governance becomes easy.
The citizens, especially youth, are eager to embrace this kind of honest politics but had no choice until now. We want to fill that vacuum. I am humbled and thrilled by the huge response on the ground from all walks of life, so I am 110 percent confident of victory. In the next five years, we plan to nurture over 200 clean, accountable and transparent politicians in Swaraj India Karnataka, and stay true to the values my father upheld all his life.
Maheswara Reddy is a Bangalore-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Apr 24, 2018 15:37 PM