Mandya: In the run-up to Assembly elections in Karnataka in May, Janata Dal (Secular) president HD Kumaraswamy pitched himself as a leader of the farmers. Kumaraswamy campaigned aggressively around agrarian issues and dangled the pie that farm loan waiver has become in Indian politics.
Therefore, it came as a surprise that JD(S) ministers failed to secure any of the key portfolios that address farmer issues such as irrigation, agriculture or rural development. In fact, Chief Minister Kumaraswamy kept as many as 11 portfolios but none of them had to do with agriculture or rural issues.
Earlier this week, the Kumaraswamy cabinet in Karnataka inducted 25 ministers: 14 from the Congress, nine from JD(S) and one each from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP).
The JD(S) kept the portfolios which are generally considered as revenue generating: Finance, excise, public works, power, tourism, education, transport, general administration department, intelligence, planning and statistics, and information.
Animal husbandry and fisheries, minor irrigation, horticulture and sericulture are the only portfolios with JD(S) that directly relate to farmer issues. The Congress is in charge of over 20 ministries, including irrigation, agriculture, sugar industry and rural development.
Disappointment writ large
Shambhunahalli Suresh, president of Mandya district unit of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), said that there was disappointment in the farming community as many were viewing the portfolio allocation as JD(S) reneging on its promise.
“Before elections, JD(S) claimed to be the party of farmers and villagers, but it has not managed to get portfolios that are directly related to agriculture and rural sector. Instead, its leaders lobbied to secure revenue-generating portfolios,” he said.
Mandya, a drought-hit district, witnessed 400 farmer suicides since 2012, according to figures from the department of agriculture.
Suresh claimed that in the same period, at least 100 sericulture growers ended their lives after import of silk from neighbouring countries hit their trade and they were unable to repay crop loans.
While in the Opposition, Kumaraswamy was vocal in blaming Siddaramaiah-led Congress government for not managing the severe drought that affected the state for the past few years, and for failing to prevent farmer suicides. Suresh added, “There were expectations that Kumaraswamy would keep agriculture and related portfolios.”
During campaigning, Kumaraswamy spoke about issues that affected the rural electorate. He talked of Mahadayi water dispute, Cauvery water sharing issue and Kalasa Banduri canal project between Karnataka and Goa. He promised that his party would waive off farmer loans within 24 hours of coming to power.
His promises worked: The party won 38 seats in the Assembly elections with a majority of the votes from rural areas. Priya Ramesh, a social activist from Srirangapatna, said, “Wherever he visited, Kumaraswamy promised to uplift farmers. He even shed tears at public places when speaking on issues related to farmers. But now his party has taken plum portfolios.”
Some of the voters’ anger has spilled on to social media. Mahadeva, a resident of Kallahalli village in Mandya, said, “Memes and messages on social networking sites are being shared on how voters have been duped.”
Manjula, a resident of Kothathi village in Mandya, said farmers were also upset after the state government slashed the procurement price of milk by Rs two per litre from 1 June. “This was an anti-farmer move which has hit nearly 24 lakh milk producers across the state,” she said.
JD(S) said it was aware that there was some resentment among the populace after the portfolio distribution. A senior party functionary said, “We have seen the messages being circulated on social media. The party will try to balance this by securing chairmanships of major boards and corporations that are directly linked to farmers and rural Karnataka.”
'JD(S) has chief minister'
JD(S) members in Mandya said the party was committed to uplifting farmers and the rural community. The JD(S) said that Kumaraswamy recently convened a meeting of the farmer leaders in Bengaluru and assured them that he would fulfill his poll promises, including loan waiver.
D Ramesh, president of Mandya district Janata Dal(S), said, “So what if JD(S) does not have agriculture, rural development and other major portfolios directly related to the agricultural sector? It has the chief minister to control and monitor all developments.”
Another JD(S) member said that the party had chosen portfolios that would help it boost its urban voter base ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Congress spots opportunity
The Congress sees an opportunity in its coalition partner's reluctance to handle portfolios related to rural issues. Former minister and Congress’ district unit president for Mandya MS Atmananda said, “Our ministers have portfolios such as agriculture, rural development, housing, social welfare, labour among others. All of these are considered public welfare portfolios. The Congress will happily utilise the opportunity to serve the society as it has been doing for decades.”
Listing the achievements of the former Congress government, M Mahesh, councillor of Mandya City Municipal Council, said it spent over Rs 10,000 crore to repair waterways across Mandya district and also repaired crest gates of the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) reservoir with the financial assistance of the World Bank.
“The Congress government spent more than Rs 40,000 crore to address irrigation woes. Hundreds of lakes were rejuvenated through the Kere Sanjeevini programme. Through schemes such as Krishi Honda and Pashu Bhagya, online trading of agricultural produce were introduced by Siddaramaiah. Housing schemes were rolled out for the benefits of the poor among other measures,” he said.
Other political experts said that time was ripe for the government to initiate measures to help drought-hit farmers. KRRS leader Jayaram, who is from Pandavapura said, “The state has been blessed with good pre-monsoon showers. The government should take advantage of this by initiating measures such as rejuvenation of lakes, increasing water storage capacity and providing quality seeds and fertilisers to farmers.”
Deena D'Silva is a Mandya-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Jun 12, 2018 22:56 PM