No political party is making credible promises to solve the issues

Ask any farmer in the hilly regions (Malnad) of Karnataka what worries him most now, and he will talk about fluctuations in prices of agricultural produce, dip in rainfall and various diseases affecting crops.

However, political parties in their electioneering are using the problems of farmers to blame one another, while none are making any credible promises to solve the problem.

The districts of Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Kodagu and parts of Hassan form the Malnad region of the State. Coffee, paddy and areca are the main crops here. Hassan, Chikmagalur and Kodagu districts cover 66 per cent of the coffee cultivation area of the country. Areca is a major crop in Shimoga and Chikmagalur, where rice is also grown.

In the last few years, while areca plantations have been affected by a range of diseases, coffee growers are facing severe shortage of labourers and face constant fluctuation in prices. On the other hand, share of paddy that was 78 per cent of the total cultivable area in Shimoga district in 1995-96 has come down to 60 per cent in 2011-12.

During the byelection to Chikmagalur-Udupi Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress sought votes by focussing on relief provided by the Centre for coffee growers and assured a package for areca growers. As the Centre has not announced a package for areca farmers, the BJP is now using the issue to criticise the Congress.

At the campaign for Assembly election at Koppa, all BJP leaders talked about the plight of areca growers and assured them relief if returned to power. However, their main focus during the subsequent campaign was projecting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate.

The Janata Dal (Secular), which won five of seven Assembly constituencies in Hassan in 2008, has been making attempts to seek votes by blaming both the national parties for “injustice” to the State on the Cauvery issue, but problems of farmers from this region — such as elephant menace faced by farmers in Alur and Sakaleshpur taluks — have hardly figured on their agenda.

In Shimoga district also, politicians have maintained silence over the plight of areca, paddy growers and the problems faced by bagair hukum farmers. This is ironic, considering that satyagraha staged by landless farmers in Kagodu, a small village in Sagar taluk in the year 1951, was historic and many elections subsequently were fought on the issue of land reforms. This issue figured in the campaigns of S. Bangarappa and J.H. Patel, who went on to become chief ministers. Charismatic socialist leaders like Shantaveri Gopala Gowda, Konandur Lingappa were discussing in detail on the importance of land distribution.

However, even as agricultural crisis is palpable all over Malnad, this crisis is all but a peripheral issue in the elections. Of the 82,936 applications submitted by bagair hukum farmers for land ownership, more than 90 per cent of them were rejected by officials on technical grounds, but this is not on the agenda of any party.

In Shimoga, all the focus is on the dynamics of the battle between the former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa who heads Karnataka Janata Paksha and Deputy Chief Minister K.S. Eshwarappa in their election campaigning.

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