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Muthappa Dyamappa does not associate any particular party with solving the problems of agrarian distress, the signs of which are there to see. The black cotton soil of the area lies fallow after the failure of last year’s rains. Crops have failed, migration is widespread, crop prices have dropped and employment is stagnating.

“Development is visible, the people are happy with our work. We have waived Rs. 3,600 crore in agricultural loans, and 16 lakh farmers have benefitted,” Jagadish Shettar, the outgoing Chief Minister, who is contesting from Hubli-Dharwad Central constituency, told The Hindu.

Not too different from the promise made by Basavaraj Horatti, MLC, and former Education Minister in the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal (Secular)-BJP coalition. He said: “We have promised to waive Rs. 19,800 crore worth of agricultural loans in 24 hours if we are elected. People know we are pro-development.”

Not in Anchatageri village, just 12 km from Hubli, where there are few jobs to be had. Here the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme designed to create jobs has failed. “There is too much paperwork, people want daily payments and, therefore, go to Hubli rather than work on the site,” a panchayat official admitted.

B.S. Soppin, a former teacher and presently an activist of the Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha in the district, said, “Loan waivers, even if they take place, are meaningless in a situation where a majority of farmers are weighed down by high-interest personal loans.” Indeed, “development” has become an abused word in the electoral vocabulary, vague and in permanent disconnect with day-to-day reality.

The wide sweep of north Karnataka, which includes the two blocks that are still called Bombay Karnataka (with seven districts) and Hyderabad Karnataka (six districts), has 96 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka Assembly.

In the 2008 elections, the BJP won 59 seats, the Congress 28 and the JD(S) eight. One seat went to an Independent candidate. In these elections the new political factor is Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha, a force that is expected to cut into the BJP’s vote base.

This broad swathe that is north Karnataka, knit in respect of its economic and human development indicators, has lagged far behind the rest of the State. Until these pressing issues of underdevelopment are addressed in their specificities in the electoral debate, in manifestos, and in post-election policies, the democratic exercise of elections will be empty of substance for a majority of the voters from this region.

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