Kolar: A gold town’s lost lustre

In once thriving Kolar Gold Fields, cynicism prevails about the elections

April 28, 2018 10:13 pm | Updated 10:13 pm IST - Bengaluru/Kolar

Empty nests:  A view of the KGF Mill. After the BGML mines shut shop, the buzz has left the town.

Empty nests: A view of the KGF Mill. After the BGML mines shut shop, the buzz has left the town.

Selvi Sudha, a woman in her late 50s, does menial jobs for a living at the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) Club. As she serves water, she exchanges pleasantries in English.

Living in this mining town once managed by the British, everyone here has picked up enough English for basic conversations, says Varadan, club manager. Little England, the place was once called.

Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) is a town under the Robertsonpet municipality in Kolar district. A three-hour drive from Bengaluru, it is close to the boundary with Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. KGF attracted migrants from surrounding villages in the neighbouring States, offering them respite from drought, poverty and caste atrocities back home.

The way people of KGF have voted over the years stands testimony to their struggle for identity and inclusion. The town, where Dalits and Tamil-speaking people constitute a majority of the population, has always banked on political parties which have rooted for Dalit and labour welfare. “When the mines existed, the labour union was strong,” says S. Srikumar, a resident of KGF and author of the book KGF: Unfolding the Untold .

This is the only constituency in the State where candidates from the Republican Party of India, the AIADMK and the All India Scheduled Caste Federation (founded by B.R. Ambedkar), besides Left parties, have repeatedly won elections. This is also where a candidate from the Bharatiya Republican Party, founded by Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar, won an election. It was only in 2008 that KGF gave a chance to an “outsider” by electing BJP candidate Y Sampangi. The incumbent MLA is his mother Ramakka.

This shift coincides with the shift in their lives — the closure of Bharat Gold Mines Ltd. (BGML) mines in 2001 and the gradual death of the hope of its revival.

Today, Ms. Sudha’s husband, who was a clerk in BGML, travels to Bengaluru every day for a casual job, as hundreds of others in this town. Dalit rights activist Kotiganahalli Ramaiah points out that the strength they had when mining existed, is not there anymore. “Until mining existed, there was an economy built around it. Now they have been reduced to being migrant workers.”

“People went with the BJP in 2008, after they felt cheated by their own kin,” Dr. Kumar says.

A failed experiment?

As people of this constituency gear up for the Assembly elections, there is cynicism all around, with a sense prevailing that their experiment with the BJP, too, has proved to be counter-productive. Many people say they have not seen their MLA in the past five years. They are also disgruntled with the Congress MP from Kolar, K.H. Muniyappa, for not having stood up for them during the closure of the mines and after that.

A large number of people here still live in the BGML quarters, hoping that the houses will someday be transferred in their names, as promised by the government.

Recent plans by the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation (KCDC) to set up a garbage disposal unit at Marikuppam near KGF, and an earlier plan by the Centre (which the government denied later) to dump uranium waste from the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the defunct gold mines have added to people’s ire.

“The government should create employment opportunities here to revive the economic activity of the town,” says Jayapradeep, a 25-year-old engineer from KGF who commutes to Bengaluru for work. Though the government has on several occasions announced the revival of the mines, this alone can no longer be the answer to the needs of the people of the region, he says.

“Every time leaders have promised to create jobs, but have failed to deliver,” says Jayapradeep, who is yet to make up his mind on who to vote for this time.

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