Ballari Lok Sabha constituency: Old scars of illegal mining are overlaid with fresh political tussles here

Updated - May 06, 2024 12:01 pm IST

Published - May 02, 2024 09:54 pm IST - Ballari

E. Tukaram, Congress candidate

E. Tukaram, Congress candidate | Photo Credit:

In the hard-fought battlefield of Ballari — a region that once hit international headlines because of the mining scam that left its land ravaged — a sympathy card is being played to mute the effects of the Congress government’s guarantee schemes.

The Ballari Lok Sabha constituency (reserved for ST) is witnessing a tough fight between the former Minister and Naik community leader B. Sriramulu of the BJP and four-time legislator from Sandur E. Tukaram of the Congress.

A shock defeat

Mr. Sriramulu tasted a shock defeat in the 2023 Assembly election from Ballari Rural. He is attempting to resurrect his political career now. However, his campaign strategy of seeking sympathy votes by asking electors “not to let him down” is being termed “defensive”. On the other hand, Mr. Tukaram, who started his career in a mining company owned by the powerful Lad family, is seen as having a clean image and being approachable. Both are from the Valmiki community that has a large presence in the constituency.

“Guarantees have come at the time when drought has driven farmers to despair. It has added income to families. Our groundnut and maize crops failed and mining work stopped long back. Several men in the village have migrated looking for a livelihood,” admitted Durgesh, a BJP worker at Banavina Kallu, near Kudligi. According to him, Mr. Sriramulu, who has been in Ballari politics for nearly two decades now, is inaccessible while Mr. Tukaram remains humble and easily accessible.

B. Sriramulu, BJP candidate

B. Sriramulu, BJP candidate | Photo Credit:

Kottur resident Jagadish Hiremath, an employee of a seed company and a farmer himself, said farmers are not showing interest in the election as they are under severe stress. He said a large number of farmers, who lost the crops, are yet to pay for seeds and fertilizers that they took for cultivation. “The credit for seeds and fertilizers will be rolled over to the next season but farmers have to repay with interest. They also have to repay loans taken under microfinance. Besides, they need money to start agricultural activity this year.” At Shishula Nagar thanda in Sandur, Durga Naik, who migrates eight months a year, is waiting to go back to work on sugarcane fields in Bagalkot, Mysuru, and Mandya. “There is no work here. Mining dust has destroyed agricultural fields. The Forest Department has termed us as encroachers whereas mining is allowed. There is no one to look after our welfare,” he said.

A big grouse against Mr. Sriramulu has been the inaccessibility factor and “inefficiency” of those in his inner circle. However, the BJP is hoping for a good show in Ballari this time as the turnout for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at Hosapete last week has kindled hopes. In a district where livelihood issues across a spectrum of communities are majorly intertwined with mining, Mr. Modi touching upon Hindutva instead of development is being discussed.

The re-entry of the former Minister G. Janardhana Reddy into the BJP, who has a slew of cases against him over alleged illegal mining, is expected to help Mr. Sriramulu only marginally. However, Mr. Janardhana Reddy’s brother and former MLA G. Somashekara Reddy is believed to be still nursing his wounds of being defeated by the entry of his sister-in-law Aruna Lakshmi, who split the votes, enabling a Congress victory.

Re-entry of Reddy

The performance of the Congress, which has five MLAs in the Ballari Lok Sabha constituency, in this election depends on coordination. There are murmurs about the friction between district in-charge Minister B. Nagendra and Minister Santosh Lad with whom Mr. Tukaram is identified. The outcome in the constituency depends on the way the Valmiki and Veerashaiva and Lingayats, who are seen as ‘influencers’ in villages, vote besides the Scheduled Castes and Kurubas.

In early 2000, Ballari shot into prominence for its iron ore, fuelled by the demand abroad, and illegal mining ravaged Sandur, Hosapete, and Ballari taluks. The scars of the illegal mining are yet to be healed, but it is not part of the election narrative. “Politicians are only interested in spending ₹24,000 crore fund available for mining-affected areas, and that too on construction work, eyeing cuts. No proper study has been done to see how the funds should be used,” said Sandur-based Srishaila Aladahalli, who fought against illegal mining.

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