Karnataka polls: Here are some stories that you might not have heard

Illustration: Binay Sinha
Archis Mohan crisscrossed the poll-bound state in the course of the election campaign. Here are some stories from deep inside Karnataka that you might not have heard

The curse of Krishna
April and May are the hottest months in Karnataka. Political workers having to campaign in searing heat termed it the "curse of Krishna". In 2004, S M Krishna, who led the then Congress government, advanced the elections by six months. The original schedule would have meant elections were to be held in September-October of 2004 but polling took place in the third and fourth weeks of April. It also coincided with a drought.

After the elections, not only did the Congress fail to emerge as the single-largest party but there was ample rain for the next six months. When on the road in the scorching sun, Congress politicians remembered Krishna with some emotion. Last year, there were suggestions that Siddaramaiah dissolve the assembly to have the elections in November. It was argued that another drought in April-May might erode the government's popularity and increase anti-incumbency.

However, Siddaramaiah remained unmoved and it rained sufficiently enough in the subsequent months to recharge groundwater and make a success of the government's scheme to construct village ponds.

Love for playing cards
Siddaramaiah comes across as a 24X7 politician. But he has a secret passion. He loves playing cards.  Siddaramaiah grew up as a shepherd boy at Beeri Hundi village in Mysuru. He now has a farmhouse on the outskirts of Mysuru city, and not far from his native village, where he retires once in a while to play cards with his friends from his younger days.

Siddaramaiah’s aides and his family ensure that he carries a couple of spare white kurtas while travelling, and the reason is not that this is the way the socialist politician is fond of dressing. Siddaramaiah loves eating the traditional dish of ragi mudde with bassaaru, and he loves to eat it the messy traditional way. Ragi muddes are millet balls  eaten with spicy bassaaru gravy. It is usual for Siddaramaiah to spill the gravy on his kurta, and hence, the need to carry spares.

Dry run
Alcohol is consumed copiously across the state. But it was intriguing to find people returning home sober after attending even some of the evening public meetings of candidates. Liquor vends across the state had already exhausted their supply for April by the third week of the month.

Politicians of all hues were also a relieved lot. Political workers didn’t harass them for money for liquor. It turned out that not only had the administration been stricter about stopping drinking in the open, demonetisation was to blame for the short supply. Liquor supply is centralised in the Karnataka State Beverages Corporation, which released the supply for April 2018 based on April 2017's liquor consumption data. But the note ban had hit liquor consumption in April 2017.

Discussions over majjige
Majjige, a sourer version of buttermilk, is Karnataka’s lifeblood in the summer. Signboards in English are rare once you leave Bengaluru.  It is equally rare to see people consuming bottled soft drinks. Nandini spiced buttermilk, made by the Karnataka Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation, is the preferred packaged drink.

The elders, mostly men and at times women, sit at village squares late in the morning to discuss politics. In southern Karnataka, which is relatively prosperous than other parts of the state, people from different castes and communities, supporters of rival political parties, can be seen having a civilised discussion over majjige and water without coming to blows.

Business bonhomie
Channapatna is a taluka in Ramanagara district, which neighbours Bengaluru and is famous for wooden toys. There are nearly 800 toy factories in Channapatna, the majority of which are owned by Muslims. One such factory belongs to 30-year-old Jaffer Khan. In April, Khan and his extended family received a big order for manufacturing 100,000 wooden whistles. He would sell each at Rs 5, which then would be sold in places like Delhi for Rs 20. “Probably even more if it’s exported,” said Khan while working a lathe machine at his factory and giving finishing touches to a wooden whistle.

Khan and his brothers have followed their forefathers into the profession. He proudly shows the family’s photograph with Michelle Obama at New Delhi’s Dilli Haat, when she had come in 2015 to their stall there and bought some wooden toys.
Khan started helping out his father when he was 18 and takes home Rs 400-500 a day in profits. The power supply is irregular, and money not enough for the family to get by. He wants his children to study and not follow him in the profession.

There is bonhomie among Hindus and Muslims in the taluka. Khan’s two workers, Shiva and Krishna, were on leave for Devamma puja in their village. Some of the Hindu factory owners also help the Khans complete the contract. “We are all small craftsmen. If they (Hindus) get a big order they seek our help and we do the same. There is really no divide,” Khan said. But, he was not enthused about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath coming to the area for a public meeting. BJP’s Y C Yogeshwara is the sitting MLA of Channapatna, while Janata Dal (Secular) leader and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy is one of the candidates.

Morning shakhas
At K G Hundi village of Chamundeshwari, Sreejith runs a well-stocked provision store and also conducts a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakha. The RSS has spread its network in southern Karnataka in recent years. Sreejith says 30-35 shakhas are held every morning in the villages of Mysuru and Hassan. Interestingly, many of the shakhas are conducted by pracharaks like Sreejith, who is a Malayalee. The RSS has a strong network in Kerala. In the past year, the RSS received a boost when the Ganesh Beedi company gifted the Sangh a three-storey building in the city as office space.

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