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The Rediff Special / M D Riti

April 15, 2004

It was 1991 and the battle was for a Lok Sabha seat.

The constituency was Bagalkot in North Karnataka. S Nijalingappa, later state chief minister and then president of the Congress party, won it in 1962 while another former chief minister Veerendra Patil emerged victorious in 1980.

Pitted against each other were Ramakrishna Hegde, contesting as a candidate of the Lok Shakti, a party which he helped form, and farmer leader S B Nyama Gowda of the Congress. Gowda was a first-timer in the electoral field.

Dominated by the Lingayat community, the constituency was a traditional Congress stronghold. But every pundit gave a resurgent Hedge the thumbs up.

Both Hegde and Nyama Gowda appealed for votes on the basis of their work and charisma, rather than for their party. Nyama Gowda was a local farmer who had organised a farmers movement in the region.

Hedge was, of course, a former chief minister of the state.

Against all predictions, Nyama Gowda won by a comfortable majority. How did he pull it off?

Work carried out in the constituency was a big factor in his victory. He was instrumental in getting a barrage, the first in the constituency's history, built with government help.

Bagalkot district has 3 rivers -- Krishna, Malaprabha, Ghataprabha, besides fertile land. Due to lack of proper planning and utilisation of natural water resources, it was deprived of water for irrigation and drinking purposes causing drought.

Finally, a farmers movement led by Nyama Gowda in 1988 built a barrage across the river, using money (Rs one crore, mobilised at the rate of Rs 5 per horse power of pump set owned by a farmer), material and manpower (labour cost nil, purely voluntary) that they themselves had mobilised.

Sequel: Lok Shakti candidate Ajaykumar Sarnaik won in 1998, and Hegde felt partially vindicated. He always held that the Congress used money power to defeat him in 1991.

Reportage: M D Riti | Image: Rahil Shaikh

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