A bunch of farmers made representations directly to Gandhi at an interaction in Sindhanoor. Local farmer Lingadhara Guruswamy (57) told ET, ahead of the event: "He has been taking pro-farmer issues at the national level. We believe that if he tells chief minister Siddaramaiah to do something for us, it will happen, as it did with the loan waiver in 2016."
Gandhi listened patiently to questions in Kannada, Hindi and English and said: "Congress considers farmers the backbone of the country, when waivers can be given to industrialists. I didn't get a response. If Congress comes to power, we will whole-heartedly set up a revolving fund to deal with calamities, look at correct MSP and waive loans when needed."
Gandhi got a rousing welcome all through the area, but for two black flag demonstrations by a few dalits demanding internal reservation. The area is a long-term Congress stronghold, though H D Deve Gowda's (JDS) and later the BJP under illegal mining scam accused Janardhan Reddy and his adopted brother B Sriramulu, took control between 2004-13. The tide changed in 2013 and the Congress staged a comeback winning 11 of the 21 seats here, while the JD(S) got 4, the BJP 3, which increased to six with the addition of two members of a splinter party and an independent.
The state saw three years of severe drought, but the farmers in the districts of Koppal, Ballari and Raichur, parts of which are fed by this river, have severe issues with the water management by the ruling party in the last two years. "We used to take out two crops of paddy in a year, but now we have got reduced to one a year, because the government released more water to the Jindal steel factory in Hospete and sugar factories in Gangavati, Shiraguppa and Hospete," farmer Durgappa Bali, (48), a long-time Congress supporter in the highly irrigated Sindhanoor taluk of Raichur district, complained.
Srinivas Paladugu (48), from Kampli assembly segment in Ballari district, currently represented by Lok Sabha BJP MP B Sriramulu's nephew Suresh Babu, puts the problem in a clear perspective: "The government has been playing with water release, giving it when we don't need it and holding it back when it is essential. If they don't get their act together and release water correctly, they will lose all the seats along the Tungabhadra river," he warned.
Farmer Khazi Hussain (51) in Arhala village of Gangavati assembly segment in Koppal district felt the holding back of water from the canals was a political trick. "They just want us to protest and then, just before the elections, release the water so that we feel grateful and vote for them," he contended. And added with a grin: "It just might work."
The other issue that farmers want sorted is waiver of loans from nationalised banks. "Siddaramaiah has waived cooperative farm loans, but said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should waive those from the nationalised banks. If Y S R Reddy and N Chandrababu Naidu of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh could waive all loans, why should Siddaramaiah go to the Centre?" Palagudu asked.
Farmers, however, are happy about programmes like Krishi Bhagya given by the state government, where an artificial pond is created to store rainwater for the dry seasons. Ramu Polur (46) also from Kampli, says: "Siddaramaiah's government has come down heavily on moneylenders who demand excessive interest amounts and push farmers to suicide. If we just inform the police now about our problem, they ensure the moneylenders don't harm us. This move has generated goodwill for the Congress and if they put up good candidates, they can win even BJP strongholds like Kampli."