The grounds of the National College of Bengaluru recently saw hundreds of farmers don the quintessential green shawl and cheer on Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) President Kodihalli Chandrashekar as he officially joined the Aam Aadmi party.
“All three political parties in the state have failed farmers over the years. They did not bring a single policy to improve the financial situation of farmers. We have no choice but to represent ourselves,” Kodihalli told DH why he joined the AAP.
He actively participated in farmers’ protests in Delhi last year, seeking to roll back the Centre’s controversial farm laws.
Over the years, the Raitha Sangha has tried to remain non-partisan, but this approach has not yielded results as political parties have not gone beyond slogans for the welfare of farmers.
The 2023 Assembly elections are an opportunity for farmers to stand up for their own welfare, he adds.
Kodihalli’s optimism draws on examples from Karnataka’s political history where farmers have brought about political change.
Farmers’ groups turned against the ruling Congress and played a key role in bringing the Janata Party-led government to power in the state in 1983, after the Gundu Rao government opened fire on farmers protesting in Naragund and Navalgund in 1980.
The chairman of the Karnataka Sugar Cane Growers Association, Kuruburu Shanthakumar, gives a more recent example of how farmers campaigned against incumbent MPs in the former Mysore region in 2004, not to having supported them in the Kabini waterline.
“We were protesting water distribution in Tamil Nadu as our crops were drying up. None of the politicians supported us. We called to beat all the incumbents and at least 11 deputies lost the elections,” he recalls.
Karnataka has seen several farmer leaders successfully transition into politics while remaining rooted in the farmers’ movement.
KS Puttannaiah, who served as Chairman of the Rajya Raitha Sangha, was first elected as an MP in 1994 from Pandavapura, which later became Melkote constituency. He was re-elected from Melkote in 2013.
Babagouda Patil, a founding member of KRRS, was Minister of State for Rural Development in the AB Vajpayee government.
However, much has changed over the years since the days of stalwarts of the movement like MD Nanjundaswamy.
The farmers’ movement in the state has collapsed with the KRRS being a house divided, points out A Narayana, an associate professor at Azim Premji University.
“Perhaps the only time farmers’ anger resulted in defeat for the ruling party was in 1983. The congressional government’s clumsiness in handling the farmers’ movement turned them decisively against the ruling party” , he observes.
Farmers today are no longer tied to a strong identity based on their profession, which would make them vote for one candidate or party to the detriment of other identities such as caste, religion and region, says- he.
Shanthakumar agrees. “The groups of farmers in the state must come together in a single federation. While there are errant examples of farmer leaders running for office, they have been unable to generate a broader support base of voters as they work in isolation,” he adds. -he.
What does this mean for traditional political parties?
“Kodihalli Chandrashekar joining the AAP might not make much difference as it is just one faction among many. However, for a party like the Congress, farmers are a crucial electoral base,” underlines our Sachin Meega, who leads the farmers’ wing of the Congress in Karnataka.
Meega cited the recent “Mekedatu padayatra” as a way to connect with farmers.
Not to be outdone, the JD(S) has also embarked on Janata Jaladhare, a statewide water campaign primarily aimed at farmers.
The regional party’s support base is largely made up of farmers and the party, with initiatives such as loan forgiveness during Kumaraswamy’s tenure as chief minister, has shown its commitment to farmers, said JD(S) spokesman TA Sharavana.