After travelling across the Mumbai-Karnataka region for a week, we are shifting base to bring you stories from another north Karnataka belt – the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. And, to top it, our train journey from Hubli to Bellary coincided with the release of BJP and Congress election manifestos.
Let’s call it a reporter’s luck. For, there couldn’t be a better opportunity ahead of the Karnataka assembly polls to tap into the pulse of the voter – than in packed train coaches during a nearly 200-km journey.
Newslaundry boarded the Amravati Express at 1.20 pm from Hubli, spending the first three hours of the journey in a general sleeper coach, and the next hour in the comfort of a second AC compartment. For those wondering about our luggage, the train’s TTE Mr Gangadhar was kind enough to keep it in his safe custody. And we started off reporting, speaking to passengers on the state of affairs on ground, and their hopes and expectations from the elections.
Amravati Express at Hubli Junction in Karnataka.
‘Medical infrastructure ailing’
One of the first passengers to speak to Newslaundry was Kaveri, 34, a homemaker, on the way to her home in Koppal district after a health check-up in Hubli.
“There is not even a single multi-speciality hospital in my district. Therefore, we have to travel to either Hubli or Bangalore to avail proper medical treatment. It burns a hole in our pocket,” said Kaveri, who was accompanied by her husband Lingraj. “My husband is a coolie. To travel with me, he has to miss a day’s labour. Last time, when we went to Bangalore, it cost us Rs 5,000. Moreover, for the first two days, we just stood in queues at the hospital.”
Kaveri has been diagnosed with a blood clot in her brain. “Doctors are saying that my brain has to be operated on. It will cost us Rs 2 lakh. Let’s see how we will arrange the money.”
Kaveri, a resident of Koppal district in Karnataka.
“I don’t have any faith in any political party or their election manifestos. They all make false poll promises right before the elections. But I will vote for Janaradhan bhai’s new party (Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha). He helps the poor. He called in doctors for my proper check-up at a hospital in Hubli.”
Former BJP minister Gali Janardhan Reddy, 56, formed Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha or KRPP in December last year, after being released from prison on bail in cases related to illegal mining and corruption.
Reddy has fielded his wife Gali Aruna Lakshmi as the KRPP candidate in Bellary against his brother and BJP sitting MLA G Somashekhar Reddy. Meanhwile, the JD(S) has fielded businessman Anil Lad, who won the seat in 2013 on a Congress ticket, and debuntant Bharath is the Congress candidate this time.
As the train gathered pace, Anil Kumar, 33, an employee of the Water Supply Department in Hubli, said, “I don’t believe in manifestos. How is it possible for both these parties to give so many items for free, when the country’s economy is performing terribly? I will vote for the candidate, looking at their work, not the party.”
He was travelling back to his hometown Hospet city for personal work.
‘Inflation has crushed us’
“Our country has a large number of young people. But unemployment is so high. What will they do? On top of that, inflation has crushed us,” said Kumar. “Look at the gas price rise. Before the BJP government, one gas cylinder was priced at Rs 450, now it is Rs 1,200. This inflation is beyond our imagination.”
Listening in, Kumar’s co-passenger Viren Gowda, 55, jumped into the conversation. “Don’t even ask about the gas price rise. It has become impossible for me to run my house of six with an income of Rs 20,000 per month.”
‘Suffering because of corruption’
Gowda pointed to the corruption and said he felt betrayed. “We voted for the BJP twice in the past just because we trusted them. Their GST policy is not good for the common people. Moreover, Modi’s Jal Jeevan Mission has not reached Bellary’s villages due to corruption,” he said. “Bellary has the worst water problem in the whole country. We needed the Jal Jeevan scheme the most.”
Viren Gowda on Amravati Express.
He continued, “I have read their manifesto in the newspaper, this time they are just being impractical. Their promise to remove illegal immigrants from the country also does not make any sense. We are not going to vote for the BJP this time… Congress is looking good. Rahul Gandhi visited Bellary twice, even for Bharat Jodo Yatra. Looks like he can be trusted now.”
Concurring with Gowda’s views, other passengers seated around him chimed in: “It is true, Modi has disappointed us.”
‘Poll promises but no long-term plan’
As we prepared to briefly alight at Koppal Railway Station to move to the AC coach, Venkat Reddy, 16, stopped us. “I may not be eligible to vote now, but two years from now, I will be… BJP, Congress and JD-S, all are thieves. The vote bank for JD-S is farmers so they forget other voters. In BJP’s tenure, we have witnessed back breaking inflation. Whereas, Congress is saying they will give Rs 2,000 to the women head of the BPL families, but they do not have a long-term vision. All of them have failed to provide jobs.”
He continued, “Modi visited Karnataka so many times but only ahead of elections… Recently, one of my friends, whose father passed away, had to drop out of school to work as a farm labourer with his mother. No politician listened to his problems.”
At one of the stops before Bellary Railway Station.
‘Casting vote keeping my country in mind’
As this reporter settled in the second AC coach for the last few kms of the journey, the concerns for the passengers seemed different.
Haresh, 41, a software engineer from Dharwad city, who was traveling to his workplace in Bellary, said when it comes to the BJP, he considered the work being done by “Modi ji at the centre”.
“I cast my vote keeping my country in mind. Which political party is good for development like jobs, education, infrastructure,” he said. “I read the Congress manifesto. In over 60 years, they have ruined the country by distributing freebies and this is what they are doing this time also. Though in the manifesto, the BJP has also promised a lot of freebies, but they had to because it was all political. But when it comes to the BJP, I consider what Modi ji is doing at the center. Look at his programmes like Make in India and Digital India. And earlier no western country respected India but now things have changed upside down.”
These central government schemes were a hit among most of the AC coach passengers.
Shiva Murthy, a businessman from Hubli, said, “Congress does not even have a proper lead who can take this country forward. Leaders such as DK Shivkumar and Siddaramiah look for personal gains. Congress also gave ticket to Jagadish Shettar, who has acted power hungry.”
Denouncing any criticism of BJP over the corruption allegations, Murthy said, “See, all governments are corrupt but at the end of the day, we have to see which government is working for the country. It is okay if the BJP has kept 40 percent commission, at least they have spent 60 percent on the country’s development. So, all you have to do as a voter is choose the least corrupt government.”