By Sandhya Ravishankar
One lakh pressure cookers – a gift for what he hopes would be his constituents in 2023 on his birthday. Nara Bharath Reddy of the Congress has begun his campaign despite the high command not confirming a ticket for him.
Bharath Reddy is an affable 31 year old, born into wealth, a family of granite miners. But he has realised what Ballari’s residents want – conversations and interaction with their political leaders.
And so Bharath is dropping in daily at people’s homes in the evenings – at slums, middle class homes and even the wealthy voters – sipping chai and telling people what he will do for the famous mining city.
“Bharath Reddy is what everyone is talking about here,” said a 60-year-old tea stall owner who serves customers near the court. “He is a young boy but he is going door to door. And he has given pressure cookers which has raised the expectations of people here. Everyone is excited,” he laughed.
While people are unaware that Bharath is a Congress member, his name now has recall thanks to the pressure cookers. His smiling face can be seen on the back of autorickshaws in the city with the slogan – “Bhrashtachara muktha sundara Ballari nirmisu” (Building a corruption free, beautiful Ballari) and “Mane Manege Bharath” (Bharath in every home).
Expectations are already running high three months ahead of the election. “He is going to give us LED TVs next,” said Amir Ali, a young man who works as household help. “He has a lot of items to give. We are all waiting,” he added. Amir himself has not received the pressure cooker. “They have given it in the next street, we will get it next,” he said confidently.
In nearby Mahanandi Kottam, an urban slum dwelling populated largely by Scheduled Caste Madigas, the women are thrilled. “Pressure cookers! Who wouldn’t vote for that?” giggled a young mother of two, Shanthi. Other women in the street laugh along.
But Bharath has a tough challenge ahead.
An old hand in politics, Gali Janardhana Reddy has announced his new party Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha (KRPP) recently. And Ballari’s residents remember the older Reddy quite fondly.
“It was Janardhana Reddy who laid the road in our colony and installed street lights here,” said another woman resident of Mahanandi Kottam. “He is a very good person. He will also give money to all of us,” she added.
Goodwill for Janardhana Reddy is evident in conversations with the poorer sections of society in Ballari city.
But his younger brother and sitting BJP MLA of Ballari City, Somashekhara Reddy, is also likely to be in the fray again this year.
“Our MLA has not done anything for us,” said an elderly customer at the tea shop. “He doesn’t visit, has not improved the infrastructure of Ballari, not even laid roads,” he said.
The women of Mahanandi Kottam concur. “He just came and saw the situation during the rains when our colony was flooded,” said one agricultural coolie worker who lives there. “Before and after that he has never visited us, nor has he fixed the drainage and other issues. Widows here are getting only Rs 800 as pension, instead of Rs 1000. We have no one to tell about all these issues,” she lamented.
But Somashekhara Reddy is yet to begin his campaign, as the BJP has not released its candidate list. A seasoned politician, he has support among Reddys and Lingayats in the constituency.
In a district where Telugu is spoken almost as much as Kannada, the Reddys are bound to hold sway.
Which Reddy will pip the other, however, is the question.