Melukote, Karnataka: From a farmer’s son to a software firm owner to helping revive the defanged farmer movement in Karnataka, Darshan Puttannaiah’s life, appears to have come a full circle.

The 41-year-old engineer and son of the late farmer leader and legislator from Melukote (Mandya district) K. S. Puttannaiah is now campaigning hard in the constituency—not just aiming for a win but to help revive the movement his father led for decades.

His father won in 2013 as a candidate of the Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha (SKP), a farmer-led party, and later joined psephologist Yogendra Yadav-led Swaraj India.

Today Mandya, considered the epicentre of Karnataka’s farmer movement, is a spent force as agrarian distress has consumed the prosperity of the district known as “sugar city".

With elections scheduled on 12 May, farmers who were associates of Puttannaiah are looking at Darshan to revive their movement, not just to keep the constituency but also to improve the group’s bargaining power. With over 40 million people dependent on farming, the fraternity is now looking to unite in the face of consecutive droughts and rising debt that have claimed the lives of thousands of debt-laden farmers in Karnataka.

“The problems are much deeper than what I originally thought," says Darshan, who has a green towel on his shoulder, which signifies farmer activism in the state.

Darshan, who is campaigning across all 246 villages in his constituency, says farmers in the district, and the country, face the same problem: chiefly, debt and no minimum support price (MSP) for their produce.

With elections due on 12 May, Darshan has the support of the Congress party, which did not field a candidate in Melukote out of respect for Puttannaiah, who died on 18 February.

But other parties such as the Janata Dal (Secular) are not leaving without a fight. C. S. Puttaraju, Mandya’s member of Parliament, having lost to Puttannaiah in 2013, is Darshan’s main opponent now.

Forced into politics by the death of his father, Darshan, farmers say, has risen to the occasion. “He will win and help take our movement forward by rebuilding it," Sombanahalli Suresh, a farmer leader and close aide of Puttannaiah said.

Other than regrouping the fragmented Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a farmer group, Darshan will also have the task of helping bridge the gap between agricultural communities from the northern and southern parts of the state.

Most of the people in the constituency, especially the youngsters, look up to Darshan, who was the chief executive of Qwinix Technologies Inc., a software design company founded in 2012. He says he will leave his company in the hands of a new management to take his father’s effort forward.

“We have to build infrastructure to attract bigger companies," Darshan says, adding that promotion of tourism in the world famous Melukote temple will also help create jobs. “There is so much energy here that can be channelled," he says, with a hint of an American accent.

Other than political challenges, Darshan faces some personal ones too: He says he is aware of the sacrifices his mother had to make to help his father remain active in his struggles. That responsibility will now shift to his wife.

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