T. Narasipur, Karnataka: Even though the Congress’s big hope Siddaramaiah’s convoy is nearly three hours late, the 300-plus crowd in T. Narasipur’s main square isn’t restless. At the intersection of the highway to Mysuru, which is 40km away, the square has all the ingredients befitting a panchayat town. Right next to the bus stop there’s a single-hall cinema, decked in fading green, which has clearly seen better days. The evening show—the Allu Arjun-starrer Naa Peru Surya Naa Illu India—is suitably nationalistic.
Rain has put paid to Siddaramaiah’s plans to travel by helicopter to T. Narasipur (the “T" stands for Tirumakudalu, the confluence of the Kaveri, Kabini, and a mythical spring). He’s now travelling by road. The town, a pilgrimage centre, is split into two assembly constituencies, both of which are with the Congress. The public works minister H.C. Mahadevappa represents this constituency (the main opponent is the Janata Dal-Secular’s Ashwin Kumar).
Three hours earlier, when we reach T. Narasipur, it seems washed out. We settle down in the local coffee joint, downing tiny tumblers of strong filter coffee. With little prompting, the owner of the restaurant launches into his prognosis: “It is 60:40 in favour of the Congress. Till a few days ago, the contest was a tight one but now with the money power in play, the Congress will romp home." The going “gift" rate is Rs1,000 to Rs2,000, and many people have stopped working in anticipation of the party to come. The restaurant owner is clearly not a fan of the Congress. He quickly looks around at the adjoining tables, before complaining that the Karnataka CM has “given out too many BPL cards to Muslims".
Soon, he is joined by the owner of the chemist store close by, who complains bitterly that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) decision to not give a ticket to chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa’s son B.Y. Vijayendra has completely snuffed out the party’s chances in the region. As we continue talking, it emerges that both men, in their mid-60s, are members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the erstwhile Jan Sangh respectively. “Even if the BJP puts up a dog as a candidate, we will vote for him," says the portly owner of the nearby store, looking at us for affirmation.
Back at the square, a roar goes up: the convoy is here, fronted by an open van with Siddaramaiah, with gleaming teeth, waving at the crowd. Then, everyone starts laughing as they realize it is a lookalike. Soon after, flanked by jeeps, the real Siddaramaiah’s Innova is quickly surrounded. The crowd is loud at the centre of the square. The CM-hopeful delivers a short speech, naming about five people in the crowd. When the crowd shouts out that the local MLA Mahadevappa has built good roads, Siddaramaiah is quick to say: “But I gave him the money, no?" to guffaws.
After 10 minutes or so, the 15-car convoy speeds away. The square starts emptying. Auto drivers line up outside the cinema hall, waiting for the show to end.