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Karnataka elections: Anti-liquor activist SH Linge Gowda’s politics rests in honesty, simplicity

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    Maddur, May 4: Away from massive rallies of big political parties, a dilapidated autorickshaw mounted with a loudspeaker crisscrosses across Maddur in Mandya district asking voters to cast their votes for Swaraj India party leader SH Linge Gowda in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections.

    The loudspeaker in Kannada announces that the bureaucrat-turned-anti-liquor-activist-turned-politician's fight is against corruption, injustice and discrimination in the polls scheduled on May 12.

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    Quietly following the black-yellow painted autorickshaw, decorated with a couple of posters of Linge Gowda, is a car where the 42-year-old Swaraj India party candidate and his mother Chikkathayiamma travel through the length and breadth of the town as they make several stops in between to meet people.

    Call it coincidence or jugaad (the popular Hindi word crediting Indians with finding effective and innovative solution to a problem), an autorickshaw is not only fervently seeking people's support for the Swaraj India party leader, but it is also the election symbol of Linge Gowda, who is fighting his first election.

    Talking to OneIndia inside his one-room office in Maddur, Linge Gowda, the former excise official, says his campaign strategy is simple and direct. "These days, I start my day early. From morning till late evening, I go and meet people and talk to them. They tell me about their issues and concerns. I listen to them and tell my plans and vision if I get elected as their future MLA," Linge Gowda said.

    The simplicity of affair involving the campaign of Linge Gowda is a far cry from the huge and expensive rallies of the likes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi in the state.

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    In the last couple of weeks, poll-bound Karnataka has witnessed a lot of hatred, division and ugly war of words as "political stalwarts" went on blistering attacks against their opponents to woo voters. If politics of hate, communal division and money and muscle power is a reflection of our sad and equally bad times, then there are also 'rare' politicians who are trying to bring change in society through "alternative politics".

    One among them is Linge Gowda (going by his past social work and campaign style) from Maddur, located almost 80 kms from Bengaluru. For Linge Gowda, his political journey began the day when he took leave from his office in November 2016 to embark on a padayatra (foot march) against the rising menace of alcohol addiction among the masses in Karnataka.

    In an attempt to create awareness on ill-effects of liquor and free the state from the scourge of drinking problem, the former officer with a group of seven other companions travelled from Basavakalyan in Bidar district to Bengaluru in 2016.

    Stressing on the enormous spread of alcoholism, Linge Gowda said, "In Maddur, almost 60 per cent of households are victims of addiction. Each household spends almost Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 on buying alcohol every month. It's a huge amount looking at the poor economic conditions of the majority of the people here."

    "Alcohol has killed a huge number of families in Maddur. People are suffering from depression and physical ailments, thanks to the drinking problem of the male population," he added.

    Being an officer, who had earlier worked with the state's excise department, Linge Gowda understands well how the entire flow of alcohol is controlled by political parties. "We need political power to stop poor from falling prey to alcohol addiction," he said.

    If eliminating addiction is his pet subject, Linge Gowda also aspires to change the financial status of farmers of Maddur, known for sugarcane, silk, paddy, coconut and millet cultivation.

    "Here 70 per cent people are engaged in agriculture. In spite of bumper harvests, farmers are not making profit. Here land is highly cultivable, but water scarcity is causing problems to farmers. Those engaged in agriculture have to shift to organic farming to retain soil's fertility. Instead of focusing on three-four crops, farmers need to grow vegetables to help them get the right price for all their produce."

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    Large-scale unemployment is also a problem which the Swaraj India candidate hopes to address if he gets elected from his home constituency. A total of 13 candidates are contesting elections from the Maddur constituency which has 2,02,418 voters.

    The current sitting MLA of Maddur is Janata Dal (Secular) leader DC Thammanna, who is again contesting elections. When asked if political baahubalis (strong leaders) scare him because of their easy access to money and muscle power, Linge Gowda smiled and said, "To bring change, we need to take risks."

    "The entire Indian political system needs a churn. I am part of that change," he added, while sipping a cup of tea offered to him at a farmer's house in the town.

    His mother, Chikkathayiamma, who had contested the last Zilla Parishad elections but lost, could not agree more with her son.

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