By Fakir Balaji
Chamarajanagar (Karnataka) : It was raining heavily and his chopper had to make an emergency landing, but Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy finally made it to this district where no chief minister has stepped in 17 years – because of incumbents being dethroned within months of their visit.
Breaking the jinx that kept successive chief ministers away from the backward district since 1990 for fear of losing power, Kumaraswamy finally came calling on a rain-drenched Sunday to spend a night at Badagalamole, a nearby sleepy hamlet, and kick-start a slew of development programmes.
The district, about 200 km away and bordering Tamil Nadu, had been more in the news over the decades for the free run forest brigand Veerappan had till he was eliminated in a bloody encounter Oct 18, 2004.
"Though I have been advised by well-wishers, including my family members against venturing into this jinxed district, I have kept my word given when I assumed office 15 months ago and subsequently on the floor of the legislature.
"By visiting and touring the district for two days, I wanted to not only expose the myth that kept six of my predecessors away, but also demonstrate the domino-effect such a visit would have on the people, administration and the region," Kumaraswamy told IANS.
Old-timers recall how the political jinx that began with Devaraj Urs in 1980 became a precedent with Veerandra Patil in 1990. It has haunted their successors for long, none of who ever visited the district.
"By the irony of fate or sheer coincidence, Urs, Ramakrishna Hegde and Patil lost power within 10 months after visiting this district. That superstitious mindset kept away their successors, resulting in little development of the district," Chamarajanagar legislator Vatal Nagaraj said.
Past chief ministers, belonging to the Congress as well as the erstwhile Janata Dal, from Bangarappa in 1991 to N. Dharam Singh in 2006, with Veerappa Moily, H. D. Deve Gowda, J.H. Patel and S.M. Krishna in between, consciously avoided visiting the district officially.
Though a bitter critic of the ruling Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (JD-S-BJP) coalition government, Nagaraj lauded Kumaraswamy for visiting the district and busting the jinx theory that haunted his predecessors.
"I request leaders to give up this superstitious belief as none can aspire to remain in office for ever," Kumaraswamy averred.
But it almost seemed as if the curse was right.
Kumaraswamy's visit began on an ominous note when the private chopper he flew in from Udupi with three officials had to make an emergency landing on a wet lakebed due to heavy rains and strong winds. The chief minister was stranded for over an hour, sending the bureaucracy into a tizzy over his safety.
"Apart from heavy rain and strong wind, poor visibility prevented the pilot from landing the chopper on the Vaddagere helipad near the Sri Biligiri Ranga Hills. He had to descend on the Yeriyur tank-bund near Yellandur, surrounded by swamplands with no access road to reach the spot.
"By the time we located the helicopter resting on the lakebed, the inclement weather had cleared and the pilot was able to take off to land at the designated helipad," district superintendent of police Srikantappa said.
Undaunted by bad weather and hours of delay, thousands of people thronged the main thoroughfares in their villages for a glimpse of Kumaraswamy, who kept awake till the wee hours of Monday. He toured half-a-dozen hamlets to address roadside meetings, receive petitions from the public and instruct officials to speed-up development works.
"By coming to us even in the dead of night, he (Kumaraswamy) has inspired us with his dedication, commitment and determination to improve out lot by announcing various schemes and projects for the estimated to cost the exchequer about Rs.3-4 billion.
"It is unfortunate many chief ministers in the past gave a short-shrift to the district that was bedevilled by the exploits of bandit king Veerappan and lack of socio-economic development over the years," said H.S. Mahadev Prasad, minister in charge of the district who holds the Kannada and culture portfolio.