It was 1988.. a year after I had moved to Bangalore. I wanted to shoot for India Today. Their office was on the corner of St.Mark’s and Residency Roads, in a small building next to the iconic Cash Pharmacy. Chidanand Rajghatta, had just joined the magazine as a reporter. One fine day I walked into his cramped office, introduced myself and said that I wanted to freelance for India Today.. Well my stint (albeit as a freelancer) started immediately. Our first assignment was in the town of Jamakhandi in North Karnataka. Chidu told me that we were going to do an interesting story on a group of farmers who had set out to build a small dam across the river Krishna by themselves! Their leader – a man called Sidhu Nyama Gowda.
We set out to Jamakhandi, one fine morning. The drive – about 550 Km. There were no expressways back then, and our vehicle was the venerable Ambassador…So we reached Jamakhandi at about 10 PM. There were no mobile phones then. We managed to locate Mr. Nyama Gowda and then retired for the night. I do not remember where we stayed though.
Sidhu Nyama Gowda and his farmer friends had formed ‘Krishna Teera Raita Sangha’ (Association of farmers of the banks of River Krishna) and were pressurising the government of Karnataka to build a barrage across the river to mitigate water shortages that they were facing. Ramakrishna Hegde was the chief minister then and the government was unable to release the funds for the project. So the farmers lead by Nyama Gowda, asked the government for permission to build the barrage by themselves. The government gave the permission.
Nyama Gowda and friends mobilised about Rs.1 Crore (It was a humongous sum in late 80s!) by asking the residents of Jamakhandi contribute either in cash or kind (bags of cement, iron..etc). People also donated their time. Labour cost nothing, labour was voluntary. They successfully built the barrage in the course of the year.
Chidu’s story in India Today was the first about this effort in the national media. Many other national and international media did their own stories including BBC Radio.
Three years later Nyama Gowda contested the Lok Sabha elections from the Congress party. His opponent was Ramakrishna Hegde. He was representing his newly launched Lok Shakti. Well, Nayama Gowda defeated Hegde and went onto become a union minister in P V Narasimha Rao’s cabinet, if I am not mistaken!. Later he was the member of the Karnataka Legislative Council as well.
The story of Sidhu Nyama Gowda was an important one for those times. And in the absence of electronic media (We had only one channel then, the government controlled Doordarshan), Chidu’s story took the voices of the farmers far and wide!