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|August 18, 1999||
Sonia, Sushma file papers for Bellary
Special Correspondent in Bombay
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Delhi chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj today filed their nominations for Bellary in Karnataka.
"I am contesting from here (Bellary). South (India) was always dear to my mother-in-law (Indira Gandhi)," Sonia said after filing her nomination papers.
After an overnight stay at the Raj Bhavan guest house in Hyderabad, Sonia went to Bellary by a special aircraft on Wednesday morning.
Sonia filed her papers before Deputy Commissioner Raj Kamal. She was accompanied by Congress general secretary in charge of Karnataka Ghulam Nabi Azad and state Congress president S M Krishna.
Sonia submitted four sets of nomination papers proposed by former Union minister Basavarajeshwari, S R Rangappa, Kasim Sab and Umakanthappa.
About 4,000 people had gathered at the deputy commissioner's office when Sonia filed her papers despite the move being kept a closely guarded secret, party sources said.
Sonia, who landed in Bellary at 1250 hours, was closeted with K C Kondaiah, who had won the seat in the last two elections and had already submitted his papers for Bellary.
Sonia also visited the house of Basavarajeshwari, who had earlier represented the constituency thrice, before proceeding to file her papers.
Sushma Swaraj, who airdashed to Bellary from Bangalore, also filed her papers. She was accompanied by Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar, BJP general secretary in charge of Karnataka M Venkaiah Naidu and local party leader Indu Shekar.
Though speculation was rife throughout Tuesday night that she would opt for Cuddapah constituency in Andhra Pradesh, Sonia preferred to contest from Bellary in the neighbouring state.
Bellary, about 450 kilometres south west of Hyderabad, borders the districts of Kurnool and Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh.
Bellary is the safest constituency for the Congress in Karnataka, having returned only Congress candidates successively since the first general election in 1952.
Bellary has a predominance of Telugus, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the total electorate. Minorities, particularly Muslims, constitute up to 35 per cent of the electorate. No non-Congress candidate was able to win from this constituency in the last 12 elections.
Though successive Congress candidates had emerged victorious from Bellary, the vote share of the party had dwindled over the years due to a combined opposition onslaught.
The highest voting percentage of 72.70 was recorded by then Union minister V K R V Rao in 1971. It was the noted economist's second victory from the constituency, which elected him in 1967 also when he secured 53.78 per cent of the votes.
The party's vote share came down to less than 40 per cent, for the first time, in the last election when Kondaiah polled 39.76 per cent of the votes and won by a slender margin of about 64000 votes over his nearest Lok Shakti-BJP alliance nominee Thippanna, who polled 30.87 per cent. The Janata Dal candidate, Nettakallappa secured 26.10 per cent of the votes.
Significantly, the Janata Dal and the Lok Shakti have now united under the banner of Janata Dal-United and are fighting the coming election in alliance with the BJP.
Basavarajeswari had scored a hat-trick by winning the seat in 1984, 1989 and 1991. She left the seat in favour of Kondaiah in the next two elections. Kondaiah had polled 43.89 per cent of the votes in 1996 compared to the 45.92 per cent polled by Basavarajeshwari in the previous elections.
The Congress vote share came down to 64.22 per cent in the 1980 election as against 69.58 per cent in 1977.
Interestingly, Sonia had launched her party campaign from Bellary on July 14 sparking speculation in the media that the Congress president was contemplating to contest from the party stronghold.
Earlier, Kondaiah, who was accompanying Sonia after her arrival in Bellary, told rediff.com that she is filing her papers for the constituency.
Initial reports said that she would contest from Cuddapah.
Party sources indicated that Sonia chose Bellary in the last minute.
In a swift counter move, the Bharatiya Janata Party air-dashed Sushma Swaraj to take on Sonia in Bellary.
Party sources said Swaraj, who arrived in Bangalore last night, has since reached Bellary along with BJP general secretary M Venkaiah Naidu.
Today is the last day for filing of nominations for the Bellary seat, where polling would be held in the first phase on September 5.
However, the Bellary seat has been allocated to the Janata Dal-United. Sources said the BJP has requested Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde to spare the seat for the BJP.
Security arrangements have been intensified in Bellary.
Additional reportage: Shireen in Hyderabad, UNI
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