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|September 2, 1999||
No longer lord of all he surveys
Intra-party rivalry and inaccessibility could well cost Congress the Tirupati Lok Sabha seat, the gateway to Lord Venkateshwara's abode, which has always been a Congress bastion, except for a one-time cross over.
The Congress has been winning from this reserved seat right from 1952 but for an aberration in 1984 when the Telugu Desam Party wrested the seat under the spell of the NTR wave.
However, this time, as the constituency goes to simultaneous Parliament and assembly polls on September 5, the Congress is having a tough time holding on to its loyal electorate more due to problems created by the party itself than rivals effort.
Former Union minister Chintha Mohan, who is in the fray for the fifth time from here, is the Congress candidate while Bharatiya Jananta Party state unit vice- president and retired IAS officer N Venkataswamy in the BJP nominee. Though the main fight is between these two, there are four others in the fray, including Anna TDP candidate T Gunasekhar.
The Tirupati seat, in south Andhra, has 11,99,529 voters, with women (6,07,079) outnumbering men.
Dr Mohan, for whom proximity with leaders in the party high command in New Delhi on the one hand helped him corner the ticket, on the other distanced him from the people of the constituency.
The former Union minister, who somehow manages to get the party ticket in the nick of time, could once again be nominated with the blessings of AICC president Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Working Committee coterie. He ruthlessly scuttled the chances of CWC member Lakhsmi Devi getting the party ticket.
Dr Mohan, however, faces serious charges from the electorate that he is invariably inaccessible once the elections are over. Besides, there is almost nothing on his part to show any notable developmental work in the constituency.
The Congress candidate naturally denies this and contends that he is a loyal worker of the party and therefore destined to allot 'prime importance' to party activities at the national level as instructed by the high command. And despite his 'non- availability', Dr Mohan says he always did his best at the 'Delhi level' to meet the requirements of the people of his constituency.
The chief minister and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu decided to leave this prestigious parliamentary seat for the BJP much to the discomfiture of the party cadres. In the 1998 general elections, TDP candidate, Siva Prasad, lost to Dr Mohan by about 10,000 votes. This time, the TDP high command has rehabilitated to the Satyavedu (SC) assembly seat, thereby leaving the Tirupati seat for the BJP.
The BJP renominated its candidate N Venkatswamy, who polled 1.78 lakh votes in the last general elections and lost to Dr Mohan, who polled 2.88 lakh votes.
Venkatswamy banks on TDP support and anti-Chintha Mohan votes, particularly from the urban areas. Further, the division created by the communists and the Anna TDP now fighting the TDP and the Congress, could come in handy for the BJP.
However, there are a few things that favour the Congress too. Simultaneous polls have come as a shot in the arm for Dr Mohan as notable TDP leaders and state ministers would not be available to campaign for the BJP.
No concrete statistics are available to show how the BJP-TDP alliance would work out with the voters as they could not have forgotten the BJP and the TDP fighting each other in the last general elections.
To counter this, the BJP has played the 'Vajpayee' and the 'Kargil' cards. Perhaps visits by Prime Minister A B Vajpayee and Home Minister L K Advani, who are scheduled to campaign here, would also brighten the party candidate's chances.
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