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September 8, 1999


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Campaign Trail Chittoor/Tirupati

Tough fights for Chittoor, Tirupati seats

J S Sai in Chandragiri, Chittoor, Karvetinagaram, Puttur and Tirupati

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu might get a record majority in his Kuppam constituency. But the going may not be easy in the remaining assembly constituencies of his native Chittoor district.

Though a majority of voters in this Telugu Desam Party bastion agree Naidu has "done a lot of good work," several others berate him, saying "his schemes have only benefited his party-backed contractors." The resentment indicates that the Congress may make major gains in the district at the expense of the TDP which won 14 of the 15 assembly seats in the district in the 1994 election.

The criticism is particularly scathing in Naidu's erstwhile Chandragiri constituency (including his native Naravaripalli village) where his brother Nara Ramamurthy Naidu is seeking re-election. Pitted against him is Congress candidate Galla Aruna Kumari, whose son is married to film star Krishna's daughter.

"What has he done in our village? Nothing," says C Subramaniam of Rangampet village (where film star Mohan Babu runs a big residential school and college), 20 kilometres from Tirupati. "The CM had lost from here in 1983 (when he was in the Congress) as he had done nothing… Very rarely does Ramamurthy Naidu came here… On the rare occasions he came here, we had made several requests, urging that something be done for us. He had paid no attention."

"After the 1994 assembly poll, I have seen him only once," says T Ramana who works at the Spartek tiles factory. "He did not even come for the Janmabhoomi (a voluntary development effort involving the people) programme, and even the road has not been completed."

Saidu Saheb, a 60-year-old man who makes a living by selling twigs collected in the nearby forest, comes down even more heavily on Naidu. "NTR (TDP founder Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao) had imposed prohibition in the state, fearing that the poor like us would drink ourselves to death. This man does not care for us."

His wife Qadir Bi adds, "He has increased the prices of every commodity including subsidised rice which costs Rs 3.50 now. He has done nothing for us. Maybe he has laid roads. But how does it help us? We don't even have a bicycle. We need something for this (pointing towards her mouth)."

"If a man loses to a woman, he will lose his arrogance," says Subramanian, referring to Ramamurthy Naidu. "He will lose because he is not sincere," says Tulsi Ram, a shop-keeper in Chandragiri. Why did they defeat Chandrababu Naidu though he was sincere? "He was not sincere then, unlike now," says Tulsi Ram.

Do they envious because Chandragiri is not being given the same attention as Kuppam? "Chandrababu Naidu would not have done anything for us. That is why he has lost from Chandragiri in 1983," says K Murugaiah, a coolie in Kaluru, near Chandragiri.

Unlike Chandragiri and Kuppam, which send clear messages, voters in most other assembly segments send mixed signals.

V Rangaiah, an agriculture worker in Pernampalli, near Tirupati, says, "Naidu has done good work. The Congress too has done good work."

B Krishna Reddy, a 67-year-old farmer of the same village, praises the Congress. "They brought us Independence, and I have been voting for them."

Asked if he would vote for the party though it is headed by a 'foreigner,' he says, "I don't know who heads the Congress." But he knows Sonia Gandhi. "Is she a foreigner? I don't know. I will vote for the Congress. I am not one of those who will sell his vote for a bottle of liquor."

In Tirupati town, however, auto driver Balasubramanian gives full marks to the CM. Chandragiri shop-keeper Tulsi Ram says, "Women seem to favour the TDP because of Naidu's programmes like Deepam (the subsidised LPG scheme for rural women) and Aadarana (giving Rs 5,000 bonds to girl children, so that it helps the family during their marriage). However, several others are not so sure.

"Yes, people talk about his achievements," says retired police constable K Ramaiah. "I don't know what he has done."

The Congress has an uphill task to win the Tirupati Lok Sabha seat because of the popular resentment against Chinta Mohan who represented the constituency in the dissolved House. "Mohan, who is seeking re-election for the fifth term, is never available in the constituency after any election," seems to be the mood in Tirupati. "But during an election, he will come here, and indulge in 'phone politics' to ensure his victory."

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is contesting the seat following its seat-sharing arrangement with the TDP, is in an equally difficult situation. The fact that the Tirupati urban areas registered the lowest voting percentage of 56 in the district on Sunday indicates that the BJP has lost its saffron sheen.

In the 1998 general election, the BJP polled 195,665 votes (as against 13,315 in 1996), the TDP 278,958 and the Congress 288,892. If the BJP-TDP combine enjoys the same voter support as in 1998, it will be a cakewalk for the BJP's Venkataswamy, a retired IAS officer.

"People are vexed with politicians," says B S Raju, an ex-serviceman who now works with the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam. "We thought this old party would do something for the people… As for Kargil, many feel it has been engineered to get votes. Otherwise, how can Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee predict that the war would end soon – remember how he gave a go-ahead to the Election Commission for the LS poll? I was involved in two wars against Pakistan. Nobody then had the benefit of such a foresight."

Equally unpredictable is the result in the Chittoor Lok Sabha seat, where S Ramakrishna Reddy (TDP) is contesting against R Gopnadh (Congress).

The people's indifference to the TDP stems from two factors – there has been no development in the district on the scale seen in Kuppam and the Congress promise of providing free power to agriculturists in the state.

"The higher voting percentages in several rural areas of the district seems to indicate this," says a top TDP leader. The leader predicted the TDP has a tough time in Kalahasti (where Naidu adversary Mohan Babu had been canvassing for the Congress), Chandragiri, Puttur (known for its traditional bone-setters), Vempamjeri, Pileru and Tirupati assembly segments. However, the ruling party is said to be in a comfortable position in Kuppam, Pungunur, Palmaneru and Sathyavedu. "The other five seats will see a tug of war," he says.

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