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September 9, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ George Iype

BJP fights to retain advantage in Dakshina Kannada

Multi-cornered contests and the absence of any serious electoral issue have forced 35 candidates in the nine assembly constituencies of the Dakshina Kannada district to embark on whistle-stop campaign tours in south Karnataka.

To lure the voters, for the first time parties have attempted to fielded a journalist, an artiste, a social activist and prominent women activists in some key Dakshina Kannada assembly seats.

Thus, in the Sullia reserved constituency, the Janata Dal-Secular headed by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda has fielded Lolaksha, a local journalist and a social thinker. In Surathkal, the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded reputed Yakshagana artiste Kumble Sundara Rao. A local philanthropist, Ganapathy Kini, is offering formidable opposition to Congress and BJP candidates in Buntwal. In the coastal Ullal constituency, the Congress candidate is a social activist U T Fareed.

If the Congress swept the assembly poll in 1989 from Dakshina Kannada constituencies, the BJP for the first time bagged a majority of seats -- 6 -- in 1994. The Janata Dal also won two seats, forcing the Congress to a humiliating defeat in 1984.

In 1994, both the BJP and Janata Dal had electrifying issues to attack the Congress with and win over voters. But what dominates the election campaign as Dakshina Kannada voters get ready to elect their assembly representatives in 1999 is the singular lack of serious electoral issues.

The divided Janata Dal groups groping in the dark have only one campaigning theme -- the Congress is a corrupt party headed by a foreigner. The Janata Dal United led by Chief Minister and Lok Shakti president Ramakrishna Hegde has nothing interesting to defend and attack. Caught in the vortex of embarrassment are the BJP candidates as they have been compelled to glorify the five years of the Patel regime after the seat arrangement with the JD-U.

Adding confusion in Dakshina Kannada are the presence of Janata Dal-Secular candidates in all the nine constituencies and the Bahujan Samaj Party's decision to field candidates in three constituencies for the first time.

However, the main fight for the assembly segments is between the BJP and Congress. While the anti-incumbency factor and the sudden splits and merger have given the JD-U candidates a harrowing time, most Congress candidates think they will win the election because of two reasons.

First, the Karnataka Congress Party led by S Bangarappa has rejoined the Congress and therefore there are few rebels in for the assembly election. Secondly, Congress candidates believe after a gap of five years, the voters will indeed elect a Congress government.

"It is now the Congress's chance to rule from Bangalore as the Patel government has been on a destructive path in the past five years," says former minister Blasius D'Souza, the Congress candidate from the Mangalore assembly constituency.

"BJP and JD-U candidates are working against each other in all the constituencies here. Therefore, the Congress will actually increase its vote share from Dakshina Kannada," D'Souza, who was defeated by BJP candidate Yogish Bhatt in 1994 told

He said the BJP secured six out of nine seats in Dakshina Kannada during the last assembly election because of Congress rebels and Bangarappa's KCP. "Now the electoral fortunes are coming the Congress way," he added.

But the BJP leadership is confident that despite the initial difficulties that hampered the party during the distribution of tickets in the region, it will win at least seven out of the nine assembly seats from Dakshina Kannada. In 1994, the BJP succeeded in Mangalore, Puttur, Sullia, Surathkal, Ullal and Vittla.

Interestingly, a majority of contestants who are in the fray this time have fought both the 1989 and 1994 elections and are traditional rivals. Hence, the prestige of each candidate is at stake in the Dakshina Kannada region.

The most prestigious fight, however, is in the Belthangady assembly seat where two brothers from a well-known Bangera family have locked horns. The BJP has never won Belthangady, but has been improving its performance in every assembly poll. The BJP's driving force is Prabhakar Bangera, president of the party's Dakshina Kannada unit.

Taking him on this time is his elder brother Vasantha, a JD-S leader and a close associate of Deve Gowda. The younger brother is said to have an edge over the elder one as many of Vasantha Bangera's followers deserted him to join the BJP and JD-U after the Janata Dal split.

In Buntwal, a traditional Congress stronghold, the going is tough for Ramanatha Rai as the BJP has pitted a woman candidate Shakuntala Rai against him. Rai is a popular women's activist and president of the BJP's Mahila Morcha in Dakshina Kannada.

Blasius D'Souza claims he and all other party candidates will win from Dakshina Kannada, but he himself is caught in a tough fight with a fellow Anglo-Indian -- Sovereign D'Souza of the Janata Dal -- and the BJP's Yogesh Bhatt.

In Puttur, the fight is between the BJP's Sadananda Gowda and the Congress's Sudhakar Shetty. In Vittla, P Aboobackar will confront K M Ibrahim of the Congress and A Rukmayya Poojary of the BJP in a multi-cornered battle that includes Congress rebel Prabha Devi and BSP newcomer Athradi Amruta Shetty.

The Rediff Election Specials

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