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February 10, 1998


P Upendra seeks second chance in unforgiving Vijayawada

Vijayawada, it appears, is an unforgiving constituency. Seldom has it re-elected a candidate to the Lok Sabha, the honour going not once, but thrice, to former Union minister K L Rao, in 1962, 1967 and 1971. The man currently trying for a second term and whose progress, therefore, is under scrutiny is Parvathaneni Upendra.

Upendra, a former Union minister and Congress nominee, takes on Dasari Jairamesh of the Telugu Desam Party in Vijayawada. Though Jairamesh is making his electoral debut, his clout indicates that a close contest is on the cards.

In all, 18 candidates are in the fray. Among them are Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Vadde Ramakrishna Prasad and former Congress MP Chennupati Vidya, who is contesting as an Independent.

Upendra had won the seat in 1996 by a margin of more than 114,000 votes, defeating Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao of the TDP. Rao was elected twice, in 1984 and 1991 on a TDP ticket.

Since the last election, political equations in the constituency have changed dramatically, with Deveneni Rajashekhar, the MLA from Kankipadu, becoming an associate member of the Congress and Ch Ratna Kumari MLA, East Vijayawada, leaving the Congress for the Telugu Desam.

Both Rajashekar and Ratna Kumari wield considerable clout in the constituency and Sobhanadreeswara Rao's defeat in the last election was attributed to the split in TDP votes, with Rajashekhar, who contested as a candidate of the NTR-TDP (LP), winning as much as 169,000 votes.

The constituency has an urban-rural composition, but the 540,000 urban votes out of the 1.35 million votes could play a crucial role in deciding the fate of the contestants.

Nearly 300,000 voters belong to the backward castes, while the scheduled castes comprise about 280,000 voters. Among the scheduled castes, the Madigas, who are in considerable strength in Mylavaram and Thiruvur constituencies, are mainly TDP supporters while the congress is banking on the support of the Malas.

According to political observers, Sonia Gandhi's presence and the apology tendered by the Congress on the Babri Masjid demolition might help Upendra to win over Muslim voters, who comprise 120,000, about 10 per cent of the total electorate.

The BJP, which secured 11,000 votes last time, hopes to fare better this time. The crossing over of former Vijayawada mayor Jandhyala Shanker from the Congress to the BJP is expected to help the party although the Communist Party of India currently controls the civic body.

Both the Congress and TDP candidates, after some initial hiccups, have begun campaigning in right earnest, hitting the road early morning and continuing till late in the night.

Even before Upendra's candidature was finalised, a group of local Congress leaders rushed to Delhi and urged the high command not to field him again. However, after he secured the nomination, Upendra appears to have neutralised dissidence in the party.

TDP president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who describes the election as a matter of ''life and death,'' delayed the finalisation of the TDP nominee till the last minute, apparently in search of a formidable candidate.

However, after state Excise Minister Nettam Raghuram and Sobhanadreeswara Rao expressed their reluctance to contest, Naidu picked Jairamesh.

Although a newbie in politics, the industrialist has been associated with the TDP since its inception and was close to its late founder N T Rama Rao. He recently claimed that he played a crucial role in 'the save democracy movement' launched after NTR was toppled in August 1984.

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