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|February 12, 1998|
Congress's chances being wrecked from within in Tirupati
Tirupati, the entrance to the abode of Lord Venkateswara or Balaji, has been a Congress bastion right from 1952, having returned the party's candidates in all Lok Sabha polls except in 1984, when it was swept by the 'NTR wave'.
But this time, fissures seems to have developed in the fortress as the choice of the Congress candidate, Dr Chinta Mohan, has led to widespread resentment in the ranks, according to political observers.
Dr Mohan, who was minister for chemicals and fertilisers in the P V Narasimha Rao Cabinet, was denied the ticket in 1996 following his differences with Rao. He has staged a comeback by getting nominated at the last minute, much to the discomfiture of sitting MP N Subramanyam, reportedly with the blessings of the party high command and owing to his closeness to Sonia Gandhi.
At present, he faces rough weather from the party cadres, with several partymen openly revolting against him. Subramanyam went to the extent of sitting on a hunger strike in front of the AICC office in Delhi.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam leader N Chandrababu Naidu, who belongs to Chittoor district which includes Tirupati seat, has fielded actor-turned politician Dr Shivaprasad who is a political novice.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has of late emerged as a third force in the constituency, has nominated a retired IAS officer, Dr N Venkataswamy. The party hopes to capitalise on infighting in the Congress, apart from the anti-establishment feelings against the TDP government though its candidate is a new entrant in electoral politics.
For the beleaguered Congress candidate, the entry of Muddukrishnama Naidu, a popular leader and arch-rival of the chief minister, has come as a shot in the arm.
Muddukrishnama Naidu, who was expelled from the NTR TDP-LP, enjoys a large following particularly in Puttur, Nagari and Tirupati assembly segments. Barring him, no other Congress leader has come here for campaigning so far.
The chief minister, on his part, has deployed three of his cabinet colleagues -- Gopalakrishna Reddy, T Nageswara Rao and P Ratnam -- to spearhead his party campaign.
The United Front convener has also succeeded in roping disgruntled elements in the Congress to support the TDP candidate. Adikesavulu Naidu, APCC treasurer and Chadalavada Krishnamurthy, former APCC joint secretary, and the Congress MP Subramanyam are attempting to wreck Dr Chinta Mohan's chances.
The TDP high command has also brought in six film artistes to campaign for its candidate. The chief minister, who launched his election campaign from Tirupati, has made four visits to his home district so far and addressed several public meetings till now.
The Tirupati reserved seat is spread over seven assembly segments, Tirupati, Puttur, Nagari, Satyaveedu, Srikalahasti in Chittoor district and Sullurpet and Venkatagiri in Nellore district. It has 11,87,939 voters of whom 599,629 are women.
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