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|February 13, 1998|
Old men, same fight
Janata Dal nominee Quamrul Islam, facing a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party, will have to pull out all stops to retain the Gulbarga seat in Karnataka.
Islam, the JD Parliamentary Board secretary in the 11th Lok Sabha, is pitted against the BJP's Basavaraj Patil Sedam, Congressman Dr B G Jawali and Samata Party candidate M Kantha. Islam, Sedam and Dr Jawali are facing each other for the second time in less than two years for the same seat.
But the JD, which won the last election by 15,545 votes, now faces much flak from the farmers over the failure of kharif and rabi crops due to pestilence. They feel the state government had not taken adequate steps to control the situation or provide relief.
A member of the state assembly four times, Islam was the choice of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda who brought him into the JD from the Indian National League. The minorities have a dominant say in this constituency.
This northern Karnataka constituency has been the Congress turf from 1952 till 1991. It was only in the last election that the JD made a breakthrough and pushed the Congress to the third spot with 23 per cent votes. The BJP scored 33 per cent.
Though Islam had earlier polled 36 per cent votes, he doesn't have any staunch supporters to back him this election. Minister Malikayya Guttedar, a Deve Gowda loyalist who is in charge of the district, does not seem very keen to support him. Nor is Civil Aviation Minister Chand Mahal Ibrahim, who had worked hard for Islam's success in 1996.
Nevertheless, Islam maintains he will somehow pass through. His confidence, he claims, arises from the fact that he has 'solved 'several burning issues'.
Among the eight assembly segments in the constituency, the JD has five with it while the Congress holds three.
In the last election Islam had established a clear lead in Afzalpur, Gulbarga and Jewargi while Sedam was ahead in the Chincholi, Chithapur and Sedam segments. The Congress could lead only in the Gurumitkal segment.
The BJP, aware that it lost by a very narrow margin last time, has fielded Sedam, the party's state general secretary, and thrown its lot with Ramakrishna Hegde's Lok Shakti. This might turn the tide in its favour.
The BJP rally, which party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed, had drawn a large crowd. Party vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu and spokesperson Sushma Swaraj are also expected to hit the campaign trail for Sedam shortly.
Sedam claimed his party would lead in the Afzalpur, Gulbarga, Gurumitkal and Jewargi segments. Besides, it would consolidate its position in Chincholi, Chitapur, Shahabad and Sedam. ''The BJP wave is visible in the entire country,'' he said.
The BJP, meanwhile, got a shot-in-the-arm after JD leader K B Shanappa quit and threw in his lot with the Lok Shakti.
However, the presence of former minister and state Samata Party president S K Kantha in the fray may throw a spanner in the works. Sedam dismisses the threat stating that the alliance with the Lok Shakti more than offsets this.
Of late, Kantha has acquired clout in the city and is known as a leader who would put up a fight for the right causes. He tried to clinch an alliance with the BJP since the Samata Party is its ally in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, the attempt did not work out.
"I am contesting essentially to make my party's presence felt," he said, "The poorer sections of society will vote overwhelmingly for my party."
Congressman Dr Jawali is a two-time MP from the constituency. The party has a high stake at the hustings since two of its prominent leaders, state president Dharam Singh and Opposition leader in the state assembly Mallikarjun Kharge, hail from Gulbarga.
Many Congressmen, however, feel that Dr Jawali should have been replaced. A fresh candidate, they say, would have helped generate enthusiasm in the otherwise demoralised rank and file.
Though only a few days are left for the election, the Congress is yet to organise a single meeting. Dr Jawali maintains that unlike in the past, he is giving more importance to door-to-door campaigning. ''We will hold only one public meeting which will be addressed by none other than Sonia Gandhi,'' he said.
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