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|February 16, 1998|
Belgaum has nil independent candidates!
Sandesh Prabhudesai in Belgaum
The Belgaum parliamentary constituency, where polling had to be postponed by a month in 1996 due to a record number of independent candidates, 452, has none this time!
Last time, the huge number of Independents were part of a political strategy. Planned by the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, which has been fighting since 1956 to get the Marathi-speaking border area merged with Maharashtra, it aimed at attracting the attention of the whole nation to the controversy. Over 400 activists had entered the fray. All of them lost deposits, but polled around 25 per cent votes, upsetting political calculations as also the Election Commission, which had to print extra-long ballot papers to accommodate them.
It is another strategy this time, to spoil the chances of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The MES is contesting from Belgaum while boycotting the BJP in Kanara constituency, especially in the Marathi-speaking Khanapur assembly segment.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra's BJP-Shiv Sena government has made a special mention to resolve the border dispute in its election manifesto. However, Kiran Thakur, the MES secretary and editor of Tarun Bharat, the newspaper championing the cause, is contesting from Rajapur constituency in Maharashtra's Konkan region.
B H Patil, the Uchagaon MLA, is contesting from Belgaum despite knowing that the MES cannot win the seat. Of the eight assembly segments, Marathi-speaking people dominate only Belgaum, Uchagaon and parts of Bagewadi.
History has proved that even the Marathi-speaking people vote for other parties during Lok Sabha elections. In 1980 and 1989, the MES could poll only 76,000 and 100,000-odd votes respectively. Patil's claim, therefore, that the MES would voice the border issue in the Lok Sabha does not hold water. In fact, even its election campaign is limited to only Belgaum city, Uchagaon and Bagewadi, where it held padyatras, cycle rally, two-wheeler rally and a car rally.
All the local Marathi dailies support the MES. But the Marathi people think differently. With the MES contesting every election and losing, more people are drifting towards other parties.
Obviously, the popular choice in Belgaum is the BJP. "Why waste our votes by becoming over-sentimental on the issue?" asks K Patil, a businessman, who judiciously votes for the MES in assembly and corporation elections.
"The MES leaders have struck a monetary deal with the Congress, to split the BJP votes," alleges Anant Kulkarni, who heads the BJP media cell. Upset over the MES's political game, residents of Yellur have prohibited Samiti activists from entering the town, he claims.
Daulat Mutkekar, a wellknown city lawyer, has sought a public explanation from the MES leaders about what conspired between them and Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel when they met him in Bangalore recently.
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