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|February 19, 1998|
Victor and vanquished meet again in the battle of the Patils
The victor and vanquished of two poll battles are meeting again in this small constituency that shot into international fame after a devastating earthquake on September 30, 1993.
In the fray to retain the seat he has held since 1980 is Congressman and former Lok Sabha speaker Shivraj Patil. For the third time, his main adversary is Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Dr Gopalrao Patil, a Rajya Sabha MP.
Latur goes to the polls on February 22.
Although there are 10 candidates in the fight, the main tussle is between the Congress and the BJP. The Congress has the support of the Republican Party of India and the Samajwadi Party, while the BJP is backed by the Shiv Sena.
The voting is mostly along caste lines. In every election the Lingayat community, numbering over 200,000, have contributed significantly to Shivraj Patil's success; he belongs to that community. The equal number of Maratha voters are divided on party lines -- they tilt towards the Congress.
Sonia Gandhi's visit to the area last week, says Shivraj Patil, boosted the Congress campaign. It has, he believes, infused new vigour into the party's campaign and won over voters who were against the Congress.
Equally confident of victory is Dr Gopalrao Patil. The Shiv Sena, which did not co-operate with the BJP in 1996, is now working for his success. He would also get, he claimed, the majority of Maratha and Muslim votes in the constituency, which has a 1.06-million electorate.
The constituency is divided into seven assembly segments. The BJP, Congress and Janata Dal hold two seats each while the Shiv Sena has one.
In the last Lok Sabha poll there were 26 contenders including 22 Independents and three MPs. While Patil-Chakurkar secured 279,775 votes, Dr Gopalrao got 200,403 votes. Bapu Kaldate, the Janata Dal candidate, polled 138,725 votes.
An interesting candidate in the fray is Vijay Kondekar, an Independent. He had contested for the office of President and also the last assembly poll, but was defeated.
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