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February 21, 2000
The 'Telugu' seat in Orissa
M I Khan in Berhampur, Orissa
This is one seat outside Andhra Pradesh where the Telugu-speaking community can decide who wins the elections.
And keeping this in mind the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Biju Janata Dal alliance have called upon Telugu Desam Party supremo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu to woo over the Telugu voters, who constitute more than 40 per cent of the votes in Berhampur city.
There are also a few adjoining assembly constituencies, like Chatrapur, Gopalpur and Chikiti, where the presence of a large number of Telugu-speaking voters can affect the outcome.
Naidu campaigned vigorously in Berhampur district bordering Andhra Pradesh and the Congress could come up with no leader of similar stature to speak up for them.
Naidu spoke in Telugu at several public meeting here during his two-day visit to the state to campaign for the BJP-BJD alliance. He made a bigger impression when he tried to speak at least a few sentences in Oriya. He said that Oriya was a sweet language and he would try to learn it.
BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik, who was unable to deliver his speech in Oriya barring two or three sentences, said Naidu had been Orissa's saviour during the cyclone last year, called Naidu the 'hero of the cyclone'. That went down well with the Telugu-speaking voters, who applauded him lustily every time he mentioned the aid the TDP supremo gave the state.
"We have no option but support the BJD/BJP alliance as our leader told us" says Gobind Rao of Chamakhandi who was one among the thousands Telugus here who have been shifted loyalties from the Congress.
Naidu's left his mark everywhere from Berhampur town and the nearby villages to Chatrapur and Gopalpur near the sea.
A group of Telugu speaking women in Chatrapur told rediff.com that since Naidu symbolised the Telugu community, they were happy to support the candidate for whom he campaigned.
The fight here was directly between BJD's candidate Ramesh Chandra Patnaik and the Congress nominee, Bikram Panda. The rebel Congress leader, Chandrasekhar Sahu, is likely to cut into the Congress votes and cause further discomfort to the official party candidate.
The presence of a Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate could also cut into the votes of both contenders since this was once a communist bastion in Orissa.
In neighbouring Chatrapur assembly seat, the fight is directly between the BJP 's Ramchandra Panda and Communist Party of India rebel candidate N Nararan Reddy. Here Panda has the edge. Chatrapur has the largest number of Telugu voters after Berhampur.
Similarly, in the Gopalpur assembly seat, the fight is mainly between BJD candidate Ram Chandrasethi and Dr Trinath Behera of the Congress.
Till a few years ago the Telugu-speaking voters in Berhampur and the adjoining assembly constituencies stayed with the Congress. In 1996, then Chief Minister J B Patnaik invited former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Berhampur Lok Sabha constituency. Patnaik was relying on him to pull in the Telugu votes. And Rao did.
In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, Patnaik got Rao to campaign for his wife, Jayanti Patnaik, who was contesting elections as a Congress candidate. She too won. But the Congress has beginning to erode now and that is believed to be why the Congress candidate lost in the last Lok Sabha elections in 1999. For the first time since 1952.
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