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|August 23, 1999||
Sonia has the advantage in Ballery, but only slight
C N R Vijayakumar in Bellary
Congress president Sonia Gandhi seems to have a slight advantage in this predominantly rural Lok Sabha constituency, which will witness the country's most fiercely fought battle in the forthcoming elections.
Sonia, entering the poll fray for the first time, cannot rest on the past glory of the Congress, (Congress has won all the 12 elections from this constituency since Independence) even though she has done well to choose the "safest" constituency in South India. She is locked in a keen tussle with former Union minister Sushma Swaraj of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a tough challenger who has already made this election a political mission.
The BJP has already labeled this a 'videshi vs swadeshi' contest and with all non-Congress-I parties pooling in their resources, Sonia will have a tough task ahead of her. Though the BJP does not have any significant presence in Bellary, the tie up with the Janata Dal (united) will come in handy.
However, it is still early days for any kind of trend to emerge. A quick visit to the constituency as various parties hit the campaign trail indicated there was very little awareness among people about the elections. However, in several places, there was a gleam in the eyes of women when they said: "Indiramma sose bandiddare, namma ooralli nintiddare" (Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law has come, she is contesting from our constituency).
Swaraj, however, dismissed the claim that Bellary was a safe Congress seat. She said all these years the Congress encashed on the divided votes of the opposition, but this time the opposition votes would be consolidated. She claimed that in the 1998 election the victorious Congress candidate, K C Kondaiah, could poll only 38 per cent votes, while the combined votes of the Lok Shakti and the Janata Dal candidates were over 56 per cent.
Swaraj, who will be launching a full-scale campaign from tomorrow, has set aside one day each for the eight assembly segments.
A major disadvantage for her is that she is virtually unknown in the constituency. But she was confident of overcoming this by travelling extensively in the constituency.
Unlike Swaraj, Sonia would only make a short visit to the constituency. K C Kondaiah, who gave up his claim on the seat for Sonia, is in charge of her campaign. But party sources indicated that some party leaders from Delhi might soon arrive here to supervise and direct the campaign. Sonia is expected to tour only four assembly segments of Sandur, Hadagali, Harapanahalli and Kudligi on August 26 and would remain in the constituency for half a day on September 3, the last day for campaigning.
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