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September 8, 1999


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The Rediff Election Special/ George Iype in Shimoga

'We've seen Congress and JD chief ministers. They've been horrible characters'

A five-hour drive from Chikmagalur through arecanut and coconut fields, coffee and cocoa estates reaches you to Shimoga, arguably the second hottest seat in Karnataka after Bellary.

There is no saffron or Congress wave visible on the way. Farmers who toil all day long are not excited about the election. There are few posters on the road to Shimoga.

But once you are in Shimoga, a sudden "Yediyurappa wave" hits you. The man who could be the first BJP chief minister of Karnataka is everywhere. B S Yediyurappa waves, smiles and shakes hands with the villagers in posters pasted across Shimoga till you reach his assembly constituency, Shikaripur.

Yediyurappa is not the only stalwart who is trying his luck in Shimoga. Political veterans are in the fray in the Shimoga Lok Sabha constituency and its eight assembly seats. Routed in the 1998 parliamentary poll by BJP candidate Ayanur Manjunath, former chief minister S Bangarappa is testing his fate once again in Shimoga. But this time, Bangarappa is not leading his Karnataka Vikas Party, but is a very much back in the Congress.

In 1998, the BJP won the Shimoga seat for the first time with Manjunath polling 325,000 votes defeating D B Chandre Gowda of the Congress, who polled 192,000 votes.

Bangarappa came a miserable third with 187,000 votes. But his followers claim there is a wave in his favour throughout Shimoga. Bangarappa's actor-son Kumar is seeking re-election from the Sorab assembly constituency. Both father and son have been camping in Shimoga for days now.

Manjunath, for his part, is unfazed by the Congress veteran and his son. "Shimoga has been a Congress citadel for many years. But now it is a BJP bastion because the Congress has been treating the constituency like an untouchable," the BJP candidate says.

Every day, Manjunath takes a round of the villages in a motorcade decorated with the picture of the 'Man Who Will Redefine India'. "Vajpayeeji is the only Indian who can lead the country in war and peace. He has won the Kargil war with Pakistan," the posters proclaim.

But the Kargil message has not percolated to the masses. A group of small-time coffee growers have come down to meet Manjunath with a complaint. Rains and bad weather have played havoc with their coffee and cocoa plants in the last two months. They now want the government to issue loans at reduced interest rate to go in for a fresh cultivation.

The coffee growers have submitted a similar memorandum to Bangarappa as well. "But we are sure Yediyurappa will be the chief minister now. So we have more faith in the BJP than in the Congress," says Srinivasa Hegde, the leader of the group.

Chief Minister J H Patel whose Channagiri assembly constituency falls in the nearby Davanagere district is a forgotten entity in Shimoga.

For the chief minister-in-waiting Yediyurappa, it is going to be a cakewalk in Shikaripur as there are no formidable rivals in the fray. Yediyurappa has won from here four times in a row.

BJP leaders predict the Shikaripur residents will vote only for Yediyurappa, irrespective of the parties they belong to. "Everyone here wants him to be the chief minister. So even Congress workers are getting ready to vote him to power," claims local BJP leader Dharam Singh.

Many Shikaripur residents have, on the wall of their home, the pictures of the two candidates who will guide the destiny of India and Karnataka: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and chief minister-candidate Yediyurappa.

Why do you want Yediyurappa to become chief minister? "Because the BJP should also get a chance to rule Karnataka. We have seen Congress and Janata Dal chief ministers. They have been horrible characters," says V N Nagaraj, a Janata Dal activist turned BJP supporter.

"We have decided to vote for Yediyurappa because every month he lives here in Shikaripur for at least five to 10 days," another resident adds.

Yediyurappa is not the lonely BJP heavyweight in Shimoga. Another BJP veteran, K S Eshwarappa too is seeking re-election. If the BJP alliance in Karnataka wins, many believe Eshwarappa will be the second powerful man in the government.

People across the district seem ecstatic because troupes of political veterans have descended to seek their wellbeing and to plead for votes. But they are confused too. In Shimoga, it is not the caste factor but the innumerable number of rebels that have compounded the confusion. The educationally and economically forward Lingayats dominate the constituency. The Lingayats, Vokkaligas and Brahmins support the BJP while the Congress is banking on the Muslims, Idigas, Adi Karnatakas, Bhovs and other scheduled castes.

For the assembly poll, the problem of rebels has not spared any major party -- the BJP, Congress and Janata Dal United have all been affected by it. Of the eight assembly constituencies, BJP rebel candidates are contesting in two -- C Maheshkumar and Chooda Naik in Bhadravati and Holehonnur seats respectively.

But with prominent rebels contesting as Independents in four constituencies -- Hosnahar, Sagar, Shimoga and Shikaripur -- the rebel trouble has hit the Congress the most. Local leaders say the problem stemmed from Bangarappa's re-entry to the Congress after his disastrous show in 1998. With no leader really in charge of the Karnataka Congress Committee, Bangarappa managed to get six of his supporters nominated in various constituencies in Shimoga.

Thus, in four of the eight assembly segments, the Congress is doomed as B Swamyrao, Y H Nagaraj, Nagarada Mahadevappa and K Arun Prasad are campaigning in style to defeat the official party candidates.

The Rediff Election Specials

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