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September 14, 1999


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Upendra seeks a hat-trick in AP's most politically conscious city

S Murali in Vijayawada

The electorate of this politically conscious constituency, which rarely returns the sitting candidate to the Lok Sabha for a second successive term, will decide on September 18 whether P Upendra of the Congress is good enough for a third time.

The former information and broadcasting minister had broken a 27-year-old jinx in the last election by winning the Vijayawada parliamentary seat second time in a row.

If, in a keen contest with the Telugu Desam Party's Gadde Rammohan Rao and K Nageswara Rao of the Communist Party of India, Upendra makes it this time he will equal the record of former Union minister and irrigation expert K L Rao. Rao is the only candidate to pull off a hat trick from here having won this seat in 1962, 1967 (unopposed) and 1971.

Political equations have however changed in Andhra Pradesh with the TDP aligning itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party which fought the previous elections along with the NTR TDP(Lakshmi Parvathi).

The Communist parties, which control the civic body here, have broken their longstanding ties with the TDP after it supported the Vajpayee government. Nageswara Rao of the CPI is likely to wean away a part of the 374,000 votes the TDP got in the 1998 election.

The TDP's alliance with the BJP, which polled more than one hundred thousand votes last time, will definitely boost its prospects since the Congress had won the seat by a margin of only 30,000 votes in 1998 as against the lead of 114,000 votes it secured in 1996.

Upendra, who gave Vijayawada a television station, a better airport and brought new trains to the area has a good personal image among the people.

In his election rallies Upendra is also taking up the national issues, particularly the stability and the secularism planks of the Congress. He emphasises that the people now realise that his party alone can fulfil their aspirations, as the non-Congress governments since 1977 have failed to deliver the goods, forcing unnecessary mid-term elections on the country. Moreover, the minorities were feeling insecure and the economy was in bad shape and "sooner the BJP goes it is better for the people," he reminds his voters.

The TDP nominee Rammohan Rao, who is a sitting legislator, enjoys a special place in the Gannavaram assembly constituency from where he successfully contested as an Independent in the 1994 election when he was denied a ticket by the TDP.

He is no match for Upendra as far as political experience and exposure is concerned. The TDP candidate, who is mainly concentrating on the villages in the five assembly segments, said he was building his campaign on the welfare schemes launched by the Chandrababu Naidu government.

Rao, a prawn feed manufacturer, has also pledged to work for the industrial development of the constituency by getting more industrial estates to be set up on the city's outskirts and in the small towns.

Another promise he makes to his electorate is to strive to speed up the ongoing irrigation projects in the area and to get more projects granted for the benefit of farmers of the upland areas of Krishna district. Flyovers would be constructed in Vijayawada city along the lines of those in Hyderabad to ease traffic congestion and satellite towns would be developed to overcome the housing problem, he says.

CPI candidate K Nageswar Rao also promises to fight for the implementation of the Pulichantala and other irrigation projects besides getting clearance for the long pending Philips colour television picture tube unit at Ibrahimpatnam.

The NTR TDP (LP), which has fielded Sudhakar Reddi Lakki Reddi, seems to have won over the Madigas, a section of the Scheduled Castes, who were earlier associated with the TDP. The Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi has declared its support to Reddi.

On the other hand, the Congress enjoys the support of the Mala Mahanadu, an organisation of the Malas, another Scheduled Caste.

In all, the SCs account for more than 20 per cent of the electorate in the constituency.

Simultaneous assembly elections has complicated the scenario. Upendra is likely to fare well in Kankipadu assembly segment, the pocket borough of Congress strongman Deveneni Rajasekhar popularly known as Nehru. He also stands to gain in the Tiruvuru assembly segment where the party has fielded former deputy chief minister K Ranga Rao.

In the Mylavaram segment also, Upendra is likely to have some advantage since sitting TDP legislator J Ramesh is contesting as an Independent, revolting against his party after he was denied a ticket.

In Vijayawada (East), the Congress decision to field Illapuram Venkaiah of the backward classes who constitute more than 20 per cent of the electorate, will boost Upendra's prospects.

However, the party's failure to field a member of the Brahmin community, which accounts for about 70,000 voters in the segment and traditionally supports the Congress, may harm its interests.

Brahmin Mahasabha president and city Congress vice president Kota Shankar Sharma has resigned from the post and the party. State Mahila Congress vice-president K Venkatalakshmi, who also hails from the community, resigned after she was denied ticket for the assembly seat.

In Vijayawada (West), the allocation of the party ticket to Jameel Khan has angered the supporters of former minister M K Beig. The supporters of district Congress leader Kanchi Rama Rao, who was assured the ticket for the Vijayawada (east) seat, are upset over its denial to him.

In 1952 when the whole country went the Congress way, Vijayawada sent Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, an Independent-supported by the CPI, to the Lok Sabha. But the Congress wrested the seat in the 1957 election and from then it was a Congress citadel till 1984 despite the Janata wave of 1977.

After the floating of the TDP by NTR, it bagged the seat with Sobhanadreswara Rao trouncing the Congress's Chennupati Vidya who reversed the result in the next elections.

However, Sobhanadreswara Rao won the seat back in 1991. He was defeated by Upendra in 1996.



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