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February 10, 1998


BJP, Congress battle for Bangarappa's home ground

He has a string of electoral victories behind him, lasting all of three decades. But S Bangarappa may not find the going easy this time in his native Shimoga, a pocket borough in Karnataka.

The former chief minister, who floated a new political outfit, the Karnataka Vikas Party sometime ago, recently failed to make an election adjustment with the ruling Janata Dal and is working hard to keep a number of pretenders away from the throne.

For all practical purposes, it will, however, be a four-corner contest between Bangarappa, Aynur Manjunath (BJP), former assembly speaker D B Chandre Gowda (Congress) and B P Shivakumar (JD). All assiduously wooing an electorate of 1.1 million, 544,616 of them women.

Bangarappa who walked out of the Congress thrice in the last two decades had won the seat in 1996 as a candidate of the splinter group, the Karnataka Congress Party, which he had later merged back with the Congress.

Bangarappa, who lost the elections just one, in 1994, now has other problems.

"Many confidants have deserted him and there aren't enough working for him," said a political observer. Bangarappa hasn't helped his own reputation by quitting and joining parties whenever the whim struck him. The electorate was beginning to feel that, for Bangarappa, personal interests took precedence over the problems of the people.

Voters in the area were reluctant to discuss their choice. But they did agree that the main fight was between Manjunath and Chandre Gowda with Bangarappa and Shivakumar battling for third place. Most candidates have been depending on caste combinations for the victory and the youth appear to looking for a change.

Manjunath, who lost to Bangarappa in 1996, hit the campaign trail well ahead of the others. Party president L K Advani kicked of the party campaign from Shimoga, much before the last day of the nominations.

"We are not taking chances and we are visiting almost all the villages in the constituency. Even Muslim youth are campaigning with us", one of the party leaders said.

He pointed out that the Congress was their main rival and that the Janata Dal was in a bad spot since its candidate, Shivakumar, was a reluctant candidate.

The BJP was also in an upbeat mood after the surprise victory of their candidate in the elections to the legislative council from the local authorities constituency. Shimoga is the home district of Chief Minister J H Patel.

The Congress is hoping that the Sonia factor will tilt the balance in its favour and that of its candidate, Chandre Gowda, who revived Indira Gandhi's political career by vacating the Chikmagalur seat in her favour in 1978. The morale was very high and Chandre Gowda's positive image definitely boosted the chances for the party, which had failed to get back its deposit in the last election despite the constituency returning the congress 9 times out of 11.

A senior Janata Dal minister said the party's first aim was to win. "Even if we don't succeed, we'd like to see the BJP defeated." As part of the effort the party had teamed up with Bangarappa, but the workers felt the solution, however temporary, was far worse than the problem.

"We will fight to finish and not make compromises since it will be difficult for us later," a senior party official actively involved in Shivkumar's campaign said.

But in this low-profile campaign, Bangarappa beats the pack in loud display. A number of his cutouts and banners are on display throughout the constituency, comprising the assembly constituencies of Bhadravathi, Holehonnur, Hosanagar, Sagar, Shikaripur, Shimoga, Sorab and Thirthahalli.

Of the eight constituencies, the BJP had won four and the remaining were shared by the Congress and the Janata Dal.

This time, most political parties have been harping on national issues and the stability plank, with local problems taking a back seat.

With the Election Commission keeping a strict watch on expenditure, most parties had been trying to woo voters through public meetings. Autorickshaws lurch around the countryside, urging voters to cast their ballots in the favour of one candidate or the other. And now that elections are just days away, these parties have begun a door-to-door campaign in a last-ditch effort to draw voters over to their side.

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