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|February 16, 1998|
Shankaranand may still pull off a surpriseSandesh Prabhudesai in Chikkodi
More than the dilemma of a hung Parliament, it is the shadow of a change of rule in the Karnataka Vidhana Soudha that looms over the Chikkodi constituency, reserved for scheduled castes.
Nine candidates, including five Independents, are in the contest, but everyone knows it is a straight fight between former Union minister B Shankaranand (Congress) and Ramesh Jigajinagi (Lok Shakti), a former state minister who recently quit the J H Patel ministry to join hands with Ramkrishna Hegde.
After biting the dust last time after nine successive victories since 1967, Shankaranand is now making a determined effort to stage a comeback. The non-performance of Janata Dal MP Ratnamala Savanur, who was rewarded with a ministerial berth for 'killing a tiger', is his strength today.
The JD leadership has denied a ticket to Savanur, and its new candidate, former MLA Shakuntala Chougule, is considered a nonentity. The real threat to Shankaranand is Jigajinagi, who enjoys remarkable clout in the constituency.
"I am trying my best to retain the margin Savanur achieved the last time," says Jigajinagi. Shankaranand had polled 33 per cent votes in 1996.
While the nation blames the Congress and Sitaram Kesri for imposing an election within a span of 18 months, it has come as a blessing in disguise for Shankaranand. Flexing his muscles, he managed to get a ticket and has stepped into the poll arena in full strength.
"Around 150,000 Muslims in my constituency chose to vote for the JD. They have realised their mistake now, so my victory is sure," he claims.
But people have still not forgotten his 'non-achievements' of the last 29 years, on which both the Lok Shakti-BJP combine and the JD hope to cash in on.
"It ('the non-achievements') is totally false. Show me one district in the country, having four big sugar co-operatives. I brought it," says Shankaranand.
The constituency is today ruled by the Janata Dal, which has six of the eight assembly segments with it. The Congress has the rest.
"The JD has lost its credibility," feels Shankaranand.
Sharing his view is Jigajinagi, who claims that frustrated JD cadres have joined the Lok Shakti. Confident that the J H Patel government will fall in Karnataka after the election, he hopes to get a berth in the central Cabinet, if a BJP-led government comes to power.
S G Charantimath, the JD general secretary of Belgaum district, refutes all these claims, stating that the Lok Shakti is a big zero, having no base but only the wave.
"Jigajinagi is a good man, but being an MLA from Bijapur, people consider him an outsider", he says.
While recalling his work as a minister of the Belgaum district in the past, Jigajinagi claims it is not the JD but the Hegde base that exists in the district. His aides also claim that some of the JD MLAs are secretly canvassing votes for the Lok Shakti.
Hegde, on the other hand, has appealed to the JD supporters to consider it as 'a war between Pandavas and Kauravas', 'to protect Dharma'.
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