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K'taka poll: In Puttur, caste lines to decide vote factor

By Vicky Nanjappa
April 29, 2013 14:34 IST
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In Puttur, former Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Shakunthala Shetty, now with the Congress, is all set to take on the party which "betrayed her". Vicky Nanjappa reports

Puttur is a sleepy town situated around 100 km away from Mangalore. However, with the elections only a week away it is a hotbed of political activity.

It is the home constituency of former Karnataka chief minister D V Sadananda Gowda. A win here would provide a huge boost to the Bharatiya Janata Party and to Gowda himself. However, it’s going to be no cakewalk. Pitted against the BJP, is its former MLA T Shakuntala Shetty, who is now with the Congress. She quit the BJP in 2008 when the party decided to field Malika Prasad, then its new face.     

Shakuntala was clearly upset, as she had won the previous term convincingly. She had then contested as an Independent but lost to Prasad.   

Shakuntala has gained a lot of sympathy in Puttur after she spoke to the public about BJP’s betrayal. Moreover, she enjoys the support of Ram Bhat, a former Puttur MLA, who had won on a BJP ticket in 1978 and 1985.     

In 2008, the BJP made a point -- that it would not lose in Puttur and could field any candidate here. However, the Congress says that today the trend has changed and it can defeat the ruling party hands down.

Interestingly, there is a tie between the Congress and the BJP in Puttur. Both the parties have won the elections six times since the constituency was formed in 1957.

The first few elections were won by the Congress, but in 1978 the BJP emerged.

Since the year 1994, Puttur has remained with the BJP and Gowda has won from the constituency twice as an MLA before he went on to contest as an MP.  In 2004, Shakuntala Shetty won with the support of Ram Bhat of the BJP and in 2008 Prasad emerged victorious.

There are five other parties, which have floated candidates from Puttur. But, the real contest is between the Congress and the BJP.

Gowda has handpicked Sanjeev Matandoor as BJP’s candidate in Puttur. For Shakuntala Shetty, it’s a fight for her pride.  The BJP would like to continue its winning streak while the Congress would look to avenge the 2008 betrayal of its candidate.

The campaigns by the two leaders are extremely fierce. Shakuntala Shetty has said that the BJP is filled with kissers, dancers and porn viewers. The BJP on the other hand attacked her by calling her a party hopper. The BJP accuses her of running a revenge campaign.

The BJP says that Shakuntala Shetty was assured of a ticket this year. But she still decided to join the Congress. This will hit her image. The last time she won 25,000 votes only because of sympathy, but by joining the Congress she has lost that factor, feels the BJP.
The Congress would however be looking to capitalise on the anti-incumbency factor and also the sympathy for Shakuntala Shetty. Moreover, the Congress is also banking heavily on the Bunt and minority vote banks.

Caste will play a major factor in Puttur, which is dominated by Brahmins. After the Brahmins come the minorities and then the Vokkaligas and the Bunts. As of now, it appears that the Brahmins will vote in favour of the BJP. Even the Vokkaligas will follow suit considering that the candidate is backed by Gowda, a Vokkaliga himself. The problem that the BJP may face is from the Bunt vote bank, which is tilting towards the Congress due to its candidate who is also from the same community. The minority votes would go in favour of the Congress.

All these factors put together makes it an interesting battle to watch out for.

Image: T Shakuntala Shetty

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