Congress battles a BJP novice in Bellary

April 20th, 2009 - 10:47 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Fakir Balaji
Bellary (Karnataka), April 20 (IANS) It’s an electoral battle between two unequals. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dared the Congress by fielding a political novice this time from the prestigious Bellary Lok Sabha constituency - once a Congress stronghold.

With the rich iron ore mining district in north Karnataka, about 300 km from Bangalore, becoming a reserved constituency for Scheduled Tribals (ST), the Congress has fielded N.Y. Hanumanthappa, its sitting MP from adjacent Chitradurga seat, to take on B. Shanta, the BJP’s only woman candidate in the state.

Making her political debut, the 36-year-old housewife and younger sister of state Health Minister B. Sriramulu, hopes to win the seat that was wrested from the Congress by the BJP’s G. Karunakara Reddy in the 2004 general elections.

Karunakara Reddy, elder of the three powerful Reddy brothers of Bellary who dominate the multi-billion rupee mining business, resigned from the Lok Sabha after winning from the Harpanahalli segment in the May 2008 assembly elections to become revenue minister in the first BJP government in Karnataka.

The middle brother, G. Janardhan Reddy is the tourism & infrastructure development minister in the B.S. Yeddyurappa government, while the third brother G. Somashekar Reddy won the Bellary assembly segment in the 2008 elections.

Still a backward district, dusty Bellary shot into national limelight in the 1999 snap polls when Congress president Sonia Gandhi contested for the first time and won, defeating BJP’s Sushma Swaraj.

But Gandhi’s decision to abandon the Bellary seat to retain the Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh, from where also she won with a thumping majority, had been a turning point with the Congress losing ground in its traditional bastion due to her “betrayal”.

“The Congress failed to recover since then as evident from the outcome of the 2004 elections when the BJP wrested the Lok Sabha seat from it and went on to win seven of the eight assembly segments in the 2008 assembly elections,” said S. Shankarappa, a political observer and a resident of Bellary for over four decades.

The BJP further consolidated its hold in the region by winning majorities in the district’s local and urban bodies.

Hanumanthappa, 70, who retired as Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court in 2004, exudes confidence of his victory, contending voters are fed up with the “money power and muscle power” brazenly displayed by the BJP and the Reddy brothers, who are funding Shanta’s election campaign.

“I don’t want to comment on my rival who is younger to me by a generation and is a housewife. She is a proxy candidate of the Reddy brothers whose writ runs large in the district with money and muscle power,” Hanumanthappa told IANS, while canvassing on a hot day, with day temperatures hovering around 43 degrees Celsius.

Sriramulu, who heads Shanta’s poll campaign, justified her candidature. “The party and we are proud of Shanta for accepting the challenge though a greenhorn in politics. If Congress could field Sonia a decade ago, why not our sister who has been toiling in rural and interior areas to connect with the people as their sister, daughter or next-door woman,” he said.

With no Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) candidate in the fray, Bellary is set for a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP though there are seven other candidates, including from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Bellary goes to polls April 23.

Of the 1.32 million voters, about 700,000 are STs and Scheduled Castes (SCs), around 300,000 are Lingayats and 60,000 from minority communities, with the rest from other castes and communities.

Declared as a hyper sensitive constituency, Bellary has reported maximum number of poll violations and malpractices in the state ranging from distribution of liquor and money, misuse of official machinery, including vehicles and charges of intimidating voters.

Even as the BJP mounts a high voltage campaign with filmy songs, folk and tribal dances, fireworks and magic shows to attract voters, the Congress is concentrating on door-to-door canvassing and roadside meetings to win over the electorate back to its party fold.

(Fakir Balaji can be contacted at fakir.b@ians.in)

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