It’s do-or-die poll battle for party-hopper Bangarappa

April 29th, 2009 - 3:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Fakir Balaji
Shimoga (Karnataka), April 29 (IANS) It’s a moment of reckoning for former Karnataka chief minister and party-hopper S. Bangarappa, who returns to the Congress to contest Thursday for the sixth consecutive time from this high-profile Lok Sabha constituency.

Unlike in the past, the 77-year-old socialist is locked in a do-or-die battle against a young B.Y. Raghavendra of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), eldest son of state chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, and a greenhorn in politics.

With the third major political force in the state - the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) deciding to stay away, a straight contest between the two unequals has turned into a proxy battle between Bangarappa and Yeddyurappa for the control of the district politics since the BJP came to power for the first time after the May 2008 assembly elections.

Ironically, Bangarappa lost to Yeddyurappa in the assembly elections from the latter’s home turf Shikaripura segment, about 60 km from here, and where the 36-year-old Raghavendra is a civic councillor.

As an old war-horse of the Malnad region, Bangarappa is betting on his popularity and goodwill to retain the seat that he had won four times since 1996 and lost once in 1998 despite switching over from the Congress to the BJP in 2004, to the Samajwadi Party in 2005 and back to the Congress in 2009.

“The people of this constituency have been electing me despite shifting parties and contesting on different symbols as they trust me for the services rendered over the years. My silly defeat in Shikaripura has no bearing on parliamentary elections, as the issues are different and stakes are high,” an unfazed Bangarappa told IANS while on the campaign trail.

Though Bangarappa held sway over Shimoga - about 280 km from Bangalore - for four decades having won seven times in assembly elections since 1967 from his home constituency Soraba, about 80 km from here, and four times in parliamentary polls, the emergence of the BJP with Yeddyurappa as head of the state have changed equations in the politically volatile region.

While the shy Raghavendra is no match to the seasoned Bangarappa, the election has turned into an epic battle, as the outcome would have an impact on his political fortunes as much as on Yeddyurappa, who has staked his reputation by getting his prodigal son fielded despite rumblings over heralding dynastic politics by the party that professes to be “different” from the grand-old Congress.

“As I contested from the BJP in 2004 elections to solely defeat the Congress for the reasons I had then, I want to treat the BJP the same way this time for betraying the people, with an inept and corrupt government the state ever had over the last five decades,” Bangarappa fumed when asked about his prospects at the hustings.

If Bangarappa got away with a hat-trick of wins since 1999, the rising dominance of the BJP in the district after winning five of the seven assembly segments in the 2008 assembly polls has weakened the Congress to an extent that the veteran is suddenly finding the going tough, with dejected leaders and demoralised cadres unable to match the mighty BJP with an army of party workers and supporters invading the constituency for ensuring Raghavendra’s victory.

Banking on his age, image and modest beginnings in the humdrum of local politics first as an ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) activist in his college days, management graduate Raghavendra feels as a young MP, he would be able to do a lot for the socio-economic development of the district, with the ‘clout’ he would have with the state government from the chief minister’s district.

“In view of my good work in Shikaripura as a councillor and my involvement with development works, I have been given an opportunity to turn Shimoga into a model district. Being young and committed, I would like to make a difference if elected,” Raghavendra told IANS.

If chemistry is in favour of Bangarappa, as evident from the people’s resentment against the ruling BJP over rising prices, shortages and empty promises, the electoral arithmetic seems to be tilting towards Raghavendra, thanks to the polarisation of the 1.44-million electorate on caste and community lines.

Of the total electorate, Other Backward Castes (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs), and Scheduled Tribes (STs) constitute 35 percent with 500,000 voters, while Idigas, the caste Bangarappa belongs to, are 200,000, Lingayatas, the caste Raghavendra hails from, are 196,000, minorities, including Muslims and Christians 175,000, and Brahmins and Vokkaligas are about 110,000 each.

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