Manmohan, Sonia, Rahul to campaign in Karnataka

April 29th, 2008 - 9:28 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Bangalore, April 29 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi will extensively tour Karnataka to campaign for the party in the three-phase elections to the assembly beginning May 10. “The dates for the visits of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and the prime minister are being worked out,” Prithviraj Chavan, Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka party affairs, told reporters here Tuesday.

The three leaders will be the star campaigners for the party, which is making a bid to recapture power it lost in the 2004 assembly polls. The party is facing a determined attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to come to power on its own in Karnataka.

State Congress leaders, led by former chief minister S.M. Krishna and state party chief Mallikharjun Kharge, have already begun canvassing in 89 constituencies that will go to polls May 10. The second phase polling for 66 seats is slated for May 16, and for the remaining 69 on May 22. Counting is due May 25.

The BJP has already brought in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed public meetings in the party’s stronghold of coastal Karnataka Sunday. However, the turnout was less than expected, possibly due to oppressive heat.

Another high-profile BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj, campaigned in Mysore during the weekend. Both Modi and Swaraj are expected to tour other parts of the state in the coming days.

Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani and party president Rajnath Singh will also campaign later.

The Congress and the BJP are the main contenders for power and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), led by former prime minsiter H.D. Deve Gowda, is the third player. With little hope of JD-S emerging even as the single largest party, Deve Gowda is already talking of a fractured verdict like in 2004 - and sees himself playing a decisive role in forming the government like he did four years back.

In 2004, the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 79 of the 224 assembly seats, the Congress winning 65 and JD-S 59. To keep the BJP away, the Congress and the JD-S formed a coalition which, however, was brought down by Deve Gowda’s son H.D. Kumaraswamy in February 2006 when he walked out with over 45 JD-S legislators to align with the BJP to form a government with himself as chief minister.

Deve Gowda did not allow his son to transfer the chief ministership to the BJP in October-November 2007 despite the two parties’ 2006 accord, and the coalition fell through bringing the president’s rule and assembly dissolution in its wake.

All the three parties are facing dissidence over ticket distribution but are confident of overcoming the challenge posed by rebel candidates in the fray cutting into votes of official nominees.

Chavan warned party rebels of stringent action. “All those rebels who fail to withdraw from the fray will be dealt with sternly,” he said.

The BJP and JD-S too have issued similar warnings.

Though fighting each other, the Congress and JD-S are also working in tandem to defeat BJP’s chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yediyurappa in his home constituency of Shikaripura in Shimoga district, about 290 km from Bangalore.

Former Karnataka chief minister and now state Samajwadi Party state unit chief S. Bangarappa is taking on Yediyurappa in Shikaripura which votes May 16. The JD-S had decided not to field its candidate while the Congress has nominated a novice.

Bangarappa had left the Congress to join BJP and won the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat on its ticket in 2004. However, he quit BJP to set up the Karnataka unit of the Samajwadi Party.

Though his health is failing, Bangarappa, 70, is still a force in Shimoga district whose politics he has dominated for over four decades now. He is expected to give a tough fight to Yediyurappa.

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