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Bangarappa joins BJP

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 4. The former Chief Minister of Karnataka and senior Congress leader, S. Bangarappa, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today. He said his decision to switch parties was not motivated by any desire to contest the coming polls in the State but to "serve national interests."

However, a senior BJP leader from Karnataka later said Mr. Bangarappa had expressed a wish to contest the Lok Sabha polls from his constituency, Shimoga, and the party had acceded to this. He said Mr. Bangarappa would not contest the Assembly polls and not be in the reckoning for the Chief Minister's post in the event of the BJP winning the Assembly elections.

In the morning, Mr. Bangarappa met the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu. He then met the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, along with Mr. Naidu and the Karnataka BJP president, H.N. Ananth Kumar.

Mr. Naidu enrolled him in the party in the presence of the Law Minister, Arun Jaitley, Mr. Kumar, and other BJP leaders from Karnataka.

Mr. Kumar said the BJP believed that Mr. Bangarappa was in a position to "influence" the poll outcome in three Lok Sabha seats — Shimoga, Udupi, and Kanara — won by the Congress in 1999. Besides, the backward caste factor (Mr. Bangarappa belongs to the Idiga community) would also influence the results in some 25 to 30 Assembly segments, he added.

When asked about his preference, Mr. Kumar said he would prefer to contest the Lok Sabha elections. But the final decision would be that of the party. However, he added that just as in the Chattisgarh Assembly elections, the BJP would not project a chief ministerial candidate for Karnataka as part of its electoral strategy.

Mr. Naidu said the corruption charges against Mr. Bangarappa was not an issue as "the courts have acquitted him of all the charges." He said there would be no internal squabble in the party for the chief minister's post as "my party men have only one aspiration: to see the BJP in power in Karnataka... to see the first BJP government in South India."

Mr. Bangarappa's statement was along expected lines. He said that for the past five years, he had witnessed stability at the Centre and an able leader at the helm. The country had forged ahead on the economic front, on the domestic front, and foreign affairs. The BJP had done well on countering terrorism.

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