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Straight fight between Congress and BJP

By Pramod Mellegatti

SHIMOGA, MARCH 21. The performance of the Congress has not been steady in the last five elections to the eight Assembly segments in the Shimoga Lok Sabha constituency. While it fared poorly in the elections held in 1983, 1985 and 1994 winning one seat, three seats and one seat, respectively, its performance was quite good in 1989 and 1999 when it won five and six seats, respectively. But the Congress does not seem to be in a position to repeat its 1999 performance this time around because the BJP has become a force to reckon with.

The Congress is finding it difficult to choose candidates to contest the Assembly elections. The party is in a comfortable position only in Sagar from where the Health and Family Welfare Minister, Kagodu Thimmappa, is seeking re-election for the fourth time.

Sagar Assembly constituency, where Jog Falls is situated, is known for its exquisite sandalwood carving tradition. It came into prominence in the wake of the Kagodu Satyagraha, the first agrarian movement after independence, launched in the early Fifties, seeking land ownership for poor tenants. This led to the birth of the socialist movement in Karnataka.

The constituency is set for a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP as was the case in the last three elections. The backward Idiga community, to which the former Chief Minister, S. Bangarappa, who recently joined the BJP, and Mr. Thimmappa belong, has a considerable presence and is capable of tilting the balance.

Mr. Thimmappa defeated Mr. Bangarappa by a margin of 12,000 votes in the 1994 elections when the latter contested as a Karnataka Congress Party candidate. He defeated L.T. Thimmappa Hegde of the BJP in the 1999 elections.

The differences between Mr. Thimmappa and Mr. Bangarappa came to light during the violence at the time of the immersion of the Ganesha idol last year, with allegations being made that the latter had exploited the incident to settle scores with the former. There was an embarrassing moment for Mr. Thimmappa when his relative, Beluru Gopalakrishna, organised a rally against him, reportedly at the behest of Mr. Bangarappa, demanding the release of "innocent" Hindus arrested in connection with the violence. Mr. Gopalakrishna is now in the Bangarappa camp.

The BJP was toying with the idea of fielding L.T. Thimmappa Hegde, U.H. Ramappa or Ashwin Kumar as its candidate against Mr. Thimmappa. But Mr. Bangarappa wants to field Mr. Gopalakrishna as the BJP candidate much to the chagrin of senior party leaders.

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