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Congress in consolidation mode in Kolar

By S. Rajendran and T.S. Ranganna

By S. Rajendran

and T.S. Ranganna

BANGALORE, APRIL 16. Kolar district, with a 100-km-long border with Andhra Pradesh from Mulbagal in the south to Bagepalli in the north, is vertically divided as far as the people's political loyalties are concerned. While the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are strong in Chickaballapur Lok Sabha Constituency, the Congress seems to have an edge in the Kolar Lok Sabha Constituency comprising eight Assembly segments.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too has a strong presence in the district. For a party that was considered a rank outsider in all the Assembly segments, it stands second in the popularity ratings. The Janata Dal (Secular), headed by the former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, has fielded a popular candidate, Alangur Srinivas, only in Mulbagal.

He is confident of scoring an upset win over the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, M.V. Venkatappa.

The local Congress leaders credit the Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, with having weaned away a big chunk of the Janata Dal leaders into the party.

The Congress candidate for the Srinivasapur Assembly constituency and former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, S. Ramesh Kumar, too played a role in this. This has given the ruling party a distinct advantage in Kolar Lok Sabha Constituency.

The Kolar Lok Sabha seat, which is reserved for the Scheduled Castes, has been a stronghold of the Congress since 1952 barring in 1984 when Venkatesh of the Janata Party won the seat.

The Congress has renominated K.H. Muniyappa, who has won the seat four times in a row. S.L. Gangadharappa of the Janata Dal (S), former IAS officer who hails from Shimoga district, and D.S. Veeraiah (BJP), who hails from Mandya district, are his rivals.

There are 1,96,814 Scheduled Caste voters and 82,958 Scheduled Tribe voters in the constituency.

While Mr. Muniyappa belongs to the "left hand" group of Scheduled Castes, Mr. Veeraiah belongs to the "right hand" group.

Kolar, Bethamangala, Vemgal, Chintamani, Srinivasapura, Mulbagal, Malur and Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) are the eight Assembly segments of the Lok Sabha constituency. The defection of the former AIPJD members to the Congress in Kolar and Vemgal and that of Mr. Ramesh Kumar in Srinivasapura changed the equations.

Krishna Byre Gowda, son of the former State Janata Dal (United) President, the late C. Byre Gowda, who won the by-election last year, had no qualms in leaving the AIPJD to join the Congress. The former Kolar MLA, Srinivasa Gowda, too has joined the Congress.

The Congress won four of the eight Assembly segments in 1999. The Janata Dal (U) candidates won in Kolar and Vemgal, an independent bagged the Chintamani seat while the AIADMK candidate won the KGF (reserved) seat.

KGF has been a stronghold of the Republican Party of India and the AIADMK and is dominated by Tamil-speaking dalits. In Bethamangala, which elected the first Chief Minister of Mysore, K.C. Reddy, Mohan (Janata Dal-S), Ramachandra (Congress), and B.P. Venkatamuniyappa (BJP) are in the fray.

Mr. Ramesh Kumar has been rewarded with the Congress ticket for the Srinivasapura Assembly segment for shoring up the party's fortunes. G.K. Venkatashiva Reddy, former MLA and former Congress leader, is the BJP candidate for the seat.

Interestingly, a big chunk of Muslims are likely to back Mr. Reddy recognising his service. The treatment meted out to him by the Congress has generated sympathy for him.

The former Minister and AIPJD leader, Chowda Reddy, has managed to get the Congress ticket for his son in the Chintamani Assembly segment.

His archrival, K.M. Krishna Reddy, a one-time Communist leader, has crossed over to the BJP. Here, it is a clash of personalities and not parties.

It is only in the Vemgal and the Kolar Assembly segments that the Congress has managed to keep its flock together, thanks to the efforts of the Deputy Chairman of the Legislative Council, V.R. Sudarshan.

However, the Congress has a problem in Kolar where the former Minister, Nazeer Ahmed, has stayed away from campaigning. His grouse: the party did not field a Muslim.

Mr. Muniyappa and Mr. Srinivasa Gowda have drawn flak from the residents of Kolar for not tackling the drinking water problem.

Vedavati, wife of a high school teacher in Kolar, said the residents of Durbal Street in Kolar had to buy water.

Issues apart, the Congress is better placed in Kolar district compared with its rivals, the BJP and the Janata Dal (S). The Congress President, Sonia Gandhi's election rally in Kolar is expected to boost the prospects of the party candidates.

Mr. Deve Gowda too has campaigned in Chickaballapur and Kolar extensively over the past fortnight.

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