Congress pins hope on ‘split’ in BJP vote

The three-time MLA Halady Srinivas Shetty’s resignation from the BJP and entering the fray as an independent candidate makes the election in the Kundapur Assembly constituency the most interesting political battle in Udupi district.

The constituency has its problems. The work on the Varahi Irrigation Project, started three decades ago, is still progressing — in slow motion. The constituency also has Naxalite-affected villages such as Amasebail and Madamakki. There is no underground drainage system in Kundapur town, while the Saligrama town has to deal with garbage disposal problem. But Mr. Halady is the talking point.

The Congress has won six times in the 12 Assembly elections held since 1957, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won thrice, the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) twice, the Janata Party once.

Congress strongman Pratapchandra Shetty had won four times from this constituency in 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1994 Assembly elections, till he tasted defeat at the hands of the then BJP candidate Mr. Halady by a margin of 1,020 votes in 1999. He scored a hat-trick for the BJP, when he defeated Congress candidate Ashok Kumar Hegde by a margin of 19,665 votes in the 2004 Assembly elections and the Congress candidate K. Jayaprakash Hegde by a margin of 25,083 votes in the 2008 Assembly elections.

But Mr. Halady resigned as MLA and quit the BJP last year, after he was denied a berth in Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar’s cabinet at the last moment, despite being assured of it by the BJP leadership. He is now contesting as an independent candidate. According to those close to Mr. Halady, he wants to prove a point to the BJP top brass for treating him in a cavalier manner.

The Congress has fielded Malyady Shivaram Shetty, who had twice served as president of Kundapur Block Congress Committee, while the BJP has fielded former president Kundapur APMC Kishore Kumar. Both these leaders have the herculean task of not just measuring up to the popularity of Mr. Halady but also to deal with the sympathy that people have for him after being snubbed by the BJP.

It is an unusual situation for both the national parties as they have to deal with an independent candidate, who does not carry any whiff of anti-incumbency despite representing the constituency thrice in a row. The Congress finds solace in the fact that it led in the Kundapur segment in the 2012 Udupi-Chikmagalur parliamentary by-poll by a margin of 9,111 votes.

But the BJP has had to face the additional embarrassment of watching five of its Zilla Panchayat members campaigning for Mr. Halady.

Congress’s Mr. Shetty said he was focusing on the BJP’s “misrule” in his campaign. He said he did not feel that there was any sympathy in Mr. Halady’s favour. “A split in the ‘BJP vote’ between Mr. Halady and Mr. Kumar will benefit us,” he said.

Mr. Kumar said that he was highlighting the achievements of the BJP in his campaign. “The Halady factor might not have the kind of impact as it was earlier made out to be. It might have a small impact,” he said.

The others in the fray are Krishna Bharatkal from the JD(U), Srinivas Harijan, and Manjunath (independent candidates).Narayana Kharvi, a fisherman in Kundapur, said that Mr. Halady had done lot of work for the constituency in the last five years. Vignesh Naik, an autorickshaw driver, said that the BJP had done grave injustice to Mr. Halady by cheating him of the ministerial berth. Sheikh Abdulla, a fruit seller, said that Mr. Halady was an easily accessible person. Sudhakar, an autorickshaw driver in Saligrama town, said that a split in the “BJP vote” might work to the advantage of the Congress.

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