Congress counts on Rai’s experience; BJP says people need change, a dynamic person

It’s a contest between a political stalwart and a political novice in the largely agrarian Bantwal Assembly constituency. The outcome, however, may just be decided by another political novice.

Congress candidate B. Ramanath Rai has represented Bantwal almost continuously – having lost only in the 2004 elections – since 1985 and during that time has occupied ministerial berths. However, while the loss was a reminder of the transience of power, his previous victory in 2008 was not entirely encouraging. He beat his cousin Nagaraj Shetty B., BJP candidate, by a thin margin of 1,251 votes.

On the other side of the ring is farmer-turned-politician Rajesh Naik of the BJP. Fighting on the plank of “development achieved by the BJP-led government”, he also is targeting the lengthy tenure of Mr. Rai. “People are getting tired of him, and want a change. A younger and more dynamic person is needed,” he said.

But the Congress sees the expereince as an asset. “He was voted out once, and people have realised that Mr. Rai is the more capable candidate. He has a good image in the district,” said a source managing Mr. Rai’s campaign.

The people who talked to The Hindu are a divided lot. J. Nawaz, of Bogodi, said he backs Mr. Rai for his “affability” and his willingness to work for the people’s issues. “We have called him for help when the area floods during heavy rains, and he shows up immediately. He has proactively improved roads and water supply,” he said, while adding that the BJP candidate was an “unknown entity” and an “outsider” (Mr. Naik owns large tracts of land in Gurupura, Moodbidri constituency).

However, for Vishawanth of Kalladka, change was the need of the hour. “Mr. Rai has been in politics for too long. He has not provided a long-term solution to the water problem. Digging borewells is a temporary solution. He could have initiated projects to use Netravati water,” he said. He felt the “unknown” status might work in favour of Mr. Naik project himself as a fresh face.

For the urban voter in B.C. Road and Bantwal, a proper bus stand and a government hospital were important issues. “The present bus stand is an inconvenience to passengers, and creates traffic problems in the area. There is no government hospital, and we have to go to more expensive private hospitals,” said Janardhana Suvarna of Bantwal.

Undertaking a frenetic door-to-door campaign in B.C. Road on Friday was Social Democratic party of India (SDPI) candidate Abdul Masjid, who could eat into Mr. Rai’s votes. “People need an alternative to the BJP and the Congress, who have not focused on development, and we can provide that,” he said. When asked if his party would divide the Muslim votes that traditionally vote for Congress, he said: “We’re not bothering with calculations like that. We are here only to win.”

However, Mustafa M., an autorickshaw driver, said SDPI was unlikely to have an impact.

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