Salian’s rebellion queers the pitch in BJP vs Congress land

The Kaup Assembly constituency, which lies to the south of Udupi district, is blessed with Kaup beach, which with its Lighthouse constructed by the British 1901, is a major tourist attraction. The famous ‘Shankarpura jasmine’ is cultivated in this constituency.

But in the last few years, this constituency has been in news for all the wrong reasons. The alleged pollution caused coal-based thermal power plant of the Udupi Power Corporation Ltd (UPCL) led to a series of protests by the local people. However, the reaction of the politicians and authorities to this problem has left a lot to be desired.

Poovappa Poojary (72), a farmer who grows paddy, areca, coconuts and bananas on his two-and-a-half-acres at Padebettu village, about 12 from Kaup, said that five years ago he used to get 25 gunny bags of arecanuts per year. But after the thermal plant came up, it was down to five bags because the saline water in the thermal plant was getting evaporated and causing damage to the crops all around. “The banana plants no longer yield bananas as earlier,” he said.

Sumathi Bhat (69), who grows coconut, areca and bananas in one acre and 41 cents of land in the same village, said that water in her well had got contaminated due to the discharge of effluents from the plant into the nearby stream. “I boil the well water and drink it. I don’t have the energy to fetch water from other places. I suffer from breathlessness. My health improves when I visit my daughter’s house in Kundapur. But I am too attached to this place to leave it,” she said.

Besides the UPCL problem, the constituency has other problems such as silt accumulation at the Hejmady fisheries harbour, drinking water scarcity, and lack of drainage facility in Kaup, Padubidri and Shirva towns.

Of the 12 Assembly elections held since 1957, the Congress has won eight times, the BJP and the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) twice. Vasanth V. Salian, who till recently was in the Congress, represented the constituency five times in a row from 1983 to 2004, when he was defeated by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Lalaji Mendon. Mr. Salian was also a minister in the cabinets of M. Veerappa Moily (1993-94) and S.M. Krishna (2002-04). Mr. Mendon again defeated Mr. Salian by a slender margin of 967 votes in the 2008 Assembly elections.

Since the Congress refused ticket to Mr. Salian, he quit the Congress and joined the Janata Dal (Secular) and is now fighting from that party. The Congress has fielded the two-term Puttur MLA and former MP (of erstwhile Udupi parliamentary constituency) Vinay Kumar Sorake from Kaup. The BJP has re-nominated Mr. Mendon.

Other eight candidates in the fray are: Abdul Hakim from the Social Democratic Party of India, Vijay Kumar Hegde from the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Ronald Castelino Srikanth B. Acharya, Kasim, Hameed, Praveen Kumar, and Stephen Richard Lobo (all independents).

Both Mr. Sorake’s and Mr. Salian’s campaign are focusing on the failures of Mr. Mendon. “Mr. Mendon has failed to solve the problem of farmers suffering due to pollution in the villages surrounding the UPCL. There is massive drinking water problem and sites have not been provided to the landless,” Mr. Sorake said.

But Mr. Mendon said that he had brought the issue of UPCL to the government’s notice. “Efforts are being made to solve the problems of the farmers in phases. If the UPCL used sweet water instead of salt water in its plant, the problem of pollution will be resolved,” he said

Mr. Mendon said he was focusing on his track-record of undertaking development projects in the constituency. “I brought two industrial training institutes (ITIs), four high schools, a pre-university college, a primary health centre to the constituency in the last five years,” he said. Both Mr. Mendon and Mr. Salian said that the people thought of Mr. Sorake as an “outsider”. But Mr. Sorake said that he was a voter in Udupi and also had a flat in Udupi. “This is a misinformation campaign launched by my rivals,” he said.

Mr. Mendon admitted that with both Mr. Salian and Mr. Sorake contesting in the constituency, a split in the “secular vote” would benefit him. But Mr. Sorake said that JD(S) vote share was too small to make a difference.

However, Mr. Salian is banking on the fact that he was in touch with the constituents for the last 10 years despite his defeat. “There is lot of sympathy for me among the voters as I was denied a ticket by the Congress at the last minute,” he said.

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