It is curious that though the district suffers from problems such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of education, what truly seems to grab the people’s attention is not the image of the district as a whole, but the image and reputation of their candidates.

While Congress candidate Rahim Khan and BJP candidate Ramesh Kumar Pande are seen as mild-mannered and accessible, the KJP’s Gurupadappa Nagamarapalli is seen as a powerful leader with an aristocratic air.

Mr. Pande, a Kannauji Brahmin from Janawada village, served as MLA and president of the Bidar City Municipal Council. He has the image of a shopkeeper, and is much loved by people in the neighbourhood. “He is among the few leaders in our party who can seek and get votes from all communities,” says a BJP leader.

Mr. Khan rose from poverty to build an educational chain. He runs colleges in Bangalore, Gulbarga and Bidar. He defeated Mr. Nagamarapalli’s son Suryakant Nagamarapalli in the 2009 byelection.

Both Mr. Pande and Mr. Khan have no specific allegations of corruption against them. Both make speeches in Hindi, and are seldom seen appealing to caste or communal feelings.

Mr. Nagamarapalli represented Aurad four times between 1985 and 2004. He shifted to Bidar in 2008 after the delimitation of constituencies which resulted in Aurad becoming a reserved (Scheduled Castes) seat.

After some party-hopping, the Lingayat leader settled into the KJP. He also heads the Naranja Sahakari Sakkare Karakhane and the Bidar District Central Cooperative Bank. Charges of favouritism are routinely raised against the factory.

Farmers claim that the factory chooses to pick sugarcane from the fields of Mr. Nagamarapalli’s followers over those who don’t support him. An inquiry by the Registrar of Cooperative Societies in 2005 found that the bank had violated rules regarding disbursement and recovery of loans and selection of beneficiaries in some schemes.

The youngest of the lot is Amar Yerolkar, Janata Dal (Secular) candidate who is related to Bheemanna Khandre, former Minister. Dr. Yerolkar, a surgeon, is campaigning hard and has urged voters to “reject old leaders”.

That people have begun to look at their candidates’ “image” is a break from the usual tradition of looking at the candidate’s religion — whether he or she is a Hindu or Muslim. Muslim candidates have won seven of the 15 Assembly elections and byelections held in the district so far. There are 14 other candidates in the fray, including Sheikh Haji, a Congress rebel.

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