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A Congress bastion since 1952

By M. Ahiraj

BELLARY, FEB. 27. More than the outcome, the choice of the Congress candidate is uppermost in the minds of the voters in the Bellary Lok Sabha constituency. This constituency hit the headlines in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, won the seat. The supremacy of the Congress has remained unchallenged in this constituency. Bellary is one of the few constituencies in the country where the Congress has remained undefeated since 1952. With the exception of Tekur Subramanyam, who represented Bellary thrice in a row after 1952, K.S. Veerbhadrappa (1977), K.C. Kondaiah and Kolur Basavanagouda, all the others elected from this constituency — V.K.R.V. Rao (1967 and 1971), R.Y. Ghorpade (1980), Basavarajeshwari (1984, 1989, and 1991) and Sonia Gandhi (1999) — were from outside the district.

For the coming elections, Mr. Basavanagouda, former MP, M. Diwakar Babu, Minister of State for Cooperation, and Mr. Kondaiah, three-time MP and Member of the Legislative Council, are among the serious contenders for the party nomination.

Bellary district is politically polarised between the archrivals — the Congress and the Janata Parivar. The split in the Janata Dal and the failure of its leaders to arrive at a consensus to forge unity has split the anti-Congress votes.

With M.P. Prakash, a senior leader in the district, joining the Janata Dal (Secular), the All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) has become a rudderless ship in the district. The BJP, perceived to be a weak party in the district, gave a good fight to Ms. Sonia Gandhi in 1999. The BJP, which in power in the Bellary City Municipality, has been making all-out efforts to gain ground in the district. The Janata Dal gave the Congress a run for its money in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections when it lost by a margin of 4,519 votes. In the next elections the Congress denied the nomination to Ms. Basavarajeshwari, who had completed a hat trick by winning the seat thrice in a row (she was the only one to do so after Tekur Subramanyam). The Congress fielded Mr. Kondaiah, a political novice then, against N. Tippanna of the Janata Dal. Mr. Tippanna contested in four elections and lost.

The split in the Janata Dal in 1998 after the former Chief Minister, Ramakrishna Hegde, was expelled from the party had a telling effect on its prospects in the district. Mr. Kondaiah won with a comfortable margin of 63,000 votes in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections defeating Mr. Tippanna who had contested on the Lok Shakti ticket with the support of the BJP. Unfortunately, Mr. Kondaiah could not complete his term as the Lok Sabha was dissolved.

Mr. Kondaiah had to make way for Ms. Sonia Gandhi in 1999. The Congress supremo defeated Sushma Swaraj of the BJP by a margin of 56,000 votes. By-elections were held in the constituency when Ms. Sonia Gandhi decided to retain Amethi and give up the Bellary seat. Mr. Kolur Basavanagouda was lucky to get the party ticket and defeated the BJP candidate and former MP, K.S. Veerbhadrappa (Mr. Veerbhadrappa had won on the Congress ticket in the elections held in 1977 by a margin of over 1.47 lakh votes).

With the chances of either Ms. Sonia Gandhi or her children Priyanka Vadra or Rahul Gandhi contesting from this constituency bleak, the question is whether Mr. Basavanagouda will be re-nominated by the party.

Another question that remains unanswered is with regard to whether the Janata Dal (Secular) or the BJP would muster the anti-Congress votes and to what extent. There are 14.05 lakh voters. The Bellary Lok Sabha constituency comprises eight Assembly segments — Sirguppa, Kurgodu, Bellary, Sandur, Kudligi, Kottur, Hadagali of Bellary district and Harpanahalli of Davangere district.

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