The undulating terrain, of areca and cocoa plantations, forming the Puttur constituency in Dakshina Kannada will be the battlefield where a former Bharatiya Janata Party MLA, now with the Congress, can potentially break through the BJP bastion in the district.
A defeat here will be embarrassing for the BJP, for, not only would it have lost a seat the party had retained since 1994, but would have also lost in the constituency from where the former Chief Minister D.V. Sadananada Gowda was elected twice.
Shakunthala T. Shetty, who won the 2004 elections on a BJP ticket, and later contested unsuccessfully as an independent in 2008 in revolt, is once again in the fray as a Congress candidate. It was only on February 25 that she was formally — and with objection from local workers — inducted into the Congress. Since, then the party machinery has set about to depict her as the antithesis of BJP ideology. With 35,000 cadres, RSS has its strongest presence in the district here.
“As an MLA, she focussed on development. She was not communal or casteist, and that is why she was thrown out of BJP,” claimed Niranjan Rai M., her campaign manager.
This argument is countered by BJP workers, who have targeted her party hopping.
“First BJP, then independent, now Congress; voters should ask her which party she will take next,” said Chandrashekar Rao, in-charge of BJP’s publicity literature.
BJP has chosen Sanjeev Matandoor, general secretary of the district unit of the party and a close relative of the former Chief Minister. While the Congress calls him “an unknown entity,” the BJP projects his work as a taluk panchayat member and director of Central Arecanut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Cooperative Ltd. (Campco), a farmers’ cooperative society.
The calculations are clear: the Congress hopes that apart from their loyal voters, Ms. Shetty will also bring in her supporters (her mentor and supporter K. Ram Bhat was Puttur MLA twice in 1978, 1983) and tilt the balance.
As an independent in the 2008 elections, Ms. Shetty came third with over 27,000 votes, which perhaps, dented the Congress candidate’s performance.
The BJP will, however, hope for an erosion of the Congress base with the political-novice Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) targeting Muslim voters that have traditionally sided with the Congress.
The Congress is taking on BJP’s star campaigner, Mr. Gowda, for his failure to develop the constituency. “Another Chief Minister from the constituency may not come for a long time; and Gowda has wasted his chance. There has been no benefit for us,” said Prakash P., a mobile shop owner in Puttur.
The BJP is playing this down, attributing it to a “lack of time” and his “focus on State development.”