ANDHRA PRADESH

Kodela in the race for double hat-trick

NARASARAOPET, APRIL 24. With just a day left for the polling, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) candidate and Health Minister, Kodela Sivaprasada Rao, is apparently enjoying an edge over his Congress opponent, Kasu Venkata Krishna Reddy, in the Narasaraopet Assembly constituency. Narasaraopet has always been the cynosure of political observers what with the town being the gateway for the faction-ridden and extremist-infested Palnadu region in Guntur district. Encompassing Narasaraopet Municipality and the mandals of Narasaraopet rural, Nekarikallu and Rompicherla, this constituency has been the citadel of the TDP ever since it fought its first election in 1983 and Dr. Rao has never tasted defeat since then.

He is now in the race for achieving a double hat-trick. "The development I have ensured in the constituency is my strength. Narasaraopet is one municipality where drinking water is supplied through municipal taps round-the-clock. Kotappakonda tourist and pilgrimage centre, Narasaraopet Area Hospital of the Andhra Pradesh Vaidya Vidhana Parishad, internal roads in the town and almost every village, establishment of schools and colleges and other development activities are my contribution," he says.

"It is my duty to serve people, for they have been reposing confidence in me time and again. I am sure they will renew their confidence this time, too, by electing me with a good majority,'' says Dr. Rao.

The Congress nominee, Kasu Venkata Krishna Reddy, who is in the fray for second time in succession and for third time overall, is trying to walk that extra mile to woo voters. He says there is a strong anti-incumbency wave in the State and Narasaraopet is no exception to it. Mr. Reddy describes his electoral battle with the TDP as a fight between "neethi and avineethi, dharmam and adharmam, nyayam and anyayam.'' He campaigned in the constituency extensively.

However, Dr. Rao neutralised the initial shocks suffered by the TDP before the launch of his campaign. He roped in the numerically strong Vysya community into his fold by bringing the tobacco tycoon, Maddi Lakshmaiah, into the poll fray as TDP's MP candidate.

Kodela in the race for double hat-trick

Dr. Rao, his two sons, daughter and son-in-law, all of whom are doctors, toured the constituency extensively and ensured truce among warlords within the party in faction-ridden villages.

Election process turned bloody in the town on the day when campaign ended in the 1999 election.

As many as four TDP activists were killed in a bomb explosion in the nursing home-cum-residence of Dr. Rao. The stigma of the explosion haunted him for long.

But, he emerged unscathed from the controversy following a CBI inquiry and also quashing of all cases by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court. In fact, Dr. Rao was out of the Cabinet for two years following the explosion.

With the electorate getting divided almost vertically between the TDP and the Congress in the constituency, it is always the neutral voter who has tilted the balance in favour of Dr. Rao in the last five elections.

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