KARNATAKA

A matter of `honour' for Congress, BJP

SHIMOGA, APRIL 24. "The players are the same; they have only changed sides." This is how the Lok Sabha elections from Shimoga are being described.

The former Chief Minister, S. Bangarappa, and his rival, Ayanur Manjunath, have fought each other in the last three Lok Sabha elections from this constituency. While the former won in 1996 and 1999 on the Karnataka Congress Party and the Congress ticket, respectively, the latter was hailed as a "giant-killer" when he defeated Mr. Bangarappa in the 1998 elections as the BJP candidate.

This time the two have switched parties much to the surprise of the voters in the constituency. Mr. Bangarappa, who kept his decision to join the BJP a closely guarded secret, announced it in the presence of the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, sending the message that he was doing so at the instance of the party's top leadership.

But in Mr. Manjunath's case, it was a sense of alienation from the party that prompted him to resign from the BJP and join the Janata Party. But his stay in the Janata Party, of which he was made the State unit President, was short-lived. The Congress leaders, who were taken aback by Mr. Bangarappa's sudden decision to leave the party, succeeded in roping in Mr. Manjunath with the intention of fielding him as the Congress candidate against Mr. Bangarappa.

The BJP and the Congress have accepted Mr. Bangarappa and Mr. Manjunath "wholeheartedly," though the grassroots workers of the two parties viewed them with suspicion initially. The candidates did not take much time to adjust themselves to the culture of the alien parties though they still continue to be in constant touch with "friends and admirers" in their former parties.

The fact that the BJP allowed Mr. Bangarappa to select the candidates in at least four of the eight Assembly segments in the district speaks of the party's confidence in him. But Mr. Manjunath was denied the privilege of selecting the Assembly candidates though he had reportedly preferred changes in Shimoga and Bhadravati constituencies. He is handicapped by a lack of coordination in the joint campaign with the Assembly candidates in some constituencies, whereas Mr. Bangarappa's campaign is marked by a proper understanding between him and the Assembly candidates in all the segments. The senior BJP leaders, B.S. Yediyurappa and K.S. Eshwarappa, who are contesting the Assembly elections from Shikaripur and Shimoga constituencies, respectively, are helping his electioneering.

There is a marked difference in the campaigning styles of the BJP and the Congress. While the campaigning by the BJP and its allies is marked by pomp and splendour, the Congress is maintaining a low profile and concentrating on a door-to-door campaign.

Though Mr. Bangarappa is known as the champion of the backward classes and minorities, his image has taken a beating to some extent after he joined the BJP. Major communities such as Lingayats and Brahmins have a reason to feel neglected by the BJP in the selection of candidates.

A majority of the Muslims, who were supporters of Mr. Bangarappa, do not seem to have taken kindly to his decision to join the BJP.

The other candidates in the fray are G. Madappa (Janata Dal-S) Doddanna (Janata Party), D.M. Chandrappa (Kannada Nadu) and Shachidevi (independent).

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