KARNATAKA

Can Congress regain this lost bastion?

BELGAUM, MARCH 3. The Congress, which suffered defeats in the last three elections to the Lok Sabha from the Chikkodi reserved constituency, has reason to feel hopeful this time as three former legislators of the All-India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) have joined the party.

Chikkodi was a bastion of the Congress till the 1996 elections. The former Union Minister, B. Shankaranand of the Congress, created history by winning seven times in a row since 1967 from Chikkodi. In 1996, the Janata Dal's Ratnamala Savanur defeated Mr. Shankaranand, and in 1998 and 1999, Ramesh Jigjinagi won the elections as a candidate of the Lok Shakti and the Janata Dal, respectively.

Mr. Jigajinagi, who was a member of the H.D. Deve Gowda and J.H. Patel governments in the State, and Raju Kage, who represented Kagwad in the dissolved Assembly, have now joined the BJP. The former ministers, A.B. Patil (Sankeshwar), Umesh Katti (Hukkeri), Manohar Kattimani (Chikkodi), S.C. Malgi (the AIPJD's district unit President), and Mahantesh Koujalgi (Bailhongal) have joined the Congress.

The entry of Mr. Patil and Mr. Katti has strengthened the Congress. Although their clout is limited to their respective Assembly constituencies, where they have a strong following especially among sugarcane growers, they have both men and material to win an election. But it remains to be seen whether they can bury their differences and work for the Congress in the coming election. Mr. Kattimani's presence should also improve the prospects of the Congress.

The eight assembly segments in the Lok Sabha constituency are Chikkodi, Raibag, Nippani, Athani, Kagwad, Sadalga, Hukkeri, and Sankeshwar. The first two are reserved for the Scheduled Castes.

The first election from the Chikkodi Lok Sabha constituency in 1957 was won by the candidate of the All-India Scheduled Castes' Federation (SCF), D.A. Katti, who defeated S.V. Patil of the Congress by a margin of 5,688 votes. The Congress won the seat in the 1962 polls thanks to its candidate, V.L. Patil, who was a strong leader of the backward classes. In 1967, Chikkodi was declared a reserved constituency, and Mr. Shankaranand, then a young law graduate, was seen an obvious choice for the Congress.

In his first election, he won by a margin of over one lakh votes against the RPI candidate, M.S. Nanasaab.