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September 3, 1999

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Rebel gives J H Patel a contest to remember

M D Riti in Bangalore

If there is one factor which has made the Karnataka voter swing one way or another over the past decade, its his or her resentment about the existing government. This is why over almost two decades now, parties have alternated in forming governments here: except for when Ramakrishna Hegde went for a mid-term poll in the mid eighties, when he was quite confident about his position.

It is this factor that is likely to cause trouble for Chief Minister Jayadevappa Halappa Patel in his home constituency of Channagiri in Davanagere. Interestingly, his chief opponent is not a party candidate, but a strong 'rebel,' who is believed to enjoy the Bharatiya Janata Party's tacit support.

As per the seat sharing arrangement, Patel was given Channagiri, with his official chief rival as Muhibullah Khan. However, as both the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) filed nominations in many constituencies, and then worked out who should contest from where, the BJP had nominated Vadnal Nagaraj.

Both Patel and Nagaraj are Lingayats. Patel belongs to the Banajiga sect of the Lingayats while Nagaraj belongs to the Sadars. Nagaraj, who is known to be as affluent, popular and well-connected as Patel, was asked to withdraw his candidature by his party. He refused. Some JD-U cadres in the region now indicate that his refusal enjoyed the backing of the BJP's state leadership in Bangalore.

JD-U workers complain that despite the understanding between the two parties, the BJP is working against the Dal in Channagiri, and campaigning against Patel at an individual and door-to-door level.

Nagaraj -- who is 33 as against Patel who is in his late sixties -- insists he has broken off completely with the BJP, but cannot help it if the party cadres campaign with him. He lost this assembly seat for the BJP in 1994, and has been working strenuously in the region since then, hoping to win it the next time. BJP sources insist he was so annoyed by the turn of events that led to his being asked to stay out of the electoral fray that he turned rebel.

Two of Patelís three sons, the eldest Trishul, who nurses political ambitions, and the youngest Mahima, the chief minister's right hand man all through his tenure, are campaigning vigorously for their father. They travel in huge motorcades (some estimates place the number of vehicles at 70!), visit villages with hordes of supporters, and make speeches everywhere.

Not far from where Patel faces this tough fight is another district with several interesting contests: Shimoga. This district just might elect the next chief minister of Karnataka, if the media prophecies of a BJP wave come true, as B S Yediyurappa has traditionally contested from his home constituency of Shikaripura.

Yediyurappa too belongs to the Lingayat community. Shimoga goes to the polls in the next stage of elections in Karnataka, on September 11. However, the vernacular press predicts that the Congress just might sweep Karnataka.

Also in Shimoga are the father-son Bangarappa duo. Sarekoppa Bangarappa, the former chief minister, contests the parliamentary seat from Shimoga while his son, the film star Vasant Kumar, stands for the second time from his pater's home turf of Sorab. Both are expected to win, as they usually do, irrespective of their party affiliations. Former state BJP chief K S Eashwarappa also contests from this area. The last election, he defeated K H Srinivas, who is now J H Patel's political secretary and advisor.

Another lesser known but even more interesting area to watch will be two constituencies in Gulbarga, Afzalpur and Aland, from which the two Guttedar cousins, Mallakayya and Subhash, will contest assembly seats. Mallakayya, who was made a minister by H D Deve Gowda although he was a first time MLA, and Subhash, who won from Aland last time, have had unsavoury allegations made against them. However, they continue to be all powerful in the area, and their victory seem as sure as ever. Both Guttedars are now with Deve Gowda's Janata Dal-Secular party.

The contests in Bangalore North and South seem fairly predictable. Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar is expected to win quite easily in Bangalore (South), while former Congress minister C K Jaffer Sharief is a sure victor in Bangalore (North.)

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