Coastal K’taka: BJP in fightback mode as Congress falters

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi’s election rally in Mangalore saw far fewer crowds; half the size of those present during her visit in September last year. According to DNA, “She came, she spoke, but apparently, she did not conquer”. “Congress leaders in the coastal region are now a worried lot. They gave an excuse that it was the scorching heat that kept people from Gandhi’s event.”

Sonia Gandhi with Oscar Fernandes

Sonia Gandhi with Oscar Fernandes

Parkala Observer: Shrikant N ShenoyThe optimism generated after last month’s urban local body (ULB) poll victory in the Congress party in the coastal districts of Karnataka has now given way to caution. The party that was confident of repeating the same in the assembly elections also has now started feeling some jitters.

The first was when tickets were distributed. In some constituencies, many partymen openly protested against candidates that were selected. There was so much acrimony that cental leaders from Karnataka like Veerappa Moily and Oscar Fernandes came in the line of fire and openly blamed for the fiasco.

Mangalore South is one example. A former bureaucrat was picked over “loyal” Congressmen.

In Kaup constituency in Udupi district, Congressman Vasant Salian, who was widely expected to get the ticket, filed his nomination as the Janata Dal (S) candidate after the party decided to give the ticket to AICC secretary Vinay Kumar Sorake, who was a two-time MP. Salian is very popular here and a Congress victory is in doubt, political observers feel.

But more interesting is the case of Udupi, the home of the famous Shri Krishna temple, where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s morale received a hard hit after after the ULB debacle.

Here too the Congress party was confident because after about 40 years, the party rode to victory in what was considered as a BJP bastion. The BJP also suffered a jolt when its two-time sitting MLA, K Raghupathi Bhat, got embroiled in a sleaze CD scandal and opted out of the race. The sleaze CD was widely circulated just ahead of filing of nominations.

In Udupi, the Congress party fielded Pramod Madhwaraj, who has lost two previous elections, though one was from a different constituency. (Interestingly, this was in total flouting of norms set by Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi.)

The Congress went hammer and tongs at the BJP and tried to rubbish the work done by Bhat, who was widely acknowledged as having done immense work in this constituency.

BJP's Raghupati Bhat

BJP’s Raghupati Bhat

But despite having decided to sit out this time, Bhat started campaigning actively along with his replacement, Sudhakar Shetty, and hit out at the Congress for what he called their “pack of lies”.

He also rubbished promises made by Madhwaraj, claiming that they were unworkable. The main issue was the Congress party candidate’s promise to get water to Udupi town from Varahi river, some 40 km away.

Udupi and its satellite town Manipal, faces difficulty in water supply the last part of the summer season. The population has grown manifold and the present water supply is from Udupi’s own Swarna river. The BJP had constructed ventedtwo dams and this was enough for now, said Bhat. Last summer, when the problem became acute, he claimed that there was 24-hour water supply every day till May 15. But ever since the Congress came to power in the Udupi CMC, the water supply was restricted from early April itself. He claimed there was enough water stored in one vented dam to ensure 24-hours water supply at least till May 15 on a daily basis, but the Congress was seeking to gain advantage by blaming the BJP for the water problem.

Bhat also said there was a proposal for Phase III of the Swarna project, which would take care of future needs for at least 25 years and the cost would be much less when compared to the Varahi proposal. Interestingly, when Gundu Rao was the Congress party’s chief minister of Karnataka, he had laid a foundation stone for the Varahi project to supply water to farmers way back in 1989, but the project had failed miserably. It was only in 2010 that water was first pumped into the left bank canal for the irrigation project.

In 2004, the Varahi proposal for drinking water to Udupi was reviewed and the cost was estimated at Rs 132 crore. Now, the cost would have escalated manifold, whereas the Swarna Third Phase would cost only about Rs 25 crore, Bhat said. (Madhwaraj’s estimate was about Rs 100 crore.)

In any case, Varahi’s waters are meant primarily for use by farmers and diverting this water to Udupi would pose not only logistical problems, but promote bitterness among various groups in Udupi and Kundapur, through which Varahi flows.

Bhat’s taking charge of the fightback has rejuvenated the BJP cadres. Central leaders like Varun Gandhi have campaigned here.

Also, Congress party’s Madhwaraj already suffered two jolts: The first when a case was booked against him on charges of attempting to bribe voters under the Representation of People’s Act and also under the Indian Penal Code. He was accused offering gold coins to self-hell groups who would ensure him the maximum number of votes in the elections.

Madhwaraj also had his water tankers seized by the district admistration on similar charges.

A visibly shaken Madhwaraj tried subtly to imply that the cases against him were due to the BJP’s influence on the adminstration.

But the BJP has been kept the best for the last. Narendra Modi will be campaigning once again in Karnataka, and this time it would be in Mangalore on Thursday, May 2. This announcement made by MP Nalin Kateel in Manglore today came as great morale booster to the BJP cadres.

The BJP also adopted a hi-tech campaign. A huge video screen was engaged to highlight the work done by Bhat. This became a huge hit.

The BJP's video on wheels

The BJP’s video on wheels

This video screen was also used by the BJP to relay live Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s morale-boosting speech in Bangalore on Sunday at Malpe — Madhwaraj’s stronghold — where the BJP claimed that about 10,000 people had gathered.

But the icing on the cake for the BJP was this: Congress party president Sonia Gandhi’s election rally in Mangalore on Sunday saw far fewer crowds; half the size of those present during her visit in September last year. According to DNA, “She came, she spoke, but apparently, she did not conquer”. (See the DNA report here)

Writes the newspaper’s correspondent: “Congress leaders in the coastal region are now a worried lot. They gave an excuse that it was the scorching heat that kept people from Gandhi’s event.”

But the BJP has kept the best for the last. Narendra Modi will be campaigning once again in Karnataka, and this time it would be in Mangalore on Thursday, May 2. This announcement made by MP Nalin Kateel in Manglore today came as great morale booster to the BJP cadres.

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