For 13 years, Puttur, a cash-crop rich agricultural town on the Western Ghats, has been loyal to the BJP. But rebels — from the BJP and the Congress — have opened up the contest with the threat of votes getting split.
The BJP’s official candidate is the wife of a well-known surgeon of the area, Mallika Prasad. She was given the ticket after sitting MLA Shakuntala Shetty was “punished” for her indifference to party workers.
Mallika faces a strong challenge from the Congress’s Bondala Jagannatha Shetty. Bondala, too, is faced with rebel headaches after the party overlooked the claims of a popular philanthropist and veteran Nalini Lokappa Gowda, 57.
The two rebels — Shakuntala and Nalini — are friends and have promised to defeat their parties’ official candidates.
Nalini wants to send a strong message to the high command: “By ignoring the just claims of the rightful candidate, the party can never hope to regain an important state like Karnataka.” She told HT on Sunday night: “Even if I lose, I win, because the Congress will lose this seat definitely.”
Shakuntala says she’s confident of her victory. “I will definitely win as voters here all like me.”
The contest is likely to end up as a tight race to the top and even a few hundred votes of the 1,62,400-strong electorate could swing the result any way. And it’s for this reason that some Congress leaders have approached Nalini to step down in favour of Bondala. “I have refused to do so and I am firmly in the race,” says Nalini.
She claims Bondala had the B form of the Janata Dal till the last moment but was given a Congress ticket.
Mallika says Shakuntala had been cheating people saying she was the official candidate. She is no factor at all, says Mallika, adding that her main rival was the Congress.
Shakuntala — who won the last polls by 10,000 votes against Congress’s Sudhakar Shetty — says: “Sadanand Gowda (the state BJP chief) is jealous of my track record and has deliberately got me rejected.”