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Religion and caste crucial in this 'secular' contest

Amar, Akbar and Anthony relying on community vote bank as they battle it out for the Bangalore Central Lok Sabha seat

BANGALORE, APRIL 16, 2009: The fight for Bangalore Central parliamentary seat is as exciting as the 1970s' Bollywood blockbuster 'Amar Akbar Anthony'.

BJP’s P C Mohan (Amar), JD(S)’ Zameer Ahmed Khan (Akbar) and Congress’ H T Sangliana (Anthony) are slugging it out to prove that they best represent all three communities.

What makes the contest more interesting is that none of the candidates can ignore any community. The candidates are, therefore, vying with each other to enter into the good books of all the three communities by frequenting temples, mosques and churches alike.

Of the 18.16 lakh voters, across eight assembly segments - Chamarajpet, Rajajinagar, Gandhinagar, Shivajinagar, Shantinagar, C V Ramanagar, Sarvagnanagar and Mahadevapura - Hindus form a majority of voters with around 12 lakh; the Muslims, comprising 3.5 lakh voters are second, and Christians number almost 1.5 lakh in the constituency.

If the number of votes secured by these three parties in the 2008 assembly elections is anything to go by, the Congress and the BJP are neck-to-neck, while the JD(S) lags far behind. The Congress had secured around 3.30 lakh votes, the BJP 3.15 lakh and the JD(S) 75,000. Of eight Assembly segments, the Congress has won four, the BJP three and the JD(S) one.

But in this Amar-Akar-Anthony battle, calculations are not as simple. Each one has worked out his own arithmetic for success. The JD(S)’ Zameer Ahmed, representing Chamarajpet as MLA for the second term, is trying hard to consolidate the community vote.

He is also eying votes of the Vokkaliga community (which form the large chunk of Hindu voters) in the name of his political guru H D Kumaraswamy.

The JD(S), being part of the Third Front, has the support of AIADMK, which has considerable hold over the Tamil speaking population. But Zameer is not a known figure in the constituency, nor does his party boast of a wide network of workers to reach out to people.

Former IPS officer H T Sangliana of the Congress has four Assembly segments -- Shivajinagar, Gandhinagar, Sarvagnagar and Shantinagar -- that are represented by his party MLAs. Having crossed over from the BJP to the Congress recently, he is heavily banking on the support of these party MLAs for votes. He has pinned hopes on traditional Congress vote bank among the Muslim and Christian communities.

Sangliana, however, is facing the threat of losing ‘secular’ votes, as he has of late identified himself with Christian religious leaders.

Also, his crossing over from the Bharatiya Janata Party recently has not gone down well with many local Muslim leaders, especially those who wanted Jaffer Sharief to contest.

P C Mohan, who represented the then Chikpet Assembly constituency twice, has his party MLAs in three assembly segments - Rajajinagar, C V Ramanagar and Mahadevapura. He is mainly banking on Hindu votes. The candidate is banking on division of Muslim votes between Zameer and Sangliana.

But Mohan too is facing the crisis of identity. In most places, he is known only as the BJP candidate. He neither has charisma nor the oratorial skills to influence the voters. But his party speaks for him.

If the division of Muslim votes is to happen between the Congress and the JD(S), as it seems most likely in the run up to the elections, the BJP may get an edge over its rivals.

Source: Deccan Herald

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