Pheonix Rises

Chikkamagaluru bye election was one of the keenly fought elections in Indian history. In Congress, there was a demand to bring Indira Gandhi back to Parliament and Devaraj Urs persuaded her to contest from Karnataka. After a lot of discussion, Chikkamagaluru Loksabha constituency was chosen for her contest and then Congress MP Mr D B Chandregowda vacated his seat for Indira Gandhi. Ruling Janata Party pitted former Chief Minister of Karnataka Mr Veerendra Patil against Indira. Fire brand leader George Fernandes who was a Minister in the Union Government was made in-charge for the election campaign.

This election was highly prestigious for Congress and it was determined to win it. Chief Minister Devaraj Urs assigned charge of assembly segments to various congress leaders. I was assigned charge of Karkala and Belthangady Assembly segments.

What followed next was a high voltage campaign. Several Congress leaders camped in the Constituency. After filing nomination, Indira Gandhi arrived at Bajpe and others received her at the airport and took her to airport for canvassing. Myself, Veerappa Moily, Sadanand Kamat, Nazir Ahmed Karkala where she addressed a party workers meeting. From there, we held series of rallies at Shringeri, Narasimharajapura, Hebri and Ajekaru.

George Fernandes, who was a bitter critic of Indira Gandhi, used to make provocative speeches wherever he went during the campaign. People used to get carried away by the rabble rousing and raise slogans against Congress. Entire Union Government was involved in the campaign. Indira Gandhi's rallies were also attracting good crowds especially women. They were drawn by her personality and her leadership qualities. I was fully involved in the campaign. I used to run behind Indira's jeep during the Road shows. ''Come on. Get into the jeep," she used to call me but I never obliged. Such was the enthusiasm. I also translated her Hindi speeches into Kannada and Tulu.

When we were campaigning in Karkala, our opponents had organised a protest. While Indira Gandhi and Moily were travelling in one car, I was following them in another car. Lunch was organised at Sadanand Kamat's house. Protesters stopped us from visiting Kamat's house and we had to go to Traveller's Bungalow for taking lunch.

Next day, however, we managed to address around 20 meetings. On the same day, our opponents had organised a meeting in Ujire and George Fernandes, as usual, made a vituperative speech. Violence broke out near SDM College, Ujire. Police lobbed tear gas shells and a girl was killed. Situation was very tense.

Violence broke out near SDM College, Ujire. Police lobbed tear gas shells and a girl was killed. Situation was very tense. Indiraji was addressing a rally at Belthangady when the news of the violence reached her. She was very upset and we decided to end the programme mid-way. Soon, the violence spread to other places too. We all went to the guest house at Dharmasthala. After day's campaigning, it was routine for me to go back to my home in Mangaluru. That day looking at the tense situation, Indiraji asked me to stay put in Dharmasthala. "No, it's okay", I said. The next day, the situation had become worse. I could see people indulging in riots and protests all along the way to Dharmasthala from Mangaluru. "How is the position", Indiraji asked me immediately after I reached the guest house. "Very bad," I said. "So, what can we do now?" she asked "It's better to cancel the meeting' I humbly submitted. "Then, lets proceed to Chikkamagaluru," she said.

Since the situation was tense outside and Indiraji's life was under threat, we had to take her to Chikkamagaluru secretly. Since my car was familiar to all, I borrowed a car from Kankanadi Ramappa and set off to Chikkamagaluru. We tied bamboo plates to the windows of the car so that Indiraji could not be seen from outside. All along the route, we saw unruly mob setting tyres on fire, shouting slogans against Congress. Ujire was literally on the boil. All shops and business establishments were closed as the Janata Party had given call for Bandh. Amidst fear, we managed to reach Moodigere border from where she went to Chikkamagaluru in another car. I returned to Mangaluru. Enroute, my car was stopped by people at many places assuming Indira Gandhi was travelling in my car. Finally, prudence prevailed and I changed the car from Belthangady. The campaign had stopped completely. When I reached home I could see fear on the faces of my family members for my safety as the news of violence had reached them.

After a couple of days, the situation returned to normalcy and the election campaign resumed. Indira Gandhi joined the campaign with renewed vigour.

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