DATE=8/27/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=INDIA - ELECTIONS (L ONLY)(CQ) NUMBER=2-253197 BYLINE=ANJANA PASRICHA DATELINE=NEW DELHI CONTENT= VOICED AT: // Re-issuing to correct, in eighth graf of text, name of Indira Gandhi's daughter. Should read: Priyanka Vadra // INTRO: The leader of India's main opposition Congress Party, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi has launched her campaign from the election district of Bellary in southern India, from where she is contesting the upcoming general elections. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the district race pits Mrs. Gandhi against a prominent Hindu nationalist leader. TEXT: Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi told thousands of voters Friday in the small South Indian town of Bellary in Karnataka state, "I have made India my own, I am tied to the Indian soil." Mrs. Gandhi defended her commitment to the nation after her chief opponent in the constituency, Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Sushma Swaraj, questioned her credentials as a political leader due to her foreign birth. Bellary town was little known until ten days ago. But it has sprung into national prominence since the country's two most high-profile women politicians - Mrs. Gandhi and Mrs. Swaraj decided to fight elections from here. Observers say Mrs. Gandhi chose to contest from Bellary because it is usually a "safe seat" that always elects Congress party candidates. But the B-J-P has put up a strong challenge to Mrs. Gandhi by running one of its most prominent leaders against her. Campaigning in the streets of Bellary, Mrs.Swaraj is emphasizing Mrs. Gandhi's foreign background, and has revived a debate on whether a foreign-born national should become prime minister. Addressing a series of campaign rallies, she is asking people to "accept the Indian woman, reject the foreign woman." Mrs. Swaraj has been a federal minister and Chief Minister of Delhi. This is the first time Mrs. Gandhi is running for public office. Mrs. Gandhi's foreign birth became a dominant issue in the elections after her party began to project her as its prime ministerial candidate. But Congress Party leaders say this is not a relevant issue for most Indians. Congress spokesperson, Ambika Soni says the party is confident Mrs. Gandhi's foreign birth will not have any impact on voting. /// ACT SONIA GANDHI /// Not in Bellary, and nowhere else. You find the response of people irrespective of what the BJP leaders say welcoming Sonia Gandhi. All the polls which have conducted in the recent past speak of this issue as one of the lowest priority if any priority at all. ///End Soni act/// Mrs. Gandhi is accompanied on her campaign by her daughter, Priyanka Vadra. Observers say this is an attempt to deflect criticism of her foreign birth. The Congress Party also hopes to gain votes through campaign appearances by members of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty that has governed India for 37 of its 52 years of Independence. Mrs. Gandhi's political future does not depend on Bellary alone. She is also contesting from the Gandhi family's traditional seat in Northern India. The Congress Party is trailing in opinion polls. The polls are projecting the B-J-P led coalition as the frontrunner. Bellary goes to the polls on September 5th. Results will only be known a month later when counting begins early October after the entire country has voted in the staggered polls being held in five phases. (Signed) NEB/AP/KL 27-Aug-1999 15:21 PM EDT (27-Aug-1999 1921 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .