KALABURAGI: Gulbarga is warmer than most parts of Karnataka and is rightly called ‘Bisilu Nadu’ (sunshine land). Incidentally, the pre-poll temperature here is just as hot, if not hotter.One of the most important Congress leaders in the fray, Mallikarjun Kharge, is contesting from here. Kharge has a track record of 11 straight wins - nine Assembly and two Lok Sabha - and this time he is facing one of the toughest battles of his nearly five decade political career. He is up against Congress rebel-turned-BJP candidate Dr Umesh Jadhav, who is banking on votes from Banjara community, which is in significant numbers in the constituency. Jadhav is also backed by a number of senior Congress leaders who left the party to join BJP.
While Kharge dismisses any threat from Jadhav and says that he is confident of winning for the work he has done, Jadhav, on the other hand, blames Kharge of dynasty politics and said, “Mallikarjun insisted the Congress high command not give any MLA from Kalaburagi and Yadgir districts ministers’ posts, expect for his son Priyank.”Gulbarga has so far been a safe seat for Congress. Of the 17 Lok Sabha polls, Congress tasted victory 15 times here.
Kharge first contested the LS polls in 2009 and beat BJP’s strongman Revu Naik Belamagi twice. Interestingly, today, Belamagi is a Kharge loyalist. He switched sides from BJP and joined JD(S).Ironically, Kharge’s opponent Jadhav, who is a surgeon by qualification, was a Congress MLA from Chincholi until a few months ago.
However, Kharge’s worry is not that his colleague has turned a foe but the fact that many of his friends are now in the enemy zone. Former ministers Malikaiah Guttedar, Babu Rao Chinchansoor, AB Malaka Reddy, they all backed Kharge during the previous elections but have now moved to BJP. All of them are influential in their respective communities.But ever the strategist, Kharge has roped in some influential vote magnets from the BJP camp. They are former minister Babu Rao Chauhan, former Rajya Sabha member KB Shanappa and Subhash Rathod, who was the state unit convener of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme. Miffed over not being given tickets, they all quit the BJP to join Congress. They now call BJP a communal and anti-poor party.
While Kharge enjoys the support of dalits, backward classes and minorities, Jadhav is banking a lot on the Modi factor and the discontentment among Congress leaders who accuse Kharge of promoting his son and not other leaders. The BJP is also counting on votes from backward communities like Ediga and Koli due to the support of Guttedar and Chinchansoor. The saffron party is also dependent on Lingayat votes, who constitute around 7 lakh voters - the largest community.
Political analyst Prof Chandrakant Yatnoor said development issues have been sidelined this poll and BJP is luring voters with national security and nationalism. “Congress has failed in its narrative to remind voters of the agony the NDA government has caused such as demonetisation and GST. This time the challenge is so onerous for Kharge that he started poll preparations two-months ago.
Anti-Kharge wave in Gulbarga will help me win: Umesh Jadhav (BJP)
What made you contest against Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge?
He has not tasted defeat in the last 11 General Elections.For me, self respect is supreme. These people, especially senior and junior Kharge, tried to disrespect me and so I decided to quit the Congress and contest against Kharge senior.
How did they hurt your self respect?
The coalition government has not bothered to implement the works suggested by me in Chincholi constituency. In fact, they neglected me because I was loyal to late chief minister Dharam Singh and former chief minister Sidharamaiah. Ever since Priyank Kharge became the minister in-charge of Kalaburagi district, he has not visited Chincholi taluk even once.
How confident are you about winning?
I don’t doubt me winning with a comfortable margin. The achievements of the Modi government, my commitment towards my work, my sincerity and the anti-Kharge wave, will certainly help me win the elections.
You think there is an anti-Kharge wave in the constituency?
Certainly. His blind love for his son will cost senior Kharge. Bidar got three cabinet berths in Kumaraswamy’s government. Though there were many Congress MLAs in Kalaburagi and Yadgir constituencies, such as Dr Ajay Singh, MY Patil, Kaneez Fatima, Sharanabasappa Darshanapur from Shahapur, and myself, only Priyank Kharge was given a cabinet portfolio. According to my sources, Mallikarjun insisted the Congress high command not give any MLA from Kalaburagi and Yadgir districts ministers’ posts, except for his son Priyank.
Will senior BJP leaders such as Subhash Rathod, Babu Rao Chauhan and K B Shanappa joining Congress, after you joined BJP, harm your prospects?
Go ask those leaders how the people have responded to them quitting BJP and joining Congress. As per talk and clippings, which have become viral, people have been asking these leaders why they took this step. People asked them how, after hurling insults at the Congress for so many years, could they switch loyalties. They are being called opportunists.
Congress never used Army for votes: Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress)
You have successfully contested 11 general elections. Do you feel there an anti-Kharge wave this time?
Not at all. In the previous elections we used to request people to come for election campaigns. This time, however, people voluntarily came to my meetings and waited for hours together to listen to me and other leaders.
You are accused of promoting your son Priyank Kharge and making him a minister while ignoring other leaders in the district. Do you think that will have any impact?
These are all baseless allegations. Neither am I a member of the coordination committee, nor have I recommended the committee to accommodate my son in the Cabinet. The committee verified factors such as caste combination and party equation and selected candidates for cabinet posts. I am not the kind of man who crosses his limits to get things done.
What are the factors you are highlighting while seeking votes?
In 47 years of my political life, I have done a lot for the Hyderabad-Karnataka region in general and Kalaburagi in particular. Because of my sincere efforts, Article 371J was amended. Also, it is due to the efforts of my colleagues and I that a High Court bench was established in Kalaburagi and the place also got Central University of Karnataka and ESIC Medical complex. Let BJP give its progress card to the public. Let the BJP tell people what it has done for the country.
Why do you think people will vote for you?
Let people compare my achievements with any of the BJP candidates contesting from Karnataka and decide who will be the best candidate to serve them in future.
Do you think the surgical strike, air strike and Kisan Samman Yojana are helping the BJP gain popularity?
People cannot be fooled all the time. People knew about the contribution of the Congress in safeguarding the country and making it prosperous. Surgical strikes took place even during the Congress regime and India even won the war with Pakistan when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. We gave credit to the Indian Army and did not use it to gain political mileage.