Dharwad: Former Congress minister, Vinay Kulkarni is up for a tough battle in Dharwad as he received the ticket for the constituency just a day before the last date of filing of nominations and now has to contend with sticky issues like partymen deserting it to join the BJP and the displeasure of Muslim leaders, who are upset at the Dharwad ticket slipping out of their community's hands. Having lost to BJP MP, Pralhad Joshi, in the constituency the last Lok Sabha poll, Mr Kulkarni, is trying his luck a second time from Dharwad these elections and claims he is confident of winning by a huge margin this time. Excerpts from the interview :
Q: How do you intend to counter the challenge by three-time MP, Pralhad Joshi in the BJP stronghold of Dharwad?
A : I was fielded against Joshi at the last moment the previous parliamentary poll, but still won a good number of votes. This time I am contesting the poll on the wishes of the people and am confident of winning by a margin of over a lakh votes with the support of JD(S) leaders. The BJP has turned Hubballi-Dharwad into a dusty city with major projects like the ring road and flyover lying incomplete.
Q: There was a lot of delay in finalising your candidature, leaving you little time to campaign.
A : I have already completed one round of campaigning in the constituency as I was confident of getting the ticket. I know that I have very little time to prepare for the election, but support from prominent JD(S) leaders like Basavaraj Horatti and N H Konareddy has given me confidence. We were confused and worried after the death of minister, C S Shivalli. But his loyalists have assured me of their full support in the Kundagol Assembly constituency that he represented.
Q: The Congress has become a divided house in Dharwad. Don't you think this could hamper your chances?
A: Congress workers are enthusiastic about defeating Pralhad Joshi this election. There are no differences among the party leaders in the district.
Joshi has no personal image or achievement to his credit despite being elected for three consecutive terms and has never spoken up for farmers in parliament. He has been winning for the last 15 years only on the popularity of Vajapayee, Yeddyurappa and Prime Minister Modi. But now, there is no Modi wave in the constituency.
Q: Muslims leaders are unhappy that you were chosen over a candidate from their community. How do you intend to pacify them?
A : Muslim leaders are not upset over the Dharwad ticket coming to me. The BJP is spreading this falsehood on social media. It has formed a team of over 50 to spread such false propaganda against me. Mr I G Sanadi, who was a ticket aspirant, accompanied me when I went to file my nomination papers. I will approach all Muslim leaders to seek their support.
Q: Will your involvement in the Lingayat movement affect on your chances?
A : It is true that our movement for independent religion status for the Lingayats did result in a setback for the Congress the last Assembly elections. Sometimes we win and sometimes suffer in such situations. But this will not happen in the Lok Sabha elections as we have dropped the Lingayat movement. Joshi won the 2009 election as the Lingayats backed Mr Yeddyurappa , their community leader. But now they are upset with the BJP as no one from the community has been inducted into the Union Cabinet although it has sent nine MPs to parliament from Karnataka.
Q : Will the building collapse in Dharwad that claimed 19 lives jeopardise your prospects?
A: It is true that my father-in-law is one of the owners of the five-storey commercial complex that collapsed last month. But relatives of MP, Pralhad Joshi are also involved in it. The permission for construction of the building was given by his relative, Mukund Joshi. My wife attended the ground-breaking ceremony of the building after she was invited for the function. BJP leaders are levelling charges against my 70-year old father-in-law, who is lodged in jail despite having undergone a bypass surgery. It is Joshi's conspiracy to drag me into the building collapse controversy.
Q: Your achievements as minister are being questioned by the BJP.
A : I did development work in rural areas, brought tremendous improvement in the education system and created employment opportunities by conducting job fairs. But Pralhad Joshi has not made any contribution to rural development except adopting one village in Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.