Mallikarjun Kharge’s rise up the ladder in the Congress would no doubt leave anyone envious. A loyal soldier of the party ever since he stepped into electoral politics, Kharge, though he missed the CM’s post a couple of times, was rewarded with the prestigious post of Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, where he handled the task of taking the prime minister head-on with elan. Now in Kalaburagi, as he gears up for the battle of battles with a former Congress colleague, Dr Umesh Jadhav, DC looks at the currents and counter-currents in the constituency
Has the moment of reckoning arrived for veteran Congress Leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is fighting a record 12th election in a long political career which began with his maiden contest in the 1972 Assembly election? He has remained unbeaten so far but he is facing the toughest battle of his life with several of his former loyalists quitting the Congress to join the BJP and now arraigned against him.
Mr Kharge, who first contested from the Kalaburagi Lok Sabha seat in 2009, is fighting his third Lok Sabha election, having won the seat in 2014 by a handsome margin of over 74,000 votes, notwithstanding the strong pro-Modi wave. Before his foray into the Lok Sabha contest in 2009, he had enjoyed a fantastic record of winning nine Assembly elections consecutively - eight from Gurmitkal and one from Chittapur.
Although the BJP is yet to officially declare its candidate, in all probability Dr Umesh Jadhav, whose resignation from the Chincholi Assembly seat is yet to be accepted by the Assembly Speaker, will take on Mr Kharge. It’s not yet clear whether other parties such as the CPI(M), BSP and All India Muslim Majlis-Ittedhadul Muslimeen will field their candidates. But irrespective of their decision, the constituency will witness a straight fight between the Congress and BJP.
Kalaburagi has been a strong bastion of the Congress since 1977 where it has lost only twice – in 1996 when late Qamarul Islam won on the JD(S) symbol and in 1998 when Mr Basavaraj Patil Sedam won as a BJP candidate. This time however, the impregnable fort appears vulnerable to an assault by the opposition and to a great extent, Mr Kharge himself has to be blamed for this. His urgency to fortify the career of his son Priyank, who is now Minister for Social Welfare and also the Kalaburagi District Incharge Minister, by scuttling the chances of other deserving leaders in the district, is threatening to become a nemesis for Kharge senior.
It was Mr Kharge’s contributions to the Hyderabad Karnataka region such as the special status by amending Article 371(J), sanctioning of various railway projects including a railway division office (which has so far only remained on paper), setting up of a Central University, a medical college and hospital complex by the ESIC, that enabled him to withstand the Modi wave and emerge victorious in 2014.
But much water has flowed in the Bhima river since then and Mr Kharge is indeed on a sticky wicket this time. Realizing that he cannot hope for a better future in the Congress with Mr Kharge at the helm of affairs, six-time MLA from Afzalpur Malikayya Guttedar quit the Congress to join the BJP on the eve of the 2018 Assembly election. Later he was joined by powerful Kabbaliga leader and former minister Baburao Chinchansur, who was divested of his ministerial berth in 2016 so that Mr Priyank could be anointed as Yadgir District Minister. The entry of these two backward community leaders has added more strength and widened the base of BJP in the district. Political leaders admit that Mr Kharge gave the opportunity to his political opponents to launch an offensive against him by appointing his son as the Kalaburagi district incharge minister while denying the chance to two other Congress aspirants - Jewargi MLA Dr Ajay Singh and Chincholi MLA Dr Umesh Jadhav. Congress leaders themselves admit in private conversations that Mr Kharge exercised his clout to deny the ministerial berths to these two legislators with a view to augment the position of his son and prevent the emergence of an alternate power centre to Mr Priyank.
Dr Ajay Singh, who had pinned high hopes on Mr Kharge for getting a Cabinet berth following the demise of his father late N Dharam Singh, was so annoyed over Mr Kharge’s betrayal that he indirectly attacked Mr Kharge by publicly declaring “this situation (of struggling for a ministerial berth and eventually not getting it) would not have arisen had my father been alive”.
Another aspirant for a ministerial berth, Dr Jadhav concluded that “I cannot hope for growth in the Congress as long as Mr Kharge reigns supreme in the party” and lapped up the invitation to him by the BJP to become its candidate for the Lok Sabha seat.
It is significant to note here that it’s not only political opponents of Mr Kharge who are keen on humbling him in this election, the BJP high command is also greatly interested in seeing him lose. Sources said the high command led by PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, and guided by the RSS, has carried out a meticulous excercise long before commencement of the electoral process to identify a strong Lambani candidate who could take on Mr Kharge.
Dr Jadhav, who belongs to a family of freedom fighters and is from the Lambani community which has a substantial number of voters in the constituency , perfectly fits the bill. The fact that Dr Jadhav joined the party in the presence of PM Modi himself on March 6 at Kalaburagi shows how much importance the party accords to this constituency.