Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is fighting his record 12th election, is perhaps facing the toughest battle of his life with the BJP and his political opponents joining hands and drawing up grand plans to beat him. The veteran, who has so far won 11 elections without a break, is a bit perturbed over the formidable opposition to him but still looked relaxed, cracking jokes and making witty remarks during an interview on Sunday morning. Here are excerpts.
You are about to face your 12th election and this will be a crucial one. How different is it this time?
This election is important for two reasons. We have to protect our party’s principles and ideological credentials. By spreading its tentacles to the administrative machinery, the RSS is trying to take control of this government and destroy the basic principles enshrined in the Constitution. RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and even some BJP minister are talking of changing the Constitution. If they come to power again, they will get more strength to carry out their mission. We have to prevent it. Secondly the poorer sections, who are in a majority in this country, don’t subscribe to the RSS ideology. The concept of social justice is the hallmark of the Constitution and it’s our paramount duty to uphold the Constitution. Many of our leaders (Congress) have sacrificed their lives for getting freedom and also for saving democracy in this country. We are determined to save democracy and ready to make any sacrifice. Like others (read RSS or BJP), we are not bragging about doing great things for this country without taking part in the freedom struggle. These RSS leaders talk so much about religion, did they at any point of time talk about social justice before Independence when more than 90 per cent of people belonged to the downtrodden and neglected categories?
During previous Lok Sabha election, you were on a strong wicket due to factors such as enactment of Article 371(J), sanctioning of many railway projects for Kalaburagi division, construction of the ESIC Hospital etc. There is no such strong wave in your favour in this election.
See when I was a minister, I played the role expected of me. When I’m in the Opposition, I have strived my best to discharge the role expected of the Leader of the Opposition, ie to protect the Constitution, democracy and also save secular values in the country. After enactment of Article 371(J) by the Lok Sabha, rules needed to be framed and now people are enjoying its benefits. And as I played my role very well, there was nothing for the BJP to speak against me in Parliament. But some people are creating a hype against me through the media. My question is: what have BJP leaders done for the state? Why should the situation in my constituency be against me? Some people are also jealous that I have grown to this stage and become Opposition leader. As a parliamentarian and leader of the Congress group, I have brought a good name to this region. Moreover unlike other leaders, I never got upset when I missed the opportunity to become CM thrice...the high command and others know this very well. The people are with me, they appreciate my performance and they are working for my victory.
Although the dynamics may change from poll to poll, both the Congress and BJP are almost evenly placed in the Kalaburagi Lok Sabha seat this time. Of the eight Assembly segments, four are with the Congress (Chittapur, Kalaburagi North, Afzalpur and Jewargi), three (Kalaburagi South, Kalaburagi Rural and Sedam) with BJP and one with JD(S). With big leaders like Malikayya Guttedar, Baburao Chinchansur and Vishwanath Patil Hebbal, who were earlier in your party, arraigned against you, don’t you feel you will have a tough fight?
As per your assessment we are in a stronger position (Congress four, JD-S one). You tell me what has been the contribution of Modi to this area? During the last five years what gift has he given? When my government was there I did several things. When my state government is there, we have done several things. You tried to close down the ESIC Hospital, the paramedical courses have not been started yet. You sanctioned the railway division to Vishakapatnam, but not to Kalaburagi. What moral right do you have to seek votes here?
It’s the considered opinion of political analysts that you should have got one or two more berths for the district in the recent cabinet reshuffle and this would have helped you in this election.
See I tried my best but I cannot disclose all those details. Even earlier (during the tenure of Mr Siddaramaiah) I tried to prevent the dropping of some ministers from the Cabinet...
But many leaders wonder how a leader like Kharge could not manage to get a second berth for his home district..
You see some things are possible and some not possible. Just because I’m the Opposition leader, anything that I ask for will not be fulfilled. There were times when Kalaburagi had seven ministers. Is it possible now? There were times when we had won eight of the total nine seats. Last time we won seven and this time we have won four. The high command has taken a decision in consultation with state level leaders. I don’t want to speak more on the subject...if I speak more, it will be misconstrued that I’m doing this for the sake of defending my son.
In most of your speeches you are targeting Mr Modi. You repeatedly say that Mr Modi should not take credit for the airstrikes carried out on terrorist hideouts as they were carried out by the armed forces and not by Modi....
Being an MP, what should I do instead of attacking Modi? Should I attack local people? It’s my duty. We are all behind the forces in whatever decision they take in the interests of the country. But Mr Modi alone taking credit is objectionable. Moreover if his chela says we will win four seats more... who should be blamed?
What I was trying to say was when it comes to development works such as enacting 371(J) and sanctioning of railways projects, you claim credit. Extending your analogy what’s wrong in Modi taking credit for the airstrikes?
While the airstrike is a national issue, these are development issues. During UPA rule, airstrikes were carried out six times. Did Nehru and Shastri go around the country and take credit when Pakistan was defeated by India in war?
But Indira Gandhi did take credit for the liberation of Bangladesh ....
Indira helped liberate Bangladesh following a request from them; it was not a voluntary action.... and at that time Vajpayee hailed her as the Durga of the country.
Sharing of seats between Congress and JD(S) is yet to be finalised. But reports say the JDS may get nine or ten seats. The hard reality is that JD(S) does not have competent candidates to contest in these many seats. Is Congress not losing ground in its bid to keep the BJP away from power?
Let’s wait and see what the negotiating team finalises. On March 11, the list (of candidates and seats) will be finalised. Sometimes, to safeguard our principles and ideology, we will have to adopt a give and take policy.