Kalaburagi: Will veteran Congress Leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who has won eleven elections (nine to the state Assembly and two to the Lok Sabha) without a break so far, create a record of sorts by emerging victorious in this crucial battle as well or meet his Waterloo at the hands of BJP candidate Dr Umesh Jadhav?
This is the animated discussion taking place among all sections of people not only in Hyderabad-Karnataka region, but throughout the state as well. The main reason for this is the tough challenge the veteran leader is facing with all his political rivals joining hands to settle scores with him. Mr Kharge himself makes this abundantly clear in his speeches saying a "systematic effort is being made from galli to Dilli" to defeat him in this poll. "The 'galli to Dilli' leaders Mr Kharge obliquely refers to are not merely the top brass of the BJP or RSS but also some in the Congress who have an axe to grind against him.
Mr Kharge, who has become the unchallenged leader of the party over the years has made many enemies including Malikayya Guttedar, Baburao Chinchansur and Dr Malakarddi. He has also reportedly antagonised some sections of society, mainly the upper caste Veerashaiva-Lingayats who could strike back at him in this election.
Another factor is the sudden rise of his son Priyank in politics and the latter's flamboyant style of functioning which has earned him many enemies, say political observers.
Analysts cite two other major reasons which have made the going really tough for Mr Kharge this time. One is the fielding of Dr Jadhav as the BJP candidate after a great deal of brainstorming by the BJP-RSS think-tank. "When Mr Revu Naik Belamagi was fielded against Mr Kharge in the previous two elections, voters were not convinced about the suitability of the candidate. This was one of the major factors why Mr Belamagi did not succeed. Voters would ask what someone like him who did not know much of English would do in Parliament? As some observers put it, Mr Kharge did not win the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Mr Belamagi lost it. But unlike Mr Belamagi, Dr Jadhav is quite determined to win the election this time and so the the going has become tough for Mr Kharge,” observers opined. But the astute politician that he is, Mr Kharge has drawn up a multi-pronged strategy to win the election at any cost. Besides his achievements, he has the solid backing of his caste as well as Muslim voters ( who together form more than one third of the voters in the constituency) and also commands money and muscle power.
Moreover as a senior leader put it, Mr Kharge is the defacto CM for the Hyderabad-Karnataka region and has managed to get pliable officers deployed in crucial posts in the constituency, which would stand him in good stead. He is also assisted by a big team of loyal leaders such as K.C. Kondaiah, Allam Veerabhadrappa, Dr Sharanprakash Patil, Sharanappa Mattur, Aravind Arali and Allampabhu Patil.
With a view to mobilise support from different castes, which are largely believed to be not in favour of Mr Kharge, Jaati Samaveshas (caste-based conventions) have been held. The Congress has so far held the Jaati-Samaveshas of Veerashaiva-Lingayats, Ganigas, Madigas, Koli/Kabbaligas, Lambanis and Brahmins.
As the SC Right (Chelavadi) and Muslims are considered to be the major vote banks of Mr Kharge, the Congress is trying to ensure these sections cast their votes in large numbers. “Although Mr Kharge has spoken to the former Chairman of KUDA Asghar Chulbul, who was attacked recently allegedly by the followers of Kalaburagi North Congress MLA Khaneeza Fathima, the chances of some of his followers voting against Congress cannot be ruled out. But the rest of Muslim voters will vote for the Congress as religious heads have asked them to focus on voting against Mr Modi", a prominent leader pointed out.
The pro- Kharge group through Akhila Bharat Veerashaiva Mahasabha President Shamanur Shivashankarappa has approached the five Veerashaiva Jagadgurus and has conveyed to the community that Mr Kharge had maintained a distance from the movement for separate religion status. "This has gone down well with the community", a prominent leader close to Mr Kharge said.
The worrying factor for Mr Kharge is the possibility of a large chunk of Koli/Kabbaliga votes going against him In Gurmitkal constituency, the Koli/Kabbaligas, who are in a majority, were his backbone. But after Baburao Chinchansur quit the Congress and joined the BJP, a big chunk of these votes may go to the saffron party although the Kharge group has taken measures to counter the possible damage by projecting the State Honorary President of Koli Samaj Mr Thippanna Kamaknur as the Koli Samaj leader and declaring he would be nominated to the Upper House. For garnering the Madiga votes, Mr Kharge group is heavily dependent on former Minister K.B. Shanappa, who joined the Congress recently after quitting BJP. A big chunk of Madigas are opposed to Mr Kharge because the latter is alleged to have always promoted the interests of his Chelavadi (SC Right) community. And the second reason is the belief that Mr Kharge stalled the implementation of the Sadashiva Committee report.
Considering the daunting challenge they face, both Mr Kharge and Mr Priyank have both taken initiatives to broker peace with the leaders who had fallen out with them. Mr Kharge going to the residence of Gurmitkal MLA Nagangouda Kandkur, with whom he had long standing political rivalry, is quite crucial. Mr Priyank, who fell out with some leaders including elected representatives over his style of functioning, has held closed-door meetings with them to settle differences and persuade them to work to elect Kharge saab to the Lok Sabha once again.
Realizing the value of each vote, the Kharge group has made elaborate arrangements for bringing back thousands of labourers from the constituency who have migrated to various cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and Goa in search of employment. "Every year thousands of labourers from the rural areas of Yadgir, Gurmitkal, Chittapur, Sedam and other taluks migrate to big cities. This year the migration is high in view of severe drought conditions. These labourers have been contacted and arrangements have been made to bring them to their respective villages on the day of voting. Besides transportation, they will be provided with food and other incentives,” a leader involved in the process revealed.