If there is one man who should be credited for conceptualising the script and directing the ‘Oust Kharge Play’ in which veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge was vanquished in the Kalaburagi Lok Sabha seat contest, he is state BJP General Secretary N Ravikumar.
Thanks to the strategy and diligence of Mr Ravikumar, Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Dr Umesh Jadhav was able to capture the impregnable fort of the Congress (since 1952, it has been won by non-Congress candidates only twice) and humble Mr Kharge, who had won 11 elections without a break since he first contested in 1972. Mr Ravikumar was sent to Kalaburagi, nearly two months ahead of the finalization of Dr Jadhav as the candidate to do the spade work. He was given total freedom to decide on any issue concerning the Kalaburagi Lok Sabha seat and made good use of the responsibility to execute it with great perfection. In the process he not only identified the weaknesses in the Kharge camp but also those in the district unit of his party. Realizing that some of his own party leaders were either hand in glove with Mr Kharge or were scared of raising their voices against him, Mr Ravikumar issued them a clear warning that their performance in the election would be carefully watched and they would be deprived of MLA tickets in the coming election if they failed to get clear leads for the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate in their Assembly segments. This enabled Dr Jadhav emerge as a giant killer with a victory margin of over 95,000 votes. Here are excerpts of an interview with Mr Ravikumar.
What was the ground situation when you were assigned the task and how did you tackle it?
First I made a thorough study of the failures of Mr Kharge, Mr Priyank Kharge, the major problems of the region and also weakness in our district unit. I knew some things beforehand as I had worked in the area as an ABVP functionary: but I made a thorough study of them once I was assigned this task.
What were the failures of Mr Kharge which you noticed?
The major problem in the area is poverty because agriculture has not been developed by improving irrigation facilities. Former Chief Minister Veerendra Patil had laid the foundation stone for irrigation projects, but the leaders who succeeded him mainly Mr Kharge paid no attention to executing them. Secondly, in the cement industries that have come up in the district, very few locals have got employment. Though Mr Kharge has dominated politics in the region for nearly fifty years and was a minister seven times, he did little to bring industries and generate employment for local people. The tur dal industry, which Kalaburagi is famous for, has huge potential for exports. Today the industry is in a big crisis. Mr Kharge has not done any work for the survival and growth of the dal industry. Moreover he should have encouraged cottage industries but he did not pay attention to these. There is also a problem with people in the region; they have no fighting spirit. Lack of education is responsible for this and the Congress party should bear the blame. I used to say in my speeches that the Congress party is responsible for poverty, drought and backwardness of the region. And no other politician has enjoyed as much power as Mr Kharge has. In so far as Mr Priyank is concerned, there is no “holistic” development of his personality. His arrogant behaviour and mindless utterings, have already antagonised many people. He has no ability to take all sections of people along with him. If Mr Priyank does not mend his ways, his political life will come to an end soon.
What were the organisational problems you noticed?
Some of our party leaders were actively working, some were acting as though they were active. You know when it rains, water goes wherever it finds a way. We have to lay proper channels for taking the water to the tanks. There were several voters who had made up their minds to defeat Mr Kharge, we only had to bring them to the polling booths. I also made clear to my legislators that they had to perform and ensure a lead in all constituencies. The entry of leaders like Mr Malikayya Guttedar and Mr Baburao Chinchansur came as a big boon to us. We evolved a strategy for getting Koli/Kabaliga votes, other BC votes and assigned work to each leader.
We also appointed page pramukhs who were entrusted the responsibility of bringing voters listed on a single page in the voters list to the polling booth. They had to go to voters and explain to them the achievements of the Central government.
Why were you assigned the task to go to Kalaburagi?
I have an organisational background. Secondly I have served in the area and thirdly, there is a big population of the Koli community that I belong to in the constituency.
Were you confident of succeeding when the task was entrusted to you?
When I was assigned the responsibility, I was confident of succeeding because I knew that Mr Kharge had won the last two elections by boasting of three buildings in Kalaburagi City- ESI Medical College and Hospital Complex, Central University of Karnataka and the Budha Vihar - as his major achievements. Apart from these he has not done much except for some work. So I was confident that with the Modi wave and social engineering, we could smash the walls of the fort Mr Kharge had built around him. We focused on the Lingayats, Kolis, Brahmins, Lambanis, Vishwa Karma and other community voters who favoured us. We held meetings of all these communities and made them come out and vote for us.
Do you think that after the defeat of Mr Kharge and the unprecedented performance of the BJP, the party has become a big force in Hyderabad-Karnataka?
Yes exactly...except for Priyank, no leader is left in the Congress. If we pay proper attention, we could wipe out the Congress from Hyderabad-Karnataka region....