On 23 April, Kharge will be fighting his 12th electoral battle from Kalaburagi (Gulbarga)
As the leader of opposition in the Lower House, Kharge is confident of delivering over 20 seats to his party
KALABURAGI (KARNATAKA) :
In Karnataka, there are only a handful of people who are referred to as “solillada saradara" (chieftain who has never lost) and 76-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge tops that list with 11 election victories -- nine in assembly polls and two parliamentary victories -- since 1972.
On 23 April, Kharge will be fighting his 12th electoral battle from Kalaburagi (Gulbarga), in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, that many believe is one of his most difficult ones as he takes on his protege, Umesh Jadhav, a rebel Congress leader who defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As the leader of opposition in the Lower House, Kharge is confident of delivering over 20 seats to his party. In an hour-long chat, the veteran leader speaks about the forthcoming polls and its impact on the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition in the state, Rahul Gandhi’s chances of dethroning Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his own unfulfilled ambition of becoming Karnataka’s chief minister.
This is the 12th time you are going to the polls. How important is this election for you?
Age has taken a toll this time and travelling by car becomes an ordeal for long distance but otherwise the election does not seem that difficult. Last time there was a lot of buzz over the Modi wave and people were scaring me but we can see the change in the youth, especially those who voted for the BJP. They are aware of me and my work like Article 371 (J).
You are facing an opponent who is a Congress rebel. How do you view Umesh Jadhav?
My dominance in the constituency is not sudden or overnight. But my contribution to the party should not mean that anybody should have a grudge about our dominance. Now, this man (Jadhav) comes from Chincholi, which is not even part of Kalaburgi. Where is the question of trying to break my dominance? I brought him up when I was labour minister. The opposition has been trying to bring me down by blaming me for my son (Priyank Kharge) getting a ministerial berth. The BJP has made false promises of making him a minister if Modi comes to power. The fact is Jadhav got trapped by the BJP and cannot climb out of it.
Is the fight then between Modi and Kharge?
Can Jadhav, who has been around for six months, come and try to dominate me in my constituency? The BJP’s central leadership from the national president to the PM, finance minister, home minister are campaigning for him. If there was to be a level-playing field, then the party should have entrusted the responsibility to the local leaders. The BJP wants to see Kharge defeated. BJP wants to drown me but the people of Kalaburagi want to keep me afloat.
Your son’s elevation as a cabinet minister has been cited as a cause for Jadhav contesting against you.
That is also an excuse as Priyank got the cabinet berth as there was nobody else from the reserved community he represents across the party from Hyderabad-Karnataka region. He was chosen based on his performance during the Siddaramaiah government. All these allegations that I am attached to my son’s political career are false. If I was so attached to having power, I could use the fact that I missed becoming the CM despite being from a deprived community. But I never did so. We look at larger interests, not for small things.
Is there more pressure on you since you are the leader of opposition?
There is no pressure on any one of us. I am also in-charge of Maharashtra. I did not get involved in ticket distribution.
The coalition in Karnataka is often the target of the PM’s barbs. Your comments.
Is it not a mixture (coalition) in Maharashtra? Nitish Kumar was with the Mahagathbandhan, moved away, then returned and went again with the BJP. They can’t teach us. (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee government had 27 parties. The thing is that Modi is taught cinema dialogues by RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and he says the same things. They (BJP) have the best actors who deliver the best dialogues but they do not have thinkers, intellectuals and have no vision. Because all they have done is lynchings, demonetization, reckless implementation of GST (goods and services tax) and lies despite having such a big majority. Those who have no vision for the country speak in this fashion.
Do you see a vacuum in leadership to take on Modi?
This is all media creation and your imagination. Did anyone expect that he will become PM in 2014 or rule Gujarat for over 13 years? A few companies, corporates and media created him. Don’t think that there is no alternative after Modi. Everyone asked who will be there before Dr. Manmohan Singh or after Jawaharlal Nehru. In this country of 120 crore people, everybody will come forward.
What impact will these elections have on the state government?
We can’t say anything now but we have promised to go together and will try our best to complete all five years. There is discord (among workers) but now it is inevitable that we move together. When both want to protect secular liberties and fraternities, social justice... We must naturally go together.
There appears to be an effort by the BJP to drum up support by using nationalism. How do you respond?
They act like they are the only nationalists and patriots. Modi is saying all this because people are not happy with the election manifesto, his performance, GST, unemployment, farmers and he can’t face it so he is putting all this on nationalism. Does it mean to say that all other parties are anti-national? He is himself politicizing the armed forces by asking for votes in the names of jawans and blood spilt on the border.
Realistically, how good are your chances at forming the next government?
One thing I can tell is that they are not coming back to power. He has lost the faith of the people. After election, we don’t know which way a coalition will be formed but he alone will not come. Rahul Gandhi will 100% become the PM. In this country, we need two parties to survive democracy; otherwise it will be destroyed.
This is your 12th polls. What more is in store?
This area is completely dry but we tried to build dams. The only thing is that people here are little bit backward in utilizing available irrigation. People of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh come and use these resources but not our people here. There is potential for more irrigation.
Since there is not enough raw material, there are only a few cement industries here. I want to pursue a Special Zone for small and medium industries like garments that create more employment. Automobile and other things should be brought here.
Can we see Mr Kharge contest another election as well?
People have the wrong perception. We do not come as a government servant and then retire. We have certain ideas to implement and I would like that either my party should come to power and implement or if I get a chance, I should be able to do it. Any commitment should be fulfilled through continuous work and not just retiring because one gets old. Retirement in politics happens when one does not have any commitment.
Can we ever see Mr Kharge return to state politics. And possibly as chief minister?
I am ambitious, but not over-ambitious.
What has changed since the entry of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra?
Her entry has naturally been a boost. She is a good speaker, smart organizer, and she is doing her best in the short period that she has come. Her impact is everywhere and many youngsters, including our opposition party, say that she should come.
Get latest election news and live updates on Elections 2019 here