For ‘Bhoomi Putra’ Mallikarjun Kharge, prestigious Lok Sabha poll battle in Karnataka

A strong show by the Congress in Karnataka is bound to boost the veteran leader's stock in his party and the opposition INDIA bloc.


Published Mar 29, 2024 | 4:36 PMUpdatedMar 29, 2024 | 4:36 PM

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addresses the Telangana Congress' polling-booth-level workers on Thursday, 25 January, 2024.

By Kishore SU

For Congress President M Mallikarjun Kharge, who calls himself “Bhoomi Putra” of Karnataka, the coming Lok Sabha elections in the state is another prestigious battle of sorts in less than a year.

With Congress winning only one seat in the 2019 general elections in Karnataka, his task is now cut out.

A strong show by the Congress in his home state is bound to boost the veteran leader’s stock not just in his party but in the opposition INDIA bloc as well, according to a political analyst.

Days before the Assembly elections in Karnataka in May last year, the octogenarian leader had sought to strike an emotional chord with voters, exhorting them to take pride in the fact that he, as a “Bhoomi Putra” of Karnataka, had been made the AICC president.

Kharge was credited in part with playing a key role in keeping factional feuds in the party at bay back then and saw to it that the outfit faced the polls unitedly.

The Congress went on to score a landslide victory, winning 135 seats in the 224-member Assembly, ousting the BJP from power, and strengthening Kharge’s hands at the national level in no small measure.

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Banking on guarantees

According to political observers, Kharge is sure to put his might behind the party campaign for Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka, one of the three states where it is in power.

Congress in the state is mainly banking on the implementation of five guarantee schemes to woo the voters, and also leverage the ‘Kharge factor’ to widen its reach, particularly with Dalits and oppressed classes.

Kharge won the Lok Sabha elections from Gulbarga (Kalaburagi) in 2009 and 2014 but lost in the 2019 elections.

This time, he chose to opt out of the contest given his responsibilities as AICC President and coordination with INDIA bloc partners. The party has fielded his son-in-law Radhakrishna Doddamani from Kalaburagi for the coming polls.

According to a party leader, had Kharge himself contested from his home turf of Kalaburagi (Gulbarga Lok Sabha seat), it would certainly have had a ripple effect in the region, helping the Congress garner a greater vote share.

‘May not be able to campaign in Karnataka’

Party sources said Kharge may not be able to campaign in Karnataka as much as he did in last year’s Assembly elections as he will have to extensively travel across the country canvassing for party candidates and address joint rallies with alliance partners.

But it was clear that Kharge played a key role in the selection of candidates for Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka, where the party now appears battle-ready and determined to put up a strong show in the coming elections.

The then-ruling Congress-JD(S) alliance had come a cropper, winning just one seat each in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which the BJP had swept, by winning 25 out of a total of 28 seats in the state, and had ensured the win of a party supported independent candidate in Mandya.

Kharge, who is now the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, is the second AICC president from Karnataka after S Nijalingappa, and only the second leader, after Jagjivan Ram, to spearhead India’s grand old party, from the Dalit community.

“Kharge, as the Congress President, is widely credited for keeping at bay the factionalism in the party’s Karnataka unit, especially between the camps of its two top leaders Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy CM and state Congress President D K Shivakumar, who were often seen to be engaging in political one-upmanship,” a political analyst said.

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‘Brought in sense of unity’

Party leaders also give credit to Kharge for bringing a sense of unity among the party leadership in the state. He had also ensured that there was by and large unanimity among all sections in deciding candidates, which ultimately paid off in the Assembly polls.

Kharge was defeated by BJP’s Umesh Jadhav in the Gulbarga seat by a margin of 95,452 votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Popularly known as “Solillada Saradara”, (a leader without defeat), that was the first electoral loss for Kharge — a nine-time MLA and two-term Lok Sabha member — in his political life spanning several decades.

Kharge, who was earlier leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, had served as Union Cabinet Minister – Labour and Employment, also Railways and Social Justice and Empowerment in the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government.

He had also held various portfolios in successive Congress governments that governed the state and was also president of the Karnataka Congress and leader of the opposition in the state assembly.

The general elections in Karnataka will be held in two phases on 26 April and 7 May for 28 constituencies.

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