With the elevation of Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge as All India National Congress (AICC) president, the state unit of party is sure its prospects will improve in Karnataka, especially in Kharge’s home turf — the Kalyana Karnataka region.
Ever since the Dalit leader took charge at the helm of the grand old party, there has been a visible increase in the enthusiasm quotient among Congress party workers, and their confidence in terms of the party’s chances in the region is at a high.
It is perhaps for this reason that the entire top brass of the state Congress was at hand to give Kharge a rousing welcome when he arrived for his first visit to his hometown Kalaburagi after being appointed as the head of the oldest national political party.
Apart from Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president DK Shivakumar — the two in the running to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate — many other party leaders, mainly from the Kalyana Karnataka region, were at hand to make his homecoming a memorable occasion.
It was his second visit to Karnataka after assuming charge as AICC president. His first visit to the state was to Bengaluru on 6 November.
Related: Kharge’s journey from school hockey team to Congress chief
Chanting the unity mantra
After taking part in an impressive road show along the main thoroughfares of Kalaburagi, Mallikarjun Kharge inaugurated the ‘Kalyana Kranti Convention’. His message was clear: Keep aside you “internal differences” and fight the forthcoming Assembly elections with unity and bring the party back to the helm of affairs in the state.
“The internal dissent… amounts to cheating the people, if all the leaders and party workers do not work together in the 2023 Assembly polls. If the party is voted to power, it is the high command that will take a final call on putting the right person at the helm in the state,” said Kharge, making his position clear.
He added for good measure that there was no room for dissent within the party.
“I have already held talks with the leaders, including Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, to work in tandem for the next year Assembly polls. If we continue to fight among ourselves, the party’s chances might turn meagre.”
“Leaders must display unity without worrying about their future political position and strive hard to form a Congress government in the state,” Kharge exhorted party workers.
Related: ‘Son of a labourer’ Kharge vs ‘chaiwallah’ Modi
Aim to dominate K-K region
If Congress leaders in Kalyana Karnataka are brimming with confidence, it is with good reason: Mallikarjun Kharge has done a lot for the region.
“People haven’t forgotten the role and efforts of Kharge in turning Article 371-J into a reality. People are also fed up with the governance of the corrupt BJP government led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai. In next year’s polls, people will give their mandate to the grand old party,” senior Congress leader and Kushtagi MLA Amaregouda Patil Bayyapur told South First.
“Kharge being elevated as president of the national political party is a matter of pride for Dalits not only in K-K region, but also for the entire Karnataka. Dalits will support Congress in the next Assembly polls,” said Koppal district Congress president and former minister Shivaraj Tangadagi.
“Congress has done better for the K-K region than the other parties including the BJP. Other than renaming the Hyderabad-Karnataka region as Kalyana Karnataka, the BJP government has not done any major ‘kalyana’ (development) in the region,” Tangadagi, a Dalit leader, told South First.
Bidar, Kalaburagi, Yadgiri, Raichur, Koppal, Ballari and Vijayanagara are the seven districts that come under Kalyana Karnataka region. In September 2019, the then chief minister BS Yediyurappa renamed the Hyderabad-Karnataka region as Kalyana Karnataka.
Congress performance in Kalyana Karnataka
The Congress has always done quite well in the Kalyana Karnataka region, and Kharge’s profile is expected to give it the push required to dominate its rivals here. Congress and BJP are the primary rivals in this region of Karnataka where the JDS occasionally gets single-digit seats.
Congress had won 23 out of 41 segments in the Kalyana Karnataka region in the 2013 Assembly election, when the BJP had managed to win only six seats due to internal differences and a resultant divide of the party’s votes.
With the BJP sorting out these differences, the saffron party managed to bounce back in the 2018 Assembly polls, winning 20 of the 41 seats.
In that election, the Congress slipped by six seats, winning 17 Assembly segments. Among the 15 reserved Assembly segments (eight reserved for Scheduled Tribes and seven for Schedule Caste) in the region, the Congress holds eight seats, the BJP six, and the JD(S) one.
KPCC working president and Bhalki MLA Eshwar Khandre said that the party is aiming to win as many as 35 out of 41 Assembly segments in the region in the 2023 Assembly polls.
“BJP is treating the people of this region as second-class citizens. It also failed to properly implement Article 371-J and allocate promised funds. We are confident of winning between 32 to 35 seats in the region in next year’s polls,” Khandre told South First.
The Kharge factor
“Mallikarjun Kharge being a president of Congress is a matter of pride, and simultaneously an advantage, for the party in the state. Under his leadership, we aim to register a cent percent win in the K-K region. The AICC president will push hard for the victory of the party not only in this region but also across the state,” Kharge’s son and KPCC communications head and Chittapur MLA Priyank Kharge told South First.
To a question whether the party will prefer youngsters over experienced, older candidates for the Assembly election, Kharge said: “The party high command will take a call on fielding candidates. It will be a healthy mix of youngsters and experienced candidates.”
The political commentators believe that the Congress has a definite edge in the region because of Kharge’s elevation as Congress president.
Dr Sandeep Shastri, political commentator and national coordinator for Lokaniti, told South First: “Kharge’s appointment as the president of AICC can make a difference in the 2023 Assembly polls. It also depends on how much they use his political strategy.”
“Kharge belongs to the right-hand group among SCs. It is also important for him to project a leader from the Left- hand wing of the SCs. It will play a key role. Kharge’s elevation as Congress president will definitely mean an electoral gain for the Congress in Karnataka,” assessed Shastri.
The Scheduled Caste communities in Karnataka are split into two rival groups – SC right and SC left. Madiga community which forms a large part of SC population in Karnataka falls under SC Left – the group that has increasingly supported the BJP over the years. Other sub-communities like Holeya, Chalavadi, Bhovis, Lambanis fall under SC Right which has been a dependable vote bank for Congress.
Asked whether a Dalit being president gives the Congress an edge in the reserved Assembly segments, Shastri pointed out, “It is important to note that Dalits are not the deciding factor in the reserved segments, because voters from the non-reserved segments also have a significance presence.”
However, there are high chances of Dalits favouring Congress in the next polls because of Kharge. This will have an impact in all the Assembly segments in the state, Shastri opined.
Congress manifesto for K-K
In the Kalyana Kranti Convention on Saturday, 10 December, Kharge outlined the party’s vision and programmes for the Kalyana Karnataka region — if voted to power in the 2023 Assembly polls.
The party’s manifesto has stressed on improving education and medical infrastructure, generating one lakh jobs over a period of five years, and filling up all vacant government jobs, including the backlog, and setting up higher education institutions across the seven districts of Kalyana Karnataka.
“The Congress party makes a solemn promise to set up an IIT and an IIM in the Kalyana Karnataka region to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of the youth of the region,” Kharge said.
“The party will draft a separate Industrial Policy for Kalyana Karnataka with special incentives in the areas of allocation of land, special rates for power and water, and tax concession with a view to create industrial corridors and create employment opportunities and bring economic prosperity,” Kharge assured the gathering.
“The party will also allocate ₹5,000 crore every year for infrastructure development in the region. It will begin work on all incomplete irrigation projects in the Krishna and Godavari basins within 24 hours of the formation of the Congress government.”
Commenting on the party’s manifesto, Priyank Kharge said, “BJP has completely ignored Kalyana Karnataka. We have assured people that if the party is voted to power, the party will carry out overall development of the region. Will also ensure the proper implementation of Article 371-J.”
The Article 371-J was inserted in the Constitution by the 98th Constitution Amendment Act of 2012.
People of the seven districts of the region are entitled for 70 percent reservation for the available seats in the Kalyana Karnataka and eight percent reservation in statewide institutions and a similar reservation in government jobs.