Karnataka elections: Son-of-soil Mallikarjun Kharge gets job done | Latest News India


In his five-decade-long career, 80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge was part of the winning Congress Karnataka team thrice before – in 1992 when Veerappa Moily became chief minister, in 1999 when SM Krishna got the top job and then in 2013, when Sonia Gandhi chose the party’s new recruit (from Janata Dal-Secular) Siddaramaiah over Kharge.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge addresses a public meeting ahead of Assembly polls, in Hubballi, Karnataka, (PTI)
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge addresses a public meeting ahead of Assembly polls, in Hubballi, Karnataka, (PTI)

The disappointment of those missed opportunities was likely forgotten on Saturday as the man who is now the Congress party president led his home state to a sweeping, definitive victory over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party behind his only electoral loss in 2019. Before that, his supporters liked calling him “Solu illad Saradar” or the one who is never defeated.

I am a bhumiputra (son of the soil),” said Kharge proudly after the win, speaking mostly in Kannada. He is the second person from Karnataka, after S Njilingappa in 1968, to rise to the level of Congress president.

“The people have defeated a corrupt government. It’s a collective show and credit to all our workers. If you work hard then people will support you. We will try to use this in every poll and replicate the same kind of win,” he said.

The first elected Congress chief who took over the party’s reins from the Gandhi family after 24 years, Kharge is off to a start. Of the three states that have gone to polls since he became president in October 2022, he has managed to wrest both Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka from the BJP, losing in Gujarat. And while some feel that he has been slow to implement the radical changes the party needs ahead of 2024, others argue that his success lies in making changes without upsetting the apple cart.

There’s no doubt that he is a mature and calming influence in the party. Take for instance, his ability to clamp down on infighting which is a major challenge in the state with both DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah vying for the top post. Kharge is believed to have told all contenders that he didn’t care who ended up as the chief minister, as long as the party won.

The message that went out early on, and reiterated by Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala, was that both would be jointly held accountable for the result. The message seems to have worked and for once, the Congress projected a united front, especially in comparison to the ruling party. The party even managed to minimise exits by disgruntled candidates, something leaders attribute to the right balance in ticket distribution between the various power centres in the state.

“If there’s one election that the Congress has fought together after 2014, it’s the Karnataka campaign,” said Chetan Shinde, who is working on a biography of Kharge. “What he (Kharge) brings to the table is his clean image because he has never been accused of corruption. As a trustworthy leader, his words carry a lot of weight for party cadres.”

When the party’s main issue against the incumbent in the state was corruption, it helped to have someone at the helm who was above all this. Meanwhile, Kharge held his own, not hesitating to target even Narendra Modi. When the prime minister spoke about being treated lowly as a tea seller, Kharge countered it by saying that at least Modi was able to serve tea, while his own Dalit status meant that no one would even touch his tea.

Sometimes his words got him into trouble, for instance when he called PM Modi a “poisonous snake” but his supporters insist that Kharge was just going with his rustic instinct.

However, the BJP took them very seriously, complaining to the Election Commission. Kharge and his legislator son Priyank were singled out for such complaints along with Sonia Gandhi, indicating that the party president was holding his own. In fact, during the month that he spent in the state, he held 43 public meetings and covered over 3,000 km.

“Last time, the Congress got 38% vote share and if there’s been a swing towards the party (43% this year), credit has to be given to his leadership. He has managed to take everyone along,” said Congress legislative council member Ramesh Babu.

After the win on Saturday, reporters asked Kharge whether it was PM Modi’s loss as the BJP had centred its own election campaign around him. The party chief dismissed the question saying that Saturday was about the 2023 election and not about the Lok Sabha elections next year. Never one to let others dictate the narrative, the old-school politician wasn’t about to let that happen in his moment of victory.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Enable Google Transliteration.(To type in English, press Ctrl+g)