Congress president M Mallikarjun Kharge arrived in his hometown Gulbarga/Kalaburgi to a grand reception last week. A victory in Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections under his belt, Kharge was more confident and aggressive. He took centre stage and was frank when he told two top leaders of the party in Karnataka – Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar — that only the victory of the Congress matters to him and individual ambitions don’t count. With this statement, Kharge has sent shockwaves across warring factions of the state Congress.
A local leader and son of the soil, Kharge is aware of the precarious situation and almost hinted that he would personally handle the affairs ahead of the “do or die” Assembly election due early next year. Kharge’s sudden elevation to the highest post in the party has unnerved many state leaders who have their own plans, ambitions and agendas.
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Before Kharge’s election as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) president in October, Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar were running the party like their personal fiefdom. A weak high command in faraway New Delhi helped them flex their muscle and take unilateral decisions.
An astute politician who talks less and waits for the right opportunity, Kharge is trying to prove that he is no pushover.
NOW FOR THE HOME MATCH
The victory in Himachal Pradesh has given him a ray of hope and he wants to win his home state of Karnataka at any cost.
Many leaders in the Karnataka Congress are hopeful of a win in the summer of 2023. Two Chief Ministerial aspirants — Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar — have promised their supporters Assembly tickets and some constituencies have five-six contenders. The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) has received a record number of over 1,500 applications for party tickets, making selection of candidates a tough job.
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With Kharge at the helm, Siddaramaiah and DKS factions fear many surprises in the selection of candidates. They feel that Kharge will use his discretion and authority to make some changes and he might even take a call on every candidate.
After he was sent to New Delhi as a Union Cabinet minister in 2009 to make way for Siddaramaiah, Kharge has been nursing a grouse that his seniority is overlooked in the affairs of the state. Even to make his son and MLA Priyank Kharge a minister in the Siddaramaiah government, he had to move earth and heaven in 2016.
After his shock defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Gulbarga/Kalaburgi, Kharge was powerless for a year and many had maintained a distance from him. Even after he returned to New Delhi as a Rajya Sabha member and subsequently as Leader of the Opposition, he had little say in the affairs of the Karnataka Congress.
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Priyank was seen as part of the DKS faction and Kharge loyalists were either with Siddaramaiah or with DKS or remained neutral. After he became the AICC president, two months ago, the Kharge faction has emerged stronger.
LIVE: #KalyanaKranthiSamavesha |📍Gulbarga, Karnataka A new dawn of progress, transformation and development beckons the Kalyan Karnataka Region. https://t.co/sWqL6oc36Q
— Mallikarjun Kharge (@kharge) December 10, 2022
Kharge is the seniormost Karnataka Congress leader and understands the state well. Some feel that he will try to help old-time friends and loyalists this time.
The pinnacle of power in the Congress has changed his demeanour, body language and made him more assertive.
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A few think if the Congress wins Karnataka, Kharge as the party high command might nominate a third person as the Chief Minister to keep both Siddaramaiah and DKS out. Others argue that Karnataka is not Himachal and the Gandhis, not Kharge, will have the final word.
It is an irony that Kharge’s elevation has complicated matters further, instead of boosting the morale of the party in an all-important state.
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