With Karnataka leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s election as president of the Congress, the state unit of the party is hoping for good tidings.
Apart from enthusing the Congress worker base in Karnataka, party leaders feel this could provide the healing touch needed by the faction-rid state unit which is often in the news for the wrong reasons.
The development also has the potential to swing voters towards the Congress in the seven backward districts of Kalyana Karnataka (formerly Hyderabad Karnataka region) where Kharge, a nine-time MLA from Karnataka, wields significant influence for his role in adoption of Article 371J in the Constitution, which provides special status to the region.
Article 371J, inserted via an amendment during the UPA government’s time in 2012, empowers the Governor of Karnataka to take steps to develop the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, including the districts of Gulbarga, Bidar, Raichur, Koppal, Yadgir and undivided Bellary. Kharge was a Union minister at the time.
These districts account for 39 Assembly seats, and in the 2018 polls, the Congress and BJP were evenly poised here, with the Congress winning 19 constituencies against the BJP’s 16. Subsequent bypolls saw the BJP take two seats from the Congress. The JD(S) won four seats here in the 2018 elections.
Kharge’s hand on the reins of the party is also expected to finally control the constant bickering between the camps of Karnataka Congress president D K Shivakumar and Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah, both of whom harbour chief ministerial ambitions.
“Kharge was lost as a political force in Karnataka, but will be a power to reckon with if he is elected president,” said Prof Muzaffar H Assadi, Chairman of the Department of Political Science, University of Mysore.
While unity within the ranks would help the Congress give a tougher fight to the BJP in the 2023 Assembly elections, Kharge as Congress president could also help the party rope in Dalit votes. Many among the Scheduled Castes in the state still hold a grudge against the Congress for denying Kharge chief ministership thrice, when he was just a whisper away from the post. Dalits make up a substantial 23% of the population in Karnataka.
State PCC working president Ramalinga Reddy acknowledged the positive impact of Kharge’s elevation on both votes for the party across communities, as well as unity in the ranks. “Importantly, he can take everyone together and settle any differences among groups,” Reddy said, adding that Kharge also has a following in the Kittur Karnataka (Mumbai Karnataka) region.
Saleem Ahmed, also a Karnataka PCC working president, said Kharge’s win will send a message to Congress workers that the party rewards loyalty.
Stressing that Kharge will win against his rival Shashi Tharoor by “a thumping majority” (this was before the results were announced), Ahmed added: “Kharge has a clean image and has never faced any charges against him, which will also be a plus for the state unit.”