Mallikarjuna Kharge is tipped to be chief minister if the Congress comes to power in Karnataka. Kharge, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee and former state home minister, does not admit it openly, but says it is up to the party high command to take a final call.
Kharge, who has been elected from the Gurmittkal constituency in North Karnataka eight times in a row, will be contesting from Chitapur after he lost his pet constituency to delimitation.
Kharge who joined the Congress 40 years back was elected as a legislator for the first time in 1972. He held several portfolios in various Congress-led governments in Karnataka and was the home minister when the state faced one of its worst-ever crisis -- the abduction of matinee idol Dr Rajkumar at the hands of notorious forest brigand Veerappan.
Congress insiders say it is now or never for Kharge to become the state chief minister. Kharge has lost the race to the top post twice in the past to S M Krishna and N Dharam Singh. He, however, is not thinking about it now. At present, it is his duty to ensure that his party wins the polls with a comfortable majority.
Kharge spoke to Vicky Nanjappa about the prospects of the Congress in Karnataka, his aspirations on becoming chief minister and other issues pertaining to 2008 state election.
How do you think the Congress will fare in the elections this year?
The people of Karnataka have seen a stable and efficient rule by a Congress-led government from 1999 to 2004 and also the 20-month rule of the N Dharam Singh-led coalition government. They have also seen the 20-month misrule by the BJP-JD-S combine, who came to power only to enjoy it and reap its benefits for their selfish needs. It was a rule of chaos, anarchy, inaction, and full of corruption.
People of the state are fed up with coalition governments and they want a strong and stable government, which can last a full term and can provide development oriented programmes. They have realised that only the Congress party can provide such governance and hence, the Congress has a very fair chance of winning a majority of the seats.
How many seats does the Congress expect to win?
How many seats? I do not want to predict that. But definitely the Congress will get sufficient seats to form the government on its own.
If you fall short of majority, then which party will you form the government with?
This is a hypothetical question, which cannot be answered at this stage. As we are confident of forming our own government, the need to take the support of another party does not arise.
Will you be the chief minister if the Congress comes to power?
I am a loyal Congressman having put in 40 years of service. I have been elected as a legislator since 1972 without a break. Whatever the responsibility the party has bestowed upon me, I have discharged it with utmost loyalty, honesty, and determination. As the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, it is my bounden duty to see that the party emerges victorious in a majority of the places and is able to form a government on its own. I am a firm believer of Bhagvan Buddha, who said: "Do good and leave the rest to God."
Even Basavanna said, "Work is worship." I am happy and convinced that I am doing my duty. The rest I will leave it to the wishes of my party high command and the people of Karnataka.
What will the Congress focus on if it comes to power?
Improving basic infrastructure will be the major thrust of the Congress party. Besides this the Congress also aims at enhancing irrigation facilities and bring about a revolutionary change in the lives of the poor people by mitigating their penury and poverty.
Development will be the criteria and people below the poverty line shall be given attention by providing them with shelter, food, and employment. Our manifesto has the
complete details of our ambitions for the people of Karnataka.
What steps will the Congress take to resolve regional imbalance, if voted to power?
The Congress is trying very hard to see to it that the problem of regional imbalance is sorted out at any cost. Disparities between regions, cities to village, should be removed. It was the Congress government that constituted the Nanjundappa Committee to go into the assessment of regional imbalance. We are committed to implement the recommendations in totality. Also it was the Congress party which tried to bring about an amendment to Article 371 of the Constitution to provide reservation in jobs and the education sector to the people living in the backward region.
What steps will the Congress take to solve the Belgaum border problem?
The border issue is dead. There is no need to whip up this issue again. The Mahajan Commission report is binding on all states concerned.
Has the Congress intentionally fielded a weak candidate against BJP's chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa?
We have no personal enmity with Yeddyurappa. But the Congress is determined to ensure that the communal forces shall not gain ground in Karnataka and hence the Congress party has decided to support S Bangarappa's (Samajwadi Party) candidature. Hence we have asked our candidate to withdraw his nomination from the Shikaripura constituency.
What do you have to say about the Jaffer Sharrief episode? Is that problem completely solved?
It is now a closed chapter. Sharrief has met party chief Sonia Gandhi and sorted out the
issue. I don't think any problem exists at all.
What difference has S M Krishna's return made to the Congress?
With the return of Krishna, the Congress party in the state has consolidated its position. His return has invigorated the enthusiasm in party even at the grass root level. As the chairman of the KPCC election management committee, he is doing a remarkable job by bringing more and more people into the fold of the Congress party.