Gulbarga (GR): When Railway Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge sets out seeking votes this time, he is likely to do so in the entire Hyderabad-Karnataka region rather than limit himself to his own constituency of Gulbarga.
This is because the 72-year-old Congress veteran has poured the Centre’s money on big-ticket projects the influence of which extends beyond Gulbarga, and well into the Lok Sabha constituencies of Bidar, Raichur and Koppal. He, along with his comrade-in-arm and Bidar MP Dharam Singh also got the Constitution amended to get the region `special status’. “People here will get benefits for the next 100 years.
It will help them with reservation in education and employment,” said Vijay Singh, son of Dharam Singh, also a former CM. An influential Dalit leader of the north Karnataka region, and a Gandhi family loyalist, Kharge got AICC president Sonia Gandhi open a 30-acre mind-blowing healthcare township of ESI Corporation in Gulbarga last year. The Labour Ministry spent Rs 1400 crore on this project alone. “His development works strike people in their eye,” said Jagannath, a 24-year CA student of Gulbarga.
One of the reasons why the Gulbarga region saw fewer developments is the place itself is about 600 km from Bangalore, and it has no cultural connect with southern Karnataka. Once part of Nizam kingdom, Gulbarga where people speak Urdu, Hindi and Kannada is 4 hours away from Hyderabad by train, and people are more at ease with Telangana rather than southern Karnataka.
The Congress and the BJP hold two seats each in the region. In fact, 2009 was the first Lok Sabha election that Kharge contested. Earlier, he had won from Gurmitkal in the district nine times in a row. He has never tasted defeat in his political career of about 45 years. Except in 1996 and 1998, Gulbarga always voted for the Congress, and even stood by Indira Gandhi once. In 1980, when Kerala’s Congress leader C.M.Stephen lost Lok Sabha elections, and Gandhi wanted him as MP, Gulbarga member Dharam Singh resigned his seat to pave way for Stephen’s election.
In the last five years, first as Labour and later as Railway Minister, Kharge met many demands, some of which were several decades old. The region now has a permanent High Court bench, a Central University, and new lines, trains and roads. Last month, he announced a separate railway division for Gulbarga, too. In fact, when the Congress announced Siddaramaiah as the new Chief Minister after the Assembly polls last year, the region erupted in protest.
One Gulbarga analyst, however, said one of the reasons why Kharge went into a development over-drive was the defeat voters handed down to his son, Priyank Kharge, in the 2009 by-polls to Chittapur, the Assembly seat that Kharge vacated on being elected to the Lok Sabha.
The only time the BJP won in Gulbarga was in 1998, but ever since the party has positioned itself as the principal challenger to the Congress. In 2009 elections, BJP candidate Revunaik Belamgi gave tough fight, and lost to Kharge by just about 14,000 votes. The 75-year Belamgi is tipped to be the BJP candidate this time too. “We will fight the Congress, not so much on local issues, but focussing the failure of the UPA government.
We will ask for votes to make Narendra Modi our Prime Minister,” said Rajkumar Patil Telkur, President of Gulbarga district BJP.