A second-generation Congressman, 38-year-old Karnataka minister Priyank Kharge sounds confident of retaining his seat of Chittapur in Kalaburagi district. The constituency was previously held by his father and current leader of the Congress Legislature Party in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge.
In an interview with TNM, Priyank also exuded confidence over his party "winning more than 120 seats" in the May 12 polls, which will ensure that the party forms a government on its own.
The minister of IT, BT (Information Technology, Biotechnology) and Tourism said, “The Hyderabad-Karnataka region will remain a fort of the Congress. We will come out with flying colours in the region.”
“We are the government who pushed for article 371(j) in the region, while the BJP did not. Today, because of the special status, the region is getting Rs 1,500 crore budget, getting reservations in education. We have already fulfilled promises of 25,000 jobs and we will accelerate even faster next time,” Priyank said.
In the 2013 polls, Priyank Kharge had won by a margin of more than 30,000 votes.
However, queering the pitch was a former Congress veteran and current BJP MLA of Afzalpur, Malikayya Guttedar, who had made it a prestige issue to defeat Priyank.
The rivalry had started between Guttedar and Kharge senior, with both of them accusing each other of sidelining the other, within the party.
But Priyank refused to acknowledge this as a threat, saying, “Last time there was a split between BJP and KJP which turned advantageous for Congress candidates including me, that's why the margin was 31,000 but realistically speaking, Guttedar is not a force to reckon with in my constituency.”
“He has his own constituency to take care. I don't need to learn lessons from people who are party hoppers. I don't see the threat factor here,” he added.
The youngest Minister of State in Karnataka also dismissed theories that the state government’s decision to grant minority religion status to Lingayats will come back to haunt the Congress.
“The issue was not handed politically, it's a 60 to 70-year-old demand and constitutionally, they are eligible for it. The state government has merely forwarded the request,” he explained.
When asked about the timing of the move, he said, “This was not done ahead of the elections, the process had started a year ago.”
Recently, Priyank had said that he wishes senior Kharge to sit in the CM’s chair. When asked about the same, Priyank said, “That was a statement as a son but we are all loyal soldiers of the party. So whatever High Command decides, we will adhere to it. Winning the elections is the most important thing, we can think about that once the elections are over.”
Promise of one crore jobs
The Congress in its manifesto promised one crore jobs in the state if they are elected to power.
When asked how the party will manage to deliver this, Priyank said, “The one crore jobs will be provided over a period of five years. It is not an unrealistic number. The idea is not to do what BJP does with regard to promises, we intend to deliver.”
He claimed, “The people of Karnataka voted us on our promises and since we delivered most of those, we are confident of being re-elected.”
Development outside Bengaluru
Often with successive Karnataka governments, there has been criticism of following a Bengaluru-centric development policy. The same has been said about this government too.
But Priyank refuted it saying, “No, we are not doing only Bengaluru-centric development, look at our regional manifesto which we have prepared that caters to the regional aspirations of the people.”
“For example, look at the software/ IT exports from Tier-II cities which are now more than Rs 4,000 crore. Look at the cement zones in Hyderabad-Karnataka, we have developed aerospace zone in Belagavi, defence zone in Chitradurga. These are all developments which have happened well outside Bengaluru,” Priyank said.