This summer seems to have the longest days for Ashok Kheny. “Being born in a rich family, I have never spent so much time in the sun,” he says. But the timing of this Assembly elections has forced the Karnataka Makkala Paksha candidate from the Bidar South Assembly constituency to sweat it out under the sun.
“One look at our roads will make you realise how backward Hyderabad Karnataka is,” says the infrastructure entrepreneur who gained fame and notoriety for the expressway between Bangalore and Mysore.
He is facing allegations of acquiring more land than necessary and underpaying farmers who lost land to the Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project.
The Khenys, called ‘sahukars’ (the rich), hail from Kheni Ranjol village in Bidar taluk, which is part of the Bidar South constituency.
In 2006, a Veerashaiva Lingayat youth first traced Mr. Kheny’s roots to Bidar and organised a civic reception for him here. At the function, he made two promises — to develop Bidar and to never fight elections.
Neither has turned out to be true. He is fighting to be an MLA now and his project to develop this backward district never took off.
He had vowed to develop the district with his own funds and from corporate social responsibility initiatives of private companies. “I had never dreamt of fighting Assembly polls. But I realised that the government system is so bad that they will not even allow you to develop your own village, unless you are an MLA. Hence the contest,” he said.
The family legacy is something Mr. Kheny would like to embrace and shrug off at the same time. Being the descendent of Maharudrappa Kheny, a landlord who lived in the 19th century, seems to be a natural advantage for him. “Every village I go to, people tell tales of him feeding the poor during calamities,” he says.
However, there are other tales of his other ancestors or family members that may not make him too proud. “Arrey sahab, what can we say about the Khenys? They are a family of greedy moneylenders. They have bled farmers to death in the past. Some of them still do so,” says Syed Zulfikar Hashmi, former MLA who hails from Rekulagi, a village in the Bidar South constituency.
“The tin sheets of the roof of my grandfather’s hut are still lying in their garage,” is a line Mr. Hashmi often uses in his speeches.
Several members of the Kheny family, including Mr. Ashok Kheny’s father, Maharudrappa Kheny (named after his ancestor), have contested elections earlier. Except Narendra Kheny who was elected to the Legislative Council from the local bodies constituency, no one has been successful.