KARNATAKA

Panchayat polls, first challenge for Kharge

T.V. Sivanandan

GULBARGA: The Minister for Transport and Water Resources, M. Mallikarjun Kharge, who has been appointed President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), has held many important portfolios in a career spanning 35 years. He has served in the Ministries of Devaraj Urs, Gundu Rao, S. Bangarappa, M. Veerappa Moily, S.M. Krishna and N. Dharam Singh, his party colleague who is also from Gulbarga.

He assumes the top post in the State unit of the Congress at a time when the morale of the party workers is low after the poor showing by the party in the 2004 Assembly elections and the defeat of the party candidates in the Shimoga Lok Sabha and Chamarajpet Assembly byelections in April this year. Mr. Kharge also has to unite the factions.

His immediate task, however, is to organise the Congress to face the challenge from the Janata Dal (S) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the coming zilla and taluk panchayat elections, which is due in two or three months.

Mr. Kharge is the second Scheduled Caste leader after K.H. Ranganath to occupy the post of KPCC President.

When he was only seven, Mr. Kharge left his village, Varavatti, in Bhalki taluk in Bidar district after the death of his mother and his sister in a fire accident during the atrocities committed by the private army of the Nizam. He took refuge in his uncle's house in Gulbarga.

A socialist and ardent follower of B.R. Ambedkar and the Dalit leader Shyamsunder, Mr. Kharge started his political career as a student leader in the Government Arts College in Gulbarga. He practised law before entering the political arena. He was also a trade union leader in MSK Mills in the city.

He has made winning a habit in the Gurmitkal Assembly Constituency in Gulbarga district since the 1972 general elections, and has never lost the seat.

Kharge to continue as Minister

Mr. Dharam Singh has said Mr. Kharge will continue as the Minister for Water Resources and Transport. Addressing presspersons here today, Mr. Singh said though there is no talk of Mr. Kharge's resignation from the Cabinet, the party High Command will decide.

Mr. Kharge's appointment will help consolidate support to the party from all sections, he added.

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