Hyderabad-Karnataka remains a Congress stronghold: Priyank

Hyderabad-Karnataka remains a Congress stronghold: Priyank

At 39, IT and Tourism Minister Priyank Kharge is Karnataka's youngest minister. Priyank led the campaign to make Karnataka an innovation hub. He also comes from a powerful family that holds sway in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. The Chittapur MLA spoke to Bharath Joshi of DH about the upcoming polls:

How is the Congress placed in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region?

We are well-placed for the fact that we delivered as promised, especially with Article 371(J) - special status for the region. About 20,000 people have got jobs and youngsters are able to study in some of Karnataka's best colleges. The region gets Rs 1,500 crore every year for infrastructure development. Now, even Andhra Pradesh is asking for special status and they are quitting the NDA for this.

Congress lost its six-time Afzalpur MLA Malikayya Guttedar to the BJP. He wields clout in the Kalaburagi region. Will this affect the party?

Guttedar is known to be a party-hopper. Congress has survived for 130 years. I don't think we should give this too much importance. If one goes, another comes.

For example, M Y Patil has taken Guttedar's place. Rest assured, Hyderabad-Karnataka remains a Congress stronghold.

What about businessman Ashok Kheny, whose induction into the Congress has angered former chief minister Dharam Singh's family?

I'm sure the party and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah have a plan for both Kheny and Singh's family. Our relationship with Singh's family goes back 40-50 years. The family is very loyal to the party and nothing will happen without their help. All options will be weighed and we'll find out what happens in a day or two.

How do you see the Lingayat religion issue play out in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region?

Basavanna was born and brought up in this region (Bidar). A section of people is happy. However, I won't look at it from a political kaleidoscope. We've to just wait and see how it pans out. There's nothing wrong with the process that was followed in granting Lingayats the 'religious minority' status.

Will your father Mallikarjun Kharge return to Karnataka's politics?

He's one of the tallest leaders here. He has made an impact on the national scene. It's quite natural for people to think he'll play a bigger role here. I'm sure the party will use his services, but it is left to the high command.

Would you like to see your father as Karnataka's chief minister?

I'd rather not answer this. It's already a contentious issue and I'm a disciplined functionary of the party. My father has been a loyalist and the high command will take a decision.

Recently, the IT&BT department was renamed as the Department of Innovation and Technology. Has this come too late?

(laughs) In fact, we're early. No other department in India is speaking this way. IT is no longer Information Technology and allied services. We've grown beyond R&D to become an innovation hub. It's time we started positioning ourselves globally.

There's a concern that little was done to promote cities other than Bengaluru.

In the last two years, through our Elevate 100 programme, we encouraged rural entrepreneurship and innovation. Common instrumentation facilities have come up in Belagavi, Hubballi, Shivamogga and Mangaluru. These were sustained efforts.

Karnataka's tier-2 towns have generated Rs 4,000 crore of IT exports. Yes, Bengaluru got a large chunk of investments, but IT parks are coming up in Belagavi and Mangaluru, and in Mysuru, a greenfield electronic cluster is being set up.