‘The political atmosphere in Karnataka is in favour of the Congress’
‘Hindutva is not an issue in Karnataka’
With months to go for the Karnataka assembly elections, the man in the hot seat, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah says he’ll make billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi and the Punjab National Bank scam an issue in the upcoming Karnataka elections . In an interview to CNN-News18’s Deepa Balakrishnan, the CM also says that Hindutva is not a campaign issue in the state.
Do you feel that you have met the goals you set while entering politics?
Our government has a vision, but we have to build a vibrant Karnataka. That is why all our programs that were verified and implemented are supportive of building a new Karnataka. All our programs like Anna Bhagya, Khushi Bhagya, Vidhyasiri are for the poorer sections of all communities and classes. We have already published the vision document for 2025. So, we are moving in that direction.
When you started off as a young politician, you must have come in with a certain sense of excitement. Have you fulfilled those dreams?
Yes, my young politicians should first of all have the commitment to ideology and clarity. They should not have any confusion. So far as the ideologies, principles and programs are concerned, they should have clarity and commitment. Only then can they face the challenges in the society.
In the last few months, you have been known as the person who has taken PM Narendra Modi head on. Is that a strategy? Is this election going to be you vs Modi?
I am not criticising PM Narendra Modi unnecessarily, nor is the government. Modi ji, when he came to Bengaluru made allegations against our government. They are all baseless and irresponsible allegations. That is why I said that being the PM, he should not make such allegations and should not continue as the PM.
He called you the 10% CM…
What is the document that he has? What is the difference between Yedyurappa and Modi? Modi is the PM of this country. He can’t repeat the allegations made by Yedyurappa. And he is making this statement in the presence of Yedyurappa. He is sitting right beside the PM. When Yedyurappa was the CM, he had gone to jail.
Did the remark hurt?
‘100% commission CM’ was there, former CM was there. How can he (Modi) call our government ‘10% commission government’? That too, without any proof or documents.
Are you, at some point, also looking at a national stint?
No, I’m not interested in national politics. And they are making me a national leader.
These BJP people are unnecessarily doing this, because I am not interested in national politics.
For this election, do you think the Congress should come out and officially announce you as the next CM candidate? Why is it not being done?
No, the high command has taken a decision to base this election under my leadership. But, as far as the chief ministership is concerned, after the party gets the majority, the party will take a decision and the high command will approve it. That is the procedure that the Congress party is following.
You must admit that there are people within the Congress who don’t want you to continue as the CM.
There are aspirants in the Congress party since this is a very old party. It is 133 years old. In a democracy, there are several aspirants. Ultimately, the high command has to take a decision.
Should Rahul Gandhi and the high command leave regional leaders alone? Like they did in Punjab. Is Rahul Gandhi’s campaign helping you at all?
Certainly, Rahul Gandhi’s campaign is helping our party in Karnataka. The situation, the political atmosphere in Karnataka is in favour of the Congress now, because there is no anti-incumbency against our government; because I toured all the districts between December 13 and January 13. I toured for one month continuously. I have seen the pulse of the people, the response of the people. It clearly shows that the atmosphere in Karnataka favours the Congress. The party will come back to power on its own.
Some would say you’re overconfident…
No, I am not overconfident.
Isn’t that something that worries the Congress government also?
One of the issues that the opposition party has raised is that of Tipu Jayanti, Hindutva killings, the Popular Front of India. We’ve seen leaders like Anantkumar Hegde and Shoba Karandlaje talk about this repeatedly. Do you take these as serious campaign issues?
No, they are not election issues. They are not relevant. We’re going to the people with the development agenda and our achievements, and the promises we made before the elections and the implementations we have done.
You have reacted to Anantkumar Hegde’s comment.
He made a very bad statement, which is why I reacted. He’s unfit to even become a member of the gram panchayat.
One of the issues they have raised is corruption. Will you now also take up the issue of Nirav Modi and the corporate scam as a campaign plank?
During the election, I will discuss all these questions; even address the problem of corruption in the Modi government and the previous BJP government here in Karnataka. I will raise these issues. They are making baseless allegations, but I will show them proof and documents. Narendra Modi will have to answer questions about Nirav Modi. He is quiet now.
So that will be a question that you'll raise?
That is one of the charges the Congress party is making and it will be made in the election also.
The other campaign issue is Bengaluru. There is a perception that Bengaluru has been ignored by your government.
In Bengaluru, the BJP was in power between 2008-09. They made the city a garbage city. During their period, the Garden City became the garbage city. They pledged the properties of the corporation during their period. The entire corporation was suffering during the period. Debts… They’ve cleared all those debts and I have given money for the development of the infrastructure here in Bengaluru.
But the infrastructure is not showing at all.
No, it is visible now. It is visible.
But, when we see the lakes…
No, we have developed some of the lakes. Except the Balladur, which is an accumulated problem. We are on it. This year, I have given Rs 50 crore. Next year too I’ll give Rs 50 crore to develop Balladur and Vartur tanks.
The PM, during his campaign speech, said that you’ve failed to extend power supply to all villages.
That is not correct. In the country, the electrification to the villages and village households are at 88 per cent. In Karnataka, it is 98 per cent.
So you’re saying the fact check is wrong?
The other issue they have talked about is minority appeasement, and the appeasement of the Ahinda community.
Our government is not appeasing minorities or backward classes. We are committed to social justice. All those who have been denied justice must be given justice, no matter which community they belong to.
But they have specifically said that the Hindus have been ignored. There have been communal killings.
No, that is not correct. Out of 23, only nine deaths were due to communal clashes. The remaining occurred owing to other reasons.
You’ve been accused of not caring for, and even ignoring, the entire Hindu community.
No, it is not correct. I am also a Hindu. It’s not just Yedyurappa who is Hindu or Shoba Karandlaje. I’m also a Hindu.
Is Hindutva an issue?
No, Hindutva is not an issue in Karnataka. Hinduism and Hindu dharma…
Are they different?
Yes, Hindu dharma is very different from Hinduism. Hindutva has been propagated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its sister groups.
You are not just up against the BJP here. There is a coalition of the Janta Dal-Secular, BJP and the Nationalist Congress Party which has come forward and will possibly look at the role of a kingmaker. Is that a challenge?
No, it is not a challenge. JD-S doesn’t have a base in any of the 30 districts in the state. The BJP doesn’t have a base in the entire state. Where is the BJP in Mysore, Hassan, Ramnagar? Likewise, where is the JD-S in Belgaum, Gulbarga, Raichur and Gaddar?
But, it’s the arithmetic that matters.
It's not arithmetic. Their strength is not like that of the Congress. The Congress party has a base in all the districts and the Congress can fight against either the BJP or the JD-S in all the districts. But that is not the case with either of them.
We saw the Cauvery verdict come out a couple of days ago…
The Supreme Court has not taken any decision on the formation of the Board. The Government of India has to take the decision. But our plea all along was opposing. Whatever the decision is, that is given by the Supreme Court, the Congress will obey. We are not going to violate the orders of either the tribunal or the Supreme Court. Only during bad years, will we have to go for distress formula.
So, are you worried that the Centre could discriminate against Karnataka again?
I’m not worried like that. It is because the government of India should also take a just decision.
On water sharing, you have earlier said that the BJP has not helped Karnataka, especially in the north.
In the Mahadayi row, the BJP did not help. We requested the PM to intervene and call all the chief ministers regarding Mahadayi, but the PM has not made up his mind to call and did not oblige.
You’ve also taken up emotive issues like the Kannada identity issue. You have gone ahead with finalising the Kannada flag before elections.
As far as the state flag is concerned, Mr Patil has written a letter to have a state flag. A committee has been formed for this, and has given a report. And the report was placed before the cabinet. The cabinet has authorised me to discuss with the Kannada activation to take a decision.
Will this assembly election also set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
Definitely. A hundred per cent it will set the tone for the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Would you look at a national role at that time?
No, not very much. But our immediate challenge now is that we have to win the assembly election and form the government here. Thereby we must give strength to the Congress to face the Lok Sabha elections.
You had said in 2013 that it was going to be your last election. What changed?
The coming election is my last election.
You said 2013 was going to be your last election.
Yes, I did make a statement saying that. After completion of these five years as CM, now I can’t run away from the battle. I have to contest again. And the high command is also suggesting that I contest. So I will contest and this will be the last election for me.
Why is that?
Age factor. I’ve been in politics since the age of 40. How long should I continue? I mean, I will continue in politics, but not election politics.
Your son is going to be contesting this time.
Likely to contest. He may or may not contest, depending upon the decision of the high command. If the high command decides to make him a candidate, he will contest, otherwise he won’t.
That brings back the dynastic politics debate.
We can’t call it dynasty politics. People want anyone to contest or be their representative, then anyone can enter politics and become the representative of the people. Merely because he is my son...
That should not make him ineligible?
Yes, it can’t be a disqualification.
BJP’s national leaders say there is no account of Centre’s grants to Karnataka.
Mr Amit Shah is asking for accounts. The assembly is in session. Leader of Opposition Jagdish Shettar is there. Let him raise all these issues on the floor of the House. I am answerable to the House. I am answerable to the people of Karnataka. Why make the allegations in a public meeting? I am not answerable to Amit Shah. I am only answerable to the people of Karnataka and to the legislature.
It’s made to look as if the Centre has been extra favourable to Karnataka.
It is totally incorrect. Every five years, the government of India constitutes a Finance Commission. The 14th Finance Commission has given its report. According to the recommendations, they’re giving our shares in the central taxes. Is the central government collecting taxes in the state of Karnataka? Income tax, corporate tax, excise duty, service taxes. All these taxes they’re collecting not only from Karnataka, but all the states. That is why every five years, the government constitutes an independent commission, the constitutional body. So its recommendations are bending on every government. They have to accept and implement. It is not a favour to the states.
Before every state election, we’ve seen politics over beef consumption.
The BJP government is making this an issue. They wanted to make it a political issue. What is the stand in Goa, in northeastern states? Why have they not banned the export of beef? So that shows the double standards of the BJP and its leaders. It is my food habit that I eat non-veg. They can’t say that I should only eat vegetarian food.
We have just weeks to go before the Model Code of Conduct is implemented. What is the one thing you want to tell the BJP now?
The Code of conduct has to come, but the BJP is announcing the dates. They say that they have discussed with the Election Commission and they are already aware of the new Code of Conduct. Yeddyurappa made an open statement recently. The election will be held in the first week of May or so. How did he come to know? That shows they are in touch with the Election Commission and that the EC is disclosing these things to the BJP.
Are you worried about that? Because one of the issues was regarding EVM tampering.
We are not worried about it. But as a law abiding citizen, everyone must go by the law.