'Let me narrate the background as to why Siddaramaiah was taken from my party to the Congress.'
'He belongs to a particular backward community. So by taking Siddaramaiah from my party, it was going to be more advantageous for the Congress.'
'Whatever may be the merits and demerits of the caste equation, it is a consideration for all the parties.'
'The BJP is also playing the caste guard.'
IMAGE: Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah waves out to supporters. Photograph: Madhusudhar S R
"Siddaramaiah has said at a rally in Haasan that Deve Gowda should be destroyed, the entire family should be destroyed," former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, who is busy preparing for the Karnataka assembly election, tells Archis Mohan.
What is your assessment of the current political situation in Karnataka, particularly the Congress government's decision on minority status for Lingayats?
It is very difficult to conclude anything from the present atmosphere and the ground situation.
All three political parties -- the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal-Secular -- will go into the elections with their respective programmes and policies.
As for the Siddaramaiah government announcing that Lingayats be recognised as separate dharma (religion) -- my party and I have taken a neutral stand on the issue.
But the demand itself is an old one. This demand was raised in the past as well, at least since 1990.
During the Congress-led UPA years in 2013, the then home minister had rejected this demand.
The general perception is that this has been done keeping the Karnataka assembly elections in mind. We do not know if the move would be fruitful or not.
But the previous Congress government (at the Centre) was opposed to the demand of the Lingayats.
Now the Siddaramaiah government has taken the initiative and have accepted it. They (the Congress) can go to any extent to win elections.
The Janata Dal-Secular has struck an electoral alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party for the Karnataka assembly polls. What are the prospects?
I had myself approached 'Behenji' Mayawati, the leader of the BSP.
The last time she had contested in Karnataka the BSP was unable to get much mileage. However, they still got from 5,000 votes to 30,000 votes in at least 15 constituencies.
I will be plain with you. This time the BSP will do much better. Their legislators will enter the Karnataka assembly for the first time, with my party's support.
The alliance will help both political parties. I will also be a major gainer in several constituencies, with JD-S candidates getting 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 or more additional votes thanks to our alliance with the BSP.
The point is why did I go to Mayawati?
I don't want to go with either the BJP or the Congress. When she (Mayawati) came to Bengaluru, she addressed a public rally attended by a million people.
If you see the results of the recent by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati has emerged stronger.
We in Karnataka will continue our fight against both the BJP and the Congress. I must express my sincere thanks to her for accepting my offer for an alliance.
How do you see the post poll scenario in Karnataka?
It is too early. I do not want to go near anybody.
Last time, I had supported the (Congress's) Dharam Singh government (from 2004 to 2006). But (his son) H D Kumaraswamy went with the BJP, and he suffered.
There is a BJP government at the Centre. If nobody gets a working majority, let them impose President's Rule and conduct another election in six months.
I do think -- and I am not overestimating -- that we will form the government.
You were the prime minister of the United Front government in 1996. Do you see any prospects for the 'Third Front' in 2019?
The Congress is losing strength across the country. The 'Third Front' could emerge stronger in the days to come.
Mr Sharad Pawar is reportedly hosting a meeting of Opposition leaders. Have you received an invite?
I will not enter into any discussion on national politics for now.
Currently, I am totally concerned with Karnataka. I don't want to poke my nose into national politics.
But you did send your party's representative to attend the dinner hosted by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on March 13.
Normally I don't go to such dinners. Yes, one of my party's representatives, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament, D Kupendra Reddy, attended.
But the next time we will not cooperate because the Congress has taken a stand which has hurt me.
Siddaramaiah has said at a rally in Haasan that Deve Gowda should be destroyed, the entire family should be destroyed.
The family should not be allowed to continue in politics, and how long can it be tolerated.
So, next time I do not want to cooperate with these so-called like-minded parties and leaders.
There is criticism that Karnataka politics is becoming more divisive, particularly on caste lines.
Let me ask you a straight question. Was Siddaramaiah a Congressman?
Let me narrate the background as to why Siddaramaiah was taken from my party to the Congress.
He belongs to a particular backward community. So by taking Siddaramaiah from my party, it was going to be more advantageous for the Congress.
Whatever may be the merits and demerits of the caste equation, it is a consideration for all the parties.
The BJP is also playing the caste guard. These people (the Congress) are also playing the caste card. They have branded me also as a 'Gowda' (Vokkaliga caste).
Whether I am a Gowda or not is not the question.
Look at my record as the chief minister of Karnataka (from 1994 to 1996) and as the prime minister of the country (1996 to 1997).
Do see whether I have taken steps to give reservations to Muslims, minorities, Dalits, and political status to them in zilla panchayats, gram panchayat, civic bodies?
All of these were my decisions during my tenure as the chief minister of Karnataka.
The Bill to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and state legislatures was also my pet subject.
I have written several letters to Prime Minister Narendra D Modi. The Rajya Sabha has already passed the Bill, which was introduced when I was the prime minister.
So why don't you (Modi) ensure its passage in the Lok Sabha, when you (the BJP) have a majority in the Lok Sabha?
What is your view on the demand that electronic voting machines (EVMs) be scrapped and we should revert to voting by ballot papers?
I do not understand this insistence on EVMs.
There have been complaints of tampering and this insistence is not good.