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Shivakumar on tussle with Siddaramaiah: ‘Priority is Congress victory. Whatever high command says, we will have to go by it’

The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president, D K Shivakumar, is a key political player in the state and a chief ministerial aspirant for the May 10 Assembly elections. In an interview with The Indian Express, Shivakumar speaks on a slew of issues, ranging from the Congress’s prospects to his power tussle with party colleague and ex-CM Siddaramaiah, to the defection of some disgruntled BJP leaders to the grand old party.

Excerpts:

What are the factors behind the Congress’s confidence in this election?

In Karnataka, the administration has completely collapsed. Leave aside the common man, even the BJP’s own leaders do not believe that the BJP is going to return to power in Karnataka. Senior BJP leaders who built the party say now that the party cannot come to power and got out of the party. Many more wanted to come out. Then how will common people trust them?

But will such an exodus help a party? The BJP has faced this in many of its state units with leaders from other parties joining it on the eve of elections… How are you going to accommodate the BJP defectors?

There are five-six ministers who wanted to join the Congress. But we did not have the political space for more people. We did not want them to join. There were around 12 MLAs who wanted to join the Congress. Because we already announced our candidates in the constituencies or the surveys showed that our candidates would beat them, we did not let them join our party.

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You have got a former CM, Jagadish Shettar, and a deputy CM, Laxman Savadi, join your party.

Savadi has got five years left as an MLC. There are at least two other MLCs who still have not completed their terms. Ayanur Manjunath also has time left – we could not accommodate him, he wanted to join us too.

Politics is full of sharing and caring. Sometimes we have to respect the sentiments. Indira Gandhi also after defeating Veerendra Patil (her Janata Party opponent in 1978) gave him ticket in the next election. No one is untouchable for us. If someone accepts the Congress principles and its leadership, we have to utilise their talents and the section they represent.

What makes the Congress different in Karnataka as compared to other states as the party could remain a formidable force here despite the BJP’s emergence?

When I was appointed the KPCC president by Madam Sonia Gandhi, the situation was different. I have worked hard for around 1,000 days without even sleeping properly. People give us a lot of confidence and respect. I think hard work will pay.

What impact did Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra make on your state party unit?

It (Yatra) was not meant for a political purpose. Cutting across party lines, people showed a lot of love and respect for Rahul Gandhi. He took up a tremendous risk. Lot of people wanted to walk with him… He walked too fast, so many could not catch up with his pace. It went off very well. Our cadre got encouraged. He walked for a cause which gave us a lot of strength. Our workers from the entire state participated in it, which gave them lot of energy.

What have been your worries in recent weeks?

One issue was managing the ticket aspirants. There were so many who wanted to contest on Congress tickets. We could clear 115 easily, but even in the tough constituencies we have at least 10 aspirants each. That shows the confidence among them that the Congress is going to win. This confidence that has been created, we do not want to lose it because of any of our internal problems. As of today, we are 90 per cent successful. But we could not satisfy everyone. The BJP has bungled itself on many issues – on reservation, seat selection and governance, and they will not be able to cross 60-70 seats.

Everyone is talking about a tussle between you and Siddaramaiah? What exactly is this power struggle in the party?

There’s nothing like that. Whatever the high command says, we will have to follow. Right now our priority is to bring the Congress party to power. It is more important than the individual. First the party, then ourselves. Whatever the high command says we will have to go by it.

Do you think the talk and reports about this power struggle would affect the party?

Who is talking about it? Some media reports and the BJP. There is no tussle or power struggle. I do not want to fight with anyone. I want to fight with the BJP and defeat them.

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Siddaramaiah has said it is his last election because of his age. Age is on your side. Do you think you will step aside when it comes to the CM post?

See, this is not an employment programme. What we have to do now is to keep the party united. It’s not about sorting out one’s desire. Our party at the state level and at the national level should be strong. We have to work to see that it is strong. That’s our motive.

So, is there any formula like rotation of power, etc?

Nothing has been discussed. There is a lot of media speculation and some speak out also. Ultimately it is the party high command that takes the decision.

Is Mallikarjun Kharge one of the possible faces for the CM post?

I will not say anything about it now. It’s not important either. For him and the Congress party, coming to power is important. For him, the party is there. This is his home state. He wants the party (to win).

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There have been allegations of money laundering against you, with the ED also questioning you. We have seen many Congress leaders joining the BJP to save themselves. How did you resist it?

The BJP is using the central agencies against its political rivals. Yesterday I also got a notice from ED on the National Herald issue. I just replied to it. They want to harass. But I believe in the law of this country. Whatever I have done, everything has been transparent. I will prove my innocence and this injustice will be defeated. I will fight it out.

But did you not have a temptation to join the BJP?

I cannot. Under any circumstances. I have been in the Congress and the Congress leadership has stood by me like a rock. Sometimes there is pain, but I believe for every pain there is gain too.

Rahul Gandhi said if not 150 seats the BJP would snatch away the win? Do you have such fears?

Rahul Gandhi has been harassed by the BJP. He has been disqualified by the Speaker. He has been given two-year imprisonment. But when he came here, the people came in huge crowds to extend their support to him. The crowd and the internal surveys have given him confidence. With that confidence he asked for a mandate of 150 seats.

How do you see the JD(S)’ role? Do you think there could be a post-poll scenario in which the BJP takes its support to form the government?

JD (S) is trying to accommodate those who are not accommodated by us or by the BJP. Apart from that they do not have much to gain. Such a scenario does not arise as the Congress is going to win a full majority.

While BJP claims the support of the Lingayat voters, it is trying to get the Vokkaliga support also. You being a Vokkaliga leader, what is your take?

I may be a Vokkaliga. But I belong to one community – the Congress, which believes in every section of the society. The Congress wants the country to be united. We believe in Basavanna philosophy.

Do you think the new decision by the state government on reservation could consolidate the backward section votes in favour of the BJP?

This reservation policy was just chocolate before the election. Some reports have said that the BJP government has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that they will not implement the new policy. Then where is the question of reservation?

Your affidavit shows there is 68 per cent growth in your assets from 2018. Do you think it is a good optics for those in public life to hold such large amounts of wealth?

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I have been filing my election affidavit transparently. We are in Bengaluru district – whatever property we bought at Rs 100 is Rs 1,000 today. The value has risen like in Gurgaon or Noida. Earlier they used to offer land for Rs 10 lakh or Rs 15 lakh. Now it is Rs 15 crore. That’s how prices go up. We are KempeGowda family and we have inherited property. During Bangarappaji’s government, I had got a site for Rs 1 lakh and now it is Rs 5 crore. I have not added any property in the last 15 years, but the price has gone up. I cannot show false records. Shall I take out the BJP leaders’ details? Some of them have not even shown the properties that they kept under the name of various companies. But I do not have any company. The shares have different values. I do not want to comment on others. There are richer people in other parties but they show it less. It’s their decision, but I am very clear that I have to be transparent.

Is the issue of corruption that the Congress raised getting traction among the voters?

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Hundred per cent. Every office has corruption. Recently, a farmer went to a government office for some work and the officer asked him for Rs 50,000. He went with two cows saying that is all he got. This is the state of affairs. You saw that a BJP worker Santhosh Patil committed suicide because the BJP minister Easwarappa had asked him 30 per cent commission. Some ask for 50 per cent. People are angry and upset over it.

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