Amid his hectic campaigning for the May 10 Karnataka Assembly elections, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai tells The Indian Express, in the course of a wide-ranging interview, that the BJP is fighting the polls under a collective leadership, claiming that it would be able to secure a “comfortable majority”.
Two prominent Lingayat leaders, former CM Jagadish Shettar and ex-Deputy CM Laxman Savadi, recently quit the BJP to join the Congress. Will their exit impact the party’s prospects in the polls in areas dominated by the community?
First of all, are you seeing any effect? There is no effect at all. The party has made them leaders. So, the party is prominent. Without the party they are not leaders.
Despite some internal discussions about projecting a Lingayat as a CM face before polls, the BJP high command is not keen about it. Is it because the party fears it will antagonise other communities?
No, there is no question of that (antagonising other communities). Such discussions will always be there during elections. But, ours is a national party and we take the right decision at the right time. We don’t pre-empt the matter.However, with respect to the Lingayat factor, the community has been supporting the BJP for the last 30 years. We are going to retain their support. Who has to become CM is a call to be taken after elections.
In other BJP-ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh, polls are fought under the incumbent CM’s leadership though?
No, in UP also they had not declared the CM face. People have assumed and projected (a CM face). That’s how it is going on.
In Karnataka, BJP is fighting elections under a combined leadership involving you, B S Yediyurappa and others. In other states, it is generally someone leading the government who takes the lead in this regard. Is it because there is some confusion over fighting elections under a single leadership?
There is no confusion about that at all. In each state, the political situation is different. And I am the CM (meant) to get the mandate. I did not have the mandate. So, that’s why we are fighting under a collective leadership and we will get the mandate of the people. Getting the mandate is more important. How we get it is not.
What are your strategies to woo various communities…say, to consolidate the Lingayat vote base?
Lingayat vote base is already consolidated. We need not do anything. They have been traditionally voting for BJP. It is there to see that a number of MLAs get elected from North and Kalyana Karnataka from the community, a trend which will continue.
Now, Congress has decided to go all-out in its outreach to the Lingayat community. For instance, Rahul Gandhi took “Linga Deeksha” (initiation to Lingayat sect) last year and has visited famous pilgrimage sites of the community recently. Won’t it help Congress?
These are all gimmicks. In fact, what the media is not noticing is that there is a total breach in the Congress vote bank of SC/ST and OBC. A big chunk of these groups have shifted towards the BJP because of our recent reservation policy. Therefore, Congress is facing a real problem. They are trying to hide these issues and set a different narrative.
Opposition leader Siddaramaiah recently called you a ‘corrupt CM’.
Do you expect Siddaramaiah to call me a good CM. He is in the Opposition. But the fact of the matter is he is the most corrupt CM we have ever seen. There were 60 cases during his tenure, filed against him and his Cabinet colleagues. That is why he totally weakened the power of Lokayukta. In the history of Karnataka, no CM has done as much to weaken the Lokayukta.
The discredit of weakening the anti-corruption body goes only to Siddaramaiah.
Corruption is a poll plank of the Congress, which has targeted your government following the recent arrest of BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa and over the letter written by Karnataka State Contractors’ Association alleging “40 per cent” corruption?
Earlier, such cases used to be buried in the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Now, such cases are handed over to Lokayukta. If there was a Lokayukta during Siddaramaiah’s time, hundreds of MLAs would have been trapped.
During the (JD(S)-Congress) coalition government, a minister C Puttarangashetty was caught with Rs 25 lakh cash in Vidhana Soudha. They buried it. They cover up such corruption cases while we investigate it and punish those involved.
What do you think of JD(S)’s electoral prospects as they have concentrated their efforts in their old Mysuru bastion?
As far as JD(S) hold on Southern Karnataka is concerned, for the first time, we see a change among voters. There is a voter fatigue as people of the region have been voting for Congress and JD(S) for the last 30 years. Now, youngsters want a change. Voters in the 18-40 age group are shifting towards BJP. This will bring about a big change and help us make inroads in Southern Karnataka. That is going to give us additional seats and is a game-changer. That is how we will get a comfortable majority.
How many seats do you think Congress and JD(S) will win?
I am not an astrologer to predict that. As far as my party is concerned, we will secure a comfortable majority.
Senior ministers like R Ashok and V Somanna have been asked to contest from two constituencies. Why?
These two leaders are very senior and have the capability to win from two seats. So we have given them an opportunity. One (Ashok) is contesting against KPCC (Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee) president D K Shivakumar and another against Siddaramaiah. Naturally, we want to give a tough fight to both these leaders using the tall leaders we have in our party. So, we have pitted the best leaders of our party against them.
Talking about the state reservation policy, it is being challenged in the Supreme Court. The apex court observed recently that scrapping 2B (4 per cent) reservation for the Muslim community was “flawed”.
You are wrong. There is no observation by the Supreme Court. Not to prejudice the proceedings, we have given an undertaking that we will not precipitate (the new reservation matrix) till the final hearing is done. There is no order from the Supreme Court about it. People have tried to read too much into the issue. May 9th, there will be a hearing and we will see what the court says. We are hopeful that we will get justice.
Had you anticipated legal trouble when you announced the new reservation policy?
Yes, certainly. See, Congress is behind all these appeals. They cannot face us openly and are using backdoor channels. We had anticipated this.
Will this legal dispute help the Opposition to rally against the government over the changes in reservation?
They will not be able to. People are very sure that we are for social justice.
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In fact, some sections of the minority community have also welcomed the new reservation policy. Congress attempts to politicise the issue will not cut ice with people. The appeasement policies of Congress will not be successful.
Yediyurappa is among those leading the BJP’s campaign, despite your position as CM. He is strategising in many places. Is it because he still has a significant hold as a leader as compared to others in BJP?
He (Yediyurappa) is our mentor. He is an old war horse of BJP and certainly he is the most popular leader. He still has a lot of energy at this age. He was keen to go around and fight to win elections for the BJP. The party is also firmly behind him and he is one of the BJP’s greatest trump cards.
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BJP criticises dynastic politics. Yet, it has fielded a lot of candidates who belong to political families…
Dynastic politics is totally different. In some parties, father will be the CM, son will be the CM next etc. All these things are not there in the BJP. There are cases where the father has retired politically, where we have given their family members an opportunity, if they have done social work for a long time. Ultimately, getting rid of such leaders from the party has to be done in phases. That is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to do.