FORMER Congress chief minister and Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah is confident the Congress will return to power with an absolute majority in the May 10 polls. In an interview with The Indian Express, he says BJP MLAs quitting the party to join the Congress was a sign of people losing trust in the state BJP government. Excerpts:
How significant is this election for the Congress in Karnataka?
SIDDARAMAIAH: This is a very crucial election for the Congress. We were in power till 2018, and though we got more votes than the BJP then, we were not able to stay in government. From the perspective of national politics too, the coming polls are very important. If we win this election, it will be a stepping stone for national politics, as the Lok Sabha polls will be held in 2024.
This time around, the Hindutva card or hate politics will not work in Karnataka. The BJP wanted to win by money power. But, according to my assessment, it is not possible.
What are the issues the Congress is fighting on? Is corruption a serious issue?
SIDDARAMAIAH: Corruption is rampant under this government. In the history of Karnataka and in 40 years of my political career, I have not come across such a government. For the first time, the Karnataka State Contractors’ Association and Recognised Unaided Private Schools’ Association wrote to the Prime Minister alleging that bribes and commission were demanded for every work.
Also, there is strong anti-incumbency. The BJP has not been able to deliver according to the aspirations of the people.
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Will you be able to secure a majority in the May 10 polls?
SIDDARAMAIAH: We will win, 100 per cent. This time the Congress will get a comfortable majority and come back to power on its own.
What is a comfortable majority, according to you? Do you fear that even if you win 120 or 125 (of the total 224 seats), 13 to 14 MLAs may cross over to the BJP?
SIDDARAMAIAH: Operation Kamala (Lotus) cannot be a success all the time. If they try this time, they will fail miserably… I have toured the state several times. This time there is a visible wave in favour of the Congress.
You were confident ahead of the 2018 polls too, banking on your schemes. But the Congress won only 79 seats.
SIDDARAMAIAH: People are now recalling and comparing the Congress government with that of the BJP and the Congress-JD(S) coalition. They feel the Congress government was a thousand times better than those. Between 2008 and 2013 too, the BJP had got power through Operation Kamala… But, they were the most non-performing government. For example, we constructed 15 lakh houses in five years. These people have not granted a single house to those without houses… This government is against the poor.
Exit polls had given an edge to the Congress in 2018 too, like now. But the scenario changed in the last fortnight.
SIDDARAMAIAH: Two-three issues worked against us in 2018, such as the Lingayat separate religion agitation. I don’t see a repeat.
BJP leaders target you more than any other in the Congress. Do you think its strategy is to attract SC/STs and upper castes by targeting your Kuruba community?
SIDDARAMAIAH: People are not fools. As far as (the increase in) SC/ST reservation and internal reservation (changes within the quota) are concerned, it was under the Congress-JD(S) coalition government that the Nagamohan Das Commission was constituted. It gave its report in 2020… For two-and-a-half years, the BJP was sleeping on the matter… As elections approached, they took a decision (to implement the internal reservation recommended by the commission)…
Already in Karnataka, there is 50% total reservation. After the 6% increase, the quota has gone up to 56%. Has the Constitution been amended? Is the Act included in the Ninth Schedule (containing Central and state laws which cannot be challenged in courts)?… This is just an eye-wash.
The BJP argues that the state government has the power to hike the reservation limit.
SIDDARAMAIAH: It is not possible.
The state government has also sent a recommendation to include the Act in the Ninth Schedule.
SIDDARAMAIAH: When did they send it? They sent it on March 23. When was the Act passed? Four to five months ago. Why were they keeping quiet? The Union government has said that it has no proposal to relax the 50 per cent limit in reservation.
Will these reservation changes have an impact on the elections?
I don’t think so. People understand their evil design.
What about the BJP scrapping the Muslim quota and extending the same to Vokkaligas and Lingayats? Both you and the JD(S) have promised to change this, but will it benefit given that the Muslim vote may be divided between you?
SIDDARAMAIAH: Was it the demand of Vokkaligas or Lingayats to give this quota to them? Is there any report from the Permanent Backward Classes Commission which says this has to be abolished because the reservation was based on religion? Or is there any High Court or Supreme Court decision? What empowers this government to abolish the reservation to Muslim community?
We are not against increasing reservation to Vokkaligas and Lingayats… But, bring an amendment to the Constitution. Request the Government of India to bring the amendment. In Tamil Nadu, the reservation limit is 69%. What did (former Tamil Nadu CM) Jayalalitha do? She prevailed upon the Government to ensure that the 69% reservation is included in the Ninth Schedule. Why has Karnataka not done it, even though the BJP is in power in both the Centre and state?
If the Congress comes to power, will you have a relook at this issue?
Not only a re-look, we will give reservation to Muslims, and enhance reservation to Vokkaligas and Lingayats according to the recommendations of the Permanent Backward Classes Commission.
Many of your supporters appear to have got tickets over names preferred by Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge and state party chief D K Shivakumar?
SIDDARAMAIAH: The Congress was the first to release a list, of 124 candidates, before the code of conduct was announced… Has the BJP released a list till today? We have released names for a total 174 constituencies. Only 50 are left.
Are those 50 left due to differences between you and Shivakumar?
SIDDARAMAIAH: No, who said that? Why has the BJP not released its list so far? Are you attributing the delay to the BJP’s internal problems?
In the Congress, apart from you and Shivakumar, leaders like M B Patil have openly said they are aspirants for the CM post? How many CM aspirants are there in the Congress currently?
SIDDARAMAIAH: If anybody wants to become CM, there is nothing wrong with it. Ultimately, newly elected MLAs will choose a leader of the Legislature Party, after which the high command will take a decision. This is a democratic system.
Will you be contesting from Kolar? You are already announced as a candidate for Varuna.
SIDDARAMAIAH: I have left it to the high command.
Why do you want to contest from two seats?
SIDDARAMAIAH: Because leaders of Kolar district and workers of Chikkaballapur and Bengaluru Rural districts wanted me to contest (from there). They wanted it because if I contest from Kolar, it will help other constituencies in the region also.
Both you and Shivakumar hail from old Mysuru, but the Congress has not been able to minimise the influence of the JD(S) in this region.
SIDDARAMAIAH: The JD(S) won in 37 constituencies (in 2018). This time they may win 20-25 seats. So, their strength will be reduced compared to the last elections. That is my assessment.
Last time, you vehemently attacked the JD(S) in your campaigns. This time, you appear to be soft on them.
SIDDARAMAIAH: I am not soft on them. Even the day before yesterday I remarked that there was an internal understanding between the JD(S) and BJP.
Will veteran BJP leader B S Yediyurappa be a factor in the polls?
SIDDARAMAIAH: Yediyurappa was mercilessly removed (as CM). What is the age of Narendra Modi? 73 or 74. He has crossed 70. Why has the BJP not applied the same yardstick (of seniority) to him? It is because of Yediyurappa’s efforts and Operation Kamala that the BJP came to power. Why did they remove him? Why did Yediyurappa weep in the Assembly? If he had resigned voluntarily, why did he weep?
Now that Yediyurappa is campaigning actively, will it help the BJP?
SIDDARAMAIAH: Politically, people are very intelligent. They can understand why the BJP removed Yediyurappa. Five to six berths were vacant in Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s Cabinet, which were not filled as Yediyurappa wanted his son B Y Vijayendra to be made a minister.
JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy has said that you have an understanding with Yediyurappa and that was one reason he was not keen on fielding Vijayendra from Varuna.
SIDDARAMAIAH: I have not spoken to Yediyurappa, nor has he spoken to me.
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The differences between Shivakumar and you appear to have subsided. Will these rise again if the Congress comes to power?
SIDDARAMAIAH: Why do you have such doubts? There are no differences between me and Shivakumar.
Unlike the Congress and JD(S), the BJP is yet to release its manifesto.
SIDDARAMAIAH: They have no respect for a manifesto. In 2018, they made 600 promises. How many have they implemented in four years? Only 51 or 52.
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Film star Kiccha Sudeep has said he would campaign for Bommai. Has the CM sought his support fearing defeat in the polls?
SIDDARAMAIAH: The fear is very deep. If not, why would 10-12 sitting MLAs and MLCs quit the BJP and join us?
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd