Interview: D.K. Shivakumar, Congress

‘The BJP is building a tomb for the rebels’

Print edition : August 16, 2019

D.K. Shivakumar. Photo: K. MURALI KUMAR

Interview with D.K. Shivakumar, Congress leader.

IN the caste cauldron of Old Mysore, for political leaders, hailing from the same region and the community (Vokkaliga) but belonging to rival political dispensations can be a recipe for confrontations of the worst kind. But politics makes strange bedfellows. For Doddalahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar, the Congress’ pointsman in Karnataka, the dilemma could not have been more pronounced. Forced in May 2018 by the Congress high command to enter into a partnership with his bete noire H.D. Deve Gowda and the Janata Dal (Secular), Shivakumar did an “admirable” job of making sure the Congress MLAs stayed loyal to the coalition—and away from the marauding Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). From Assembly to resort, and everywhere in between, Shivakumar had them watched and shepherded. But in the end, even his “skills” failed as 12 Congress legislators decided that jettisoning the H.D.Kumaraswamy-led coalition was in their best interests. Shivakumar spoke to Frontline even as political developments in Karnataka were in a flux. Excerpts from the interview:

With the Congress-JD(S) coalition government being defeated in Karnataka, the Congress has lost another State.

Yes, we lost a government and a State. But the BJP will also find it difficult to form and run the government. That is why despite B.S. Yediyurappa’s urgency to become Chief Minister, the BJP took time to weigh its options. The Governor has given Yediyurappa a week to prove his majority. The BJP may have succeeded in engineering defections from the coalition partners, but it is now the worried party.

Despite your stellar efforts to keep the Congress legislators loyal to the coalition, 12 of them deserted the party and defied the whip issued by the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader. What is your reaction to this?

Yes, my friends [legislators] like S.T. Somashekar and M.T.B. Nagaraj betrayed us. They broke our trust. The rebels are power-hungry, just like the BJP. They [the rebels] are hoping for posts when the BJP forms the government. But the same fate will befall them. The BJP is building a tomb for the rebels.

The Congress’ alliance with the JD(S) has been a disaster for both parties, in terms of results. The two parties saw their worst showing in the Lok Sabha elections, winning just a seat each. Do you think it was a mistake?

See, the JD(S) never came to us for an alliance. We went to them. My leader Rahul Gandhi decided on the alliance. The Congress wanted a secular front in Karnataka. I will always stand by my party’s decision.

Was it not a grave mistake to tie up with the JD(S), your traditional rival?

The Congress high command will have to look into that.

You personally buried your political differences with your traditional rival, H.D. Deve Gowda, his party, the JD(S), and his family. How difficult was it to work in a coalition of this kind?

Very difficult. But I don’t want to be a backstabber. For the sake of the party, ideological and personal differences have to be kept aside. The party is important. Once the Congress high command decided that we would form a coalition with the JD(S), we fully cooperated with Kumaraswamy.

But many senior leaders of the JD(S) have spoken of how several Congress leaders did not throw their full weight behind the Kumaraswamy government.

Yes, there might have been a few who, for their own reasons, did not cooperate.

On the issue of the Congress rebels, they still say that they have only submitted resignations from the membership of the House, not the Congress party. Will the party forgive and forget and take them back?

They are calling us. They want to be “back” in the Congress fold. But our CLP leader [Siddaramaiah] has made a decision. Let us see. Egos are also involved. Many of these rebel legislators never came to us with their problems. They just ended up blackmailing us.

Given the uncertain political situation, with no dispensation commanding a simple majority, do you see the Centre declaring President’s Rule in the near future?

That is a strong possibility.

Do you see fresh elections on the horizon?

Let us allow the BJP to rule and flounder first.