Interview: D.K. Shivakumar

'It was a collective effort'

Print edition : June 08, 2018

D.K. Shivakumar Photo: SANTOSH SAGAR

Interview with D.K. Shivakumar, the man who had the unenviable job of preventing the BJP from poaching Congress legislators.

THE task of shepherding the 78 Congress legislators and making sure that they were not poached by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was left to the seven-time legislator Doddalahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar, the robust Energy Minister in the outgoing Siddaramaiah Ministry.

The 57-year-old Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga strongman, won his first Assembly election in 1989 from Sathanur in Kanakapura taluk by defeating H.D. Deve Gowda, and ever since he has taken on Gowda and his sons in numerous electoral battles, fighting as they were for the same turf and voters. Shivakumar had helped in “safekeeping” Maharashtra’s Congress legislators when the Vilasrao Deshmukh government faced a trust vote in 2002, and Gujarat lawmakers in 2017 when the BJP tried to defeat Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, in the Rajya Sabha election.

On May 19, minutes before the trust vote motion was tabled, he even managed to “bring back” the two “missing” Congress legislators—Pratap Gouda Patil and Anand Singh. In the news after he was raided by the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate, the ambitious Shivakumar may have to wait even longer before he occupies the Chief Minister’s office. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

How difficult was it for you to keep the Congress legislators from slipping into the hands of the BJP?

It was a very, very difficult task. But they [the BJP] were not able to poach even one. We managed it only because the entire Congress machinery, including the top leaders and Members of Parliament, cooperated. It was a collective effort. I can boldly say that the BJP tried to contact almost every Congress legislator.

The Congress has been forced to align with H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), a party that you have fought against all through your political career.

As a politician you have to digest so many things. Issues change. Political values change. It was decided by the high command that we should stop the BJP at any cost, hence this alignment. In fact, Rahul Gandhi is the success behind this alliance. His direction was that if the Congress was not in a position to come to power on its own, we must do whatever it takes to prevent the BJP from coming to power.

The Congress went for the kill before the BJP could…

Yes. It was well planned—offering unconditional support to the JD(S), the alliance itself, and going to the Raj Bhavan and staking our claim. K.C. Venugopal [the Congress pointsman for Karnataka], senior leaders such as former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad, all acted immediately once they knew the ground reality [of the Congress not securing a majority].

A similar alliance in 2004 between the Congress and the JD(S) hardly survived. This time, how long will it last?

We can manage. Discussions are on. A common minimum programme can be worked out keeping our respective election manifestos in mind.

What role do you see for yourself? You have never hidden your ambitions to become the Chief Minister of Karnataka… Of course, the Congress has offered the chief ministership to H.D. Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda’s son.

I don’t know my role as yet. The Congress high command will decide.

You shared a strained relationship with Siddaramaiah, but your common enemy, Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy, kept you together. Now you will have to serve in a Cabinet under Kumaraswamy…..

Politics is the art of possibilities.

During the recent political imbroglio, there were reports that you, along with a few legislators, might join the BJP. And it was rumoured that the Central government would go easy on the economic offence cases that have been filed against you.

(Laughs) Just stories. My proximity to the party leadership and my public image are very important to me. I cannot let down everyone.

Were you approached by the BJP…

(Exclaims deeply) My God! I cannot disclose what all transpired.

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