Interview: Danish Ali

‘Revival of regional politics’

Print edition : June 08, 2018

Danish Ali, general secretary, Janata Dal (Secular) Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Interview with Danish Ali, general secretary of the Janata Dal (Secular).

Moving with unusual alacrity and sense of purpose, the Congress reached out to the Janata Dal (Secular) well before the last results to the Karnataka Assembly were declared and stitched up an alliance with it by offering it the best of terms. The Congress’ unconditional offer made it that much easier for a suspicious JD(S) to accept it. One of the architects (the other being Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad) of the rapprochement between the two political outfits that carried out a nasty and bitter campaign against each other during the run-up to the elections was general secretary of the JD(S) Danish Ali. He was also behind the JD(S)’ pre-poll alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The JD(S)’ vote share this time is less than what it got in 2013 and it also won only 38 seats as against 40 in 2013.

Yes, we are not happy with our performance. We were expecting 60 to 70 seats. But the Congress’ negative campaign against us cost us the secular vote, particularly the Muslim vote. Take Hassan city, a traditional JD(S) stronghold, where Rahul Gandhi made the statement that we were the “B team” of the BJP…. The secular vote, the Muslim vote, that usually came to us, did not; some of it went to the Congress. This ensured a division of the secular vote, and the BJP won the seat.

JD(S) national president H.D. Deve Gowda and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy have always maintained that the Congress was trying to destroy the JD(S). Still you have got into an alliance with the Congress.

Yes. Last August Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the UPA [United Progressive Front] and then president of the AICC [All India Congress Committee], held a meeting where she called a number of regional leaders, including [West Bengal Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee and the president of the Bahujan Samaj Party Mayawati. As Deve Gowda was not able to attend, I represented the party. I was the last speaker and I strongly said that we, the secular parties, had wasted our energies trying to grab the secular space all for ourselves. In the bargain we were destroying other secular parties. I requested that everybody, not just the junior secular parties, to have the spirit of sacrifice in order to strengthen the secular forces. Even when Sonia Gandhi called a meeting during the run-up to the vice presidential election, we made it clear that we were part and parcel of the political parties that are fighting the BJP and that we want opposition unity. It was in this spirit that I requested both Deve Gowdaji and Kumaraswamy to forget the bitterness of the past and accept the unconditional support that the Congress was offering. But we are also clear that Rahul Gandhi must behave like the president of a national party, avoid reading from slips of paper that are handed to him, and stop asking Deve Gowda to prove his secular credentials.

Apparently you and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad were the architects of the JD(S)-Congress alliance. How did it happen?

Late on Sunday [May 13] evening, two days before the Assembly results were declared, Ghulam Nabi Azad and I met in Delhi. We were getting feedback from Karnataka that no party was likely to get a majority, and we discussed hypothetical post-poll scenarios. We also decided that should the Congress not get above 90 seats they ought to support the JD(S). But it was important that, should the situation arise, a decision must be taken on the spot, speed being of the essence. We also spoke telephonically later that night. Kumaraswamy, who had gone to Singapore for a health check-up returned on Monday night (May 14). It was midnight when I spoke to him and told him of my discussion with Azad. Kumaraswamy got upset and said, “Aaree brother they [the Congress] want to destroy us, snatch our voters…. Two people are sitting here [in Bengaluru] with crores….” But I cooled him down and requested that he look [at a possible alliance with the Congress] with an open mind. I also informed Deve Gowdaji. I had not informed Deve Gowdaji or Kumaraswamy before I met Azad, but I was sure I could convince them.

The Congress, having got only 78 seats, probably had no choice but to offer the JD(S) support.

Just after noon, as the last results were coming in, I got a call from Azad. He said, “Shall we move? You ask your leaders. The [Congress] high command is on the boat.” I asked if [the outgoing Chief Minister] Siddaramaiah was on board. He said yes. I also spoke to Siddaramaiah. He said, “Okay brother, I appreciate what you are doing.” I then telephonically informed both Deve Gowdaji and Kumaraswamy. Deve Gowdaji said, “Let us wait for all the results.” When I called Kumaraswamy, he still had misgivings. I told him, “If you say yes, the Congress will make a public offer of support to the JD(S).” It was after this that the Congress announced their offer.

The JD(S)-BSP alliance in the elections was an unlikely affair given the uneasy relationship the two parties share.

No one was expecting Mayawati to have an alliance. When I first broached it, Azad and other leaders laughed, saying she will never have an alliance with any party. Her thinking has always been, “my voter can go to other parties, but other party’s voters won’t come to me”. But I convinced her, and the JD(S)-BSP alliance between Deve Gowdaji and Mayawati was signed last February in my Delhi apartment and announced later at the Constitution Club of India. During the election campaign, when the Congress was attacking us incessantly, her presence as a national leader certainly helped. Her campaigning for the alliance was itself significant. There was so much of pressure on her not to campaign. I assured her that her [party’s] account will be opened in Karnataka in this election. And the BSP won one seat.

How important is the JD(S)’ alliance with the Congress?

Very important, not just for the JD(S) but also for the entire opposition, that is, all the parties that oppose the BJP. It will mean a revival of the JD(S) and an overall revival of regional parties. After the Congress announced its support to the JD(S), all the regional leaders—Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, [Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister] Chandrababu Naidu and [Telangana Chief Minister] K. Chandrashekar Rao—spoke to Deve Gowdaji. It is the beginning of State-specific alliances between regional parties and the Congress and it will pave the way for one–on-one fights with the BJP. The Congress will be on board. It is also significant that this alliance has happened in Karnataka, a State that has always changed the dynamics of Indian politics.

In retrospect, do you not think a pre-poll alliance with the Congress would have checkmated the BJP?

Yes, even an internal arrangement would have been enough.

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