Interview: Siddaramaiah

‘I am fighting communal forces’

Print edition : May 25, 2018

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 11/04/20018 : (pic for election page) Chief Minister Siddaramaiah interacting with The Hindu at his official residence Krishna regarding coming assembly elections on April 11, 2018. Photo:V Sreenivasa Murthy Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Interview with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

NO Karnataka Chief Minister has been returned to power since Ramakrishna Hedge 33 years ago. No Chief Minister who has completed five years in office has been returned to power since Devaraj Urs in 1978, a generation ago. But Siddaramaiah, the fiery, plain-speaking and combative Chief Minister, a known socialist, is not a man to be bothered with customs, dogmas, superstitions, religious practices or even history. Determined to do what it takes to bring the Congress back to power in Karnataka and defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Siddaramaiah, who has hitherto shunned religious practices of any kind, has pulled out all the stops, even going shirtless and sitting cross-legged before religious heads. A relatively new entrant to the party, he is the Congress’ main weapon against the BJP. He spoke to Frontline during campaigning in Harapanahalli in Ballari district. Excerpts:

Your “B” team jibe has not gone down well with former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda or his son H.D. Kumaraswamy.

But this is the truth. The BJP and the JD(S) are involved in match-fixing. There is an understanding between them. Wherever the JD(S) candidate is strong, the BJP, in order to make the Congress lose, has fielded a dummy candidate. And the JD(S) has done likewise. They have an understanding. The JD(S)’ talk of not aligning with communal forces is hollow. The BJP does not attack the JD(S), and vice versa.

Deve Gowda is still unhappy that you left the JD(S) and that the Congress admitted you.

He expelled me from the party. So I started organising Dalits, minorities and backward classes [under the Ahinda umbrella] to fight communal forces, which by then, thanks to their alignment with the JD(S), had started emerging in the State in a big way. Sonia Gandhi invited me to join the Congress party, and I did. It was inevitable for me.

Your Ahinda platform has angered the powerful Vokkaliga community, many of whose leaders have accused you of being “casteist”.

There is no truth in this.

Your decision to set up the seven-member Justice N. Nagamohan Das Committee to look into the demand for a separate religion status for Lingayats was considered a masterstroke.

It was a demand from the Lingayat community itself, which wanted to be considered a religious minority.

The election campaign has been extremely acrimonious. You yourself have been extremely combative.

Yes. The BJP and its leaders, including [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi and [BJP national president] Amit Shah, have been making the same baseless allegations against me and my government.

They say “10 per cent”, they say “corruption”, but they have not taken up my challenge to show me the proof of this so-called corruption. The chief ministerial candidate of these communal forces, B.S. Yeddyurappa, is a tainted leader, he went to jail. So what are they talking of?

But the BJP says all corruption cases against Yeddyurappa have been “quashed”. [While some corruption cases against Yeddyurappa have indeed been quashed, others have been stayed by the Karnataka High Court and appeals are pending before the Supreme Court to reopen them.]

When he was the Chief Minister, corruption charges were levelled against him, and the Governor sanctioned his prosecution. He even went to jail for 24 days. The BJP has to be repeatedly reminded of this.

You have termed the BJP national president as a bundle of lies.

He has been mouthing only lies. What evidence does he have about the charges that he is making against me?

In the event of a hung Assembly, will you be able to do business with the JD(S)?

There is no question of a hung Assembly. The Congress will get a clear majority. While the JD(S) has a presence in six to seven districts in the southern part of the State, the BJP’s presence is restricted to the northern districts.

Finally, the campaign has turned out to be Siddaramaiah versus Modi.

No. It is not so. I am not fighting Modi. I am fighting communal forces.

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