Dismissing reports that a faction of the state Congress is plotting to unseat him, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has said he enjoys "full confidence of the party's central leadership".
In his first interview to a national news outlet since the Congress' Lok Sabha debacle, Siddaramaiah told HT on Monday, "I will complete my full term. There is no problem."
True to his combative style, he hinted that he was in no mood to accommodate the demand of a rival faction that is seeking the elevation of state Congress chief G Parameshwara as deputy CM.
Asked to respond to Parameshwara's recent claim that the CM was standing in the way of his elevation, he said, "The decision has to be taken by the (party) high command."
Pressed to answer if he was concerned about the emergence of an alternate power centre in the office of the DCM, he said that the question did not arise as "there is no such proposal before the high command".
He, however, deflected the issue when asked if the diminishing stature of Rahul Gandhi within the party made him vulnerable. "There is no such problem," he said and added, "I have full backing of the high command."
On the Narendra Modi government continuing with the tradition of appointing party loyalists as governors, Siddaramaiah said, "I don't know what previous governments have done. I think it is time to set a new tradition of consulting states before making such appointments. It is our plea to the Centre."
On the Lok Sabha elections
The CM attributed to the poor showing in the general elections to "national factors", although he stopped short of conceding that there was a so-called "Modi wave".
Interestingly, he accepted, for the first time, that the return of BS Yeddyurappa and Bellary mining baron B Sriramulu had helped the BJP snaffle 17 seats in Karnataka, which has 28 Lok Sabha seats.
He said Karnataka cannot be compared with Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha. "The BJP has no presence in those states. Regional parties are strong there."
Stressing that the Congress base in the state is intact, he said, "There is a difference of just two percentage points in our vote shares (BJP versus Congress)." The Congress was defeated in 132 assembly constituencies.
He also had a word of advice for the central leadership, which is trying to resurrect the party's fortunes. "The party needs to be built again from the booth level. The central leadership should focus on building a strong base of ideologically firm cadres."
Speaking on the day he launched the state government's social media outreach programme, Siddaramaiah said, "The achievements of our government as well as that of the UPA government did not reach the people. Modi has used social media to great effect and created the myth that Gujarat is India's number one state. We should have started earlier."
Future of the JD(S) and BJP
Reacting to the recent scandal where former CM and his bête noir HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) was caught on tape demanding money to nominate an MLC aspirant, Siddaramaiah said, the party's inconsistent stand on core ideological issues had caused its downfall.
He denied allegations made by Kumaraswamy after the expose that Congress MLAs received huge kickbacks to indulge in cross voting during the 2012 MLC elections, Siddaramaiah said, "All I know is that the Congress party has not taken any money. I don't know about individual (Congress) MLAs."
Commenting on the decline of the JDS and emergence of the BJP as the principal opposition party in legislature, he said, "It is not going to revive the BJP. People have not yet forgotten the rampant corruption of the BJP. Karnataka always votes differently in central and state elections."
When HT confronted him with statistics showing that there has been no let up in communal violence in Coastal Karnataka and Mangalore since the Congress came to power, he promised to seek an action taken report from the police department.
In the last nine months of the previous BJP government, there were 126 incidents of communal violence and moral policing in Udupi and Mangalore. The first nine months of congress rule witnessed 100 such incidents in the same region of Coastal Karnataka. There have been 81 incidents between January and May this year.
"This is an old tactic of the BJP and Sangh Parivar. It's not something that started in the last six or seven years. It cannot be contained within a few months," Siddaramaiah said after initially questioning the veracity of the statistics compiled by HT.
Tainted MLAs and ministers
Responding to criticism from the media and opposition parties that the government is trying to protect Vijayanand Kashappanavar, the Congress MLA who allegedly slapped a policeman at a pub in Bangalore, Siddaramaiah said, "There was no delay in filing the FIR. It was filed on the night of the incident. The investigation is going on without any interference. What more can anybody ask for?"
When HT pointed to Kashappanavar's election affidavit which shows that he has been involved in several cases of intimidation and assault, he said, "He has not been convicted in any of the cases."
On the inclusion of DK Shivakumar and Roshan Baig in his cabinet, despite the corruption cases against them, Siddaramaiah said, "There is one case against Shivakumar and the FIR has been stayed by the court. And there's one case against Baig which is a private complaint in which he has not been convicted."