PM Modi is popular but did not keep his promises, says Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah
The people of Karnataka are happy with us, there is absolutely no anti-incumbency, the chief minister says.india Updated: Jan 30, 2018 09:24 IST
As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity again to wrest another state from the Congress, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah tells Hindustan Times that he will script a counter-narrative. Excerpts:
In every assembly election since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress seemed to be resigned to losing. For a change, the party is optimistic about Karnataka. Why is that?
Karnataka is a different state. Voters are mature here. They know what decisions to take. In the past four years, our government has fulfilled all the promises we made. There are no corruption charges against us. The people of Karnataka are happy with us. There is absolutely no anti-incumbency.
Are you under pressure because your party is looking up to you to give it momentum ahead of the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and the general elections next year?
There is no pressure from the high command, or anywhere else. Naturally, the Congress party is expecting us to win because after one year we will face parliamentary elections. Karnataka is a very important state — 100% we will come back to power here.
The Opposition BJP alleges that the law and order situation in Karnataka has deteriorated and there are corruption charges against your government.
Law and order is very good in Karnataka. As far as FDI and other investments are concerned, Karnataka was at the 11th place in 2013-14. Last year and this year, we are No 1 in the country. How could it be if the law and order situation in the state was not good? As far as corruption is concerned, they have not been able to come up with any documents to prove their charges against the government. Where is the evidence? They are making wild allegations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to be the BJP’s chief campaigner in Karnataka. His popularity across the country, including Karnataka, is high. How will you counter him?
No doubt the Prime Minister is a popular man. But people will compare the achievements of the state government with those of the Centre. Whatever promises Modiji made, before and after the parliamentary elections, have not been fulfilled. Demonetisation and the new tax regime (goods and services tax) have totally failed.
Is this election going to be a battle between you and Yeddyurappa, you and Modi, or between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi?
It is not correct to say that it’s going to be between Rahulji and Modiji, or between me and Yeddyurappa. It’s going to be between the ideologies of the parties, the programmes and schemes that I have brought, not between individuals.
Does it bother you that surveys show that Modi’s popularity ratings are much higher that Rahul Gandhi’s even after being in power for over three-and–a-half years?
In the recent Gujarat elections, I don’t think Modiji had a big upper-hand over Rahulji. After Rahulji became Congress president, Gujarat was the first election. They (BJP) held power in the state and at the Centre. Our party was not in power for so many years. Despite all this, we came closer… it was not a big victory for Narendra Modi.
The BJP has announced that it will not have any pre-poll alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular). How does this affect the Congress game plan?
There will be no pre-poll alliance of any party in Karnataka. We will not have any alliance with the JD(S) because it’s not committed to secularism. The BJP is not strong in all districts. In some districts, such as Mysore, Mandya, Hassan, Bengaluru Rural, Ramanagara and Chikballapur, they don’t have a strong base. In the remaining districts, the BJP is fighting with us. In the southern districts, JD(S) is fighting with the Congress.
Which party do you consider your main rival — the BJP or the JD(S)?
Of course the BJP, and the JD(S) in six-seven districts. The BJP is there in coastal Karnataka, in Mumbai-Karnataka, in Hyderabad-Karnataka. In old Mysore, we are fighting with the JD(S).
A controversy has erupted over your government’s decision to withdraw cases against minorities, which you subsequently revised. What was the rationale behind it?
It’s not about withdrawing cases against minorities. The issue is the Sachar Committee report. As per its recommendations, all states have to take some action. In Karnataka, I constituted a cabinet sub-committee, which gave a report. On the basis of that report, the home department called for some details. On that basis, the BJP is making statements. We have withdrawn cases against farmers, minorities and against Kannada associations. It’s not that we are withdrawing cases only against minorities. It’s totally incorrect.
After the Lok Sabha elections, your Central leadership concluded that the image of being a party that appeased the minorities worked against it…
No, that’s the allegation deliberately made by the BJP. We don’t appease any community, class or religion.
But what about all those visits by Rahul Gandhi to temples?
Let him visit. Is he not a Hindu? A Hindu can visit a temple, and also a mosque. A Christian can also visit temples. A man who respects all religions will visit all temples, all churches and all mosques.
Political observers feel you are playing the BJP card against the BJP. They say the talk about Karnataka asmita or pride, a separate flag for Karnataka, compulsory Kannada in schools, removal of Hindi signage from metro stations, all point to that.
It’s the policy of the government. It doesn’t mean that we hate Hindi or English, or any other language. But Kannada should have the pride of place in Karnataka. It is the paramount language. There is no provision in the Constitution prohibiting the state from having a separate flag. In America, each state has its own flag though it is a union of States. I am a Kannadiga, it is my commitment.
Why the talk about a separate religion for Lingayats?
It’s not the intention of the state government, it’s the association Veershaiva Mahasabha. Mr Shivashankarappa (the Mahasabha president), who is a former minister and senior leader of our party, made a demand at a function that they wanted a separate religion for Veershaiva Lingayats. There are other groups among Lingayats… Mathe Mahadevi has been fighting for a separate religion, she also wrote a letter to me. Afterwards, this issue was taken up by different factions of the Lingayat community. I got five petitions from them. I referred these petitions to the state minority commission, which set up an expert committee headed by a retired high court judge. They are looking into the matter. The government has nothing to do with this.
Several states are experiencing an agrarian crisis and it’s no different in Karnataka. Your adversaries say you had taken a vow at the Krishna river in 2013 that if you came to power, you would spend ₹10,000 crore every year on irrigation projects. They say you haven’t fulfilled your promise.
After I came to power, I allocated ₹10,000 crore for irrigation every year. Till last August, we’ve already spent ₹45,000 crore. I didn’t make a statement that it was only for upper Krishna project — it was for all pending irrigation projects. I have already fulfilled the promise. I am presenting the budget. Let them, as the main Opposition, ask this question on the floor of the House. I will give facts, figures and documents. If I am saying incorrect figures, they can move a privilege motion in the assembly. They are lying.
The Goa chief minister wrote a letter promising to give the Mahadayi river water for drinking…
To whom did he write the letter? Mr Yeddyurappa wrote him a letter, to which he replied. The inter-state water dispute is between states, not between Yeddyurappa and (Goa CM Manohar) Parrikar. He should have written the letter to me. On September 1, 2016, the tribunal made a suggestion for a settlement outside the tribunal, to which all advocates appearing for the states agreed. On that basis, I wrote a letter to the previous chief minister (Parrikar’s predecessor Laxmikant Parsekar) and to Mr Parrikar after the elections. They did not reply to my letters.
Even if he (Parrikar) did not write a letter to me, when Yeddyurappa read out his letter in a public meeting in December, I wrote a letter to the Goa CM the next day asking him to call a meeting. He hasn’t responded. Whenever such a matter is referred to a tribunal, only the Prime Minister of India can intervene to solve the problem outside the tribunal. But they (BJP leaders) are misleading the people saying, let Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi call a meeting. Are they the Prime Minister? What happened when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister? To give drinking water to Chennai in the Telugu Ganga project, she called a meeting of the states —Andhra, Maharashtra and Karnataka — and they settled it. Why doesn’t Modiji make an honest effort to solve this problem?
How do you look at the Centre’s move to constitute a commission to examine the issue of sub-categorisation of the Other Backward Classes?
We are not against it, but they have to take all the states into confidence. There is a permanent backward class commission in every state. Let them take all chairpersons into confidence. They have to get all facts and figures from the states.