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Rahul Gandhi is No. 1 candidate for prime minister, says Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy

HD Kumaraswamy on Tuesday denied that he had blamed the Congress or its leaders at a party event on July 14. He said he was misquoted on his statement about being unhappy heading the coalition government in Karnataka.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2018 08:20 IST
Venkatesha Babu and Prashant Jha
Venkatesha Babu and Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
HD Kumaraswamy,JD(S),Kumaraswamy
Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy during an interview at Karnataka Bhavan in New Delhi on Wednesday.(Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy ‘accidentally’ became the chief minister of Karnataka for the second time after the assembly elections threw up a hung house. With 37 seats in a 224-member assembly, JD(S) got support of 80 MLAs from the Congress, which was keen to prevent another state going to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Kumaraswamy, who has described the coalition government as a “child of circumstance”, has had to face a number of challenges, including opposition by a section of Congress leaders, and is trying to rustle up finances for a massive farm-loan waiver announced in the budget.

Kumaraswamy spoke to HT’s Venkatesha Babu and Prashant Jha on why he thinks Congress president Rahul Gandhi is the number one choice to be the next Prime Minister, the need for Opposition unity, how coalition governments have delivered better governance than single-party majority governments in India, and his perceived differences with former CM Siddaramaiah. Edited excepts:

After the initial hiccups, has the coalition government in Karnataka settled down? There was some unhappiness and dissidence from legislators who didn’t get ministerial berths. Has that been sorted out?

According to me, that is not dissidence or even unhappiness. I will take (opinions) as advice – even Siddaramaiah’s. He advised me to go for supplementary budget because his view was that a budget had already been presented in February 2018. I took his suggestion as advice, not as opposition.

But after forming a new government, we felt it was only right that a new budget should be presented. Even Siddaramaiah eventually agreed with this. Though the BJP walked out, both partners successfully passed the budget. There is no denying that both the parties unitedly stand behind the budget. In coalitions, different opinions come but that should not be seen as dissidence.

Former speaker and senior Congress leader KB Koliwad said some sections of his party are not happy with the tie-up. Has the Congress high command reassured you on this count and said the government will continue for a full term?

When the Congress offered me support to form a coalition government, the intention was clear: a full five-year term. Even senior leaders of their party who are decision makers have expressed this publicly, including the Congress president. He (Rahul Gandhi) said we will support this government for five years and I believe that is their real intention. While I would not like to mix politics in this issue, some section of our Congress friends are not happy, and I know that. But that will not affect the longevity of this government.

All elected legislators and ministers (of the Congress party) want this government to continue.

Do you think Siddaramaiah could be more helpful?

He will help me. Yes, it is true on some issues he had some differences. His intention is to ensure that the coalition government gets a good name for its governance. We will take it as advice. Whatever his suggestions are, we will consider them seriously. According to me, Siddaramaiah will also stand behind and support the government in completing its term.

You said some sections in the Congress are unhappy. Do you think that will have…

(interrupts) That is their individual unhappiness, not the party’s stance. Some leaders who have lost elections might be thinking ‘why we should continue for five years’ and advocate that we should go for fresh elections after parliamentary polls. But that is not the Congress party’s thinking.

Then should the Congress high command intervene more and control such voices?

They are controlling.

But Siddaramaiah is writing letters to the government even though he is the Congress Legislature Party leader and chairman of coordination committee to ensure smooth functioning of the government?

My analysis is that in politics, some leaders have their own agendas and style of functioning. But your point and that of political analysts that there might be some agenda in such letter writing… all I would say is that I agree as the chairman of coordination committee, he can advise me directly instead of going to the public. This new attitude of his (writing letters and releasing to public), I don’t want to comment on it.

By inducting him as a member of the Congress Working Committee, is his party giving him a signal that he should focus more on national rather than state issues?

Maybe Rahul-ji wanted to utilise his image and work for future election work. That is why he may have accommodated him here (in New Delhi).

You announced a massive farm loan waiver scheme of Rs 34,000 crore. Where are the resources going to come for this?

Actually it may go up to Rs 40-42,000 crore. Funds are there. Resources are not a constraint. There are several ways to mobilise resources without affecting our financial discipline or impacting our development works.

The fear is that the rise in taxes on petrol and electricity will have a long-term impact on inflation and living costs?

No. Some people are misleading others on this issue. The quantum of increase we have proposed is small and will not impact the common man in a big way. For instance, in power we raised tax from 6% to 8%. This (power) will give us only Rs 188 crore. It is from industry, which can afford to bear the small increase, that we are getting Rs 500-600 crores. We raised prices of petrol by about Re 1 per liter. Even after the increase, prices in Karnataka are considerably lower than other states in the country.

There is a feeling that North Karnataka and Coastal Karnataka have been ignored by your government. Because JD(S) has bulk of its strength from South Karnataka, your government’s policies favour only that part of the state.

It only shows the mean mentality of people who are levelling this kind of criticism. We are not favouring the southern part of Karnataka nor letting down the northern part. Our government is looking at holistic development of the state. Go through the budget, not one policy announced by Siddaramaiah government has been changed, whether it is irrigation projects in northern Karnataka or any other project.

Whenever our family rules the state, one section of people always tries to mislead that we are against northern Karnataka. If you go through the programmes when my father (HD Deve Gowda) was the irrigation minister, chief minister and then Prime Minister, or when I was earlier CM for 20 months, you can see how we have worked for northern Karnataka.

Compared to other CMs, it is our family which has done the most for northern Karnataka. If there has been any progress in irrigation sector in that part of the state, entire credit should go to Deve Gowda-ji. Even when he was PM, he took the decision of an accelerated irrigation scheme under which Karnataka got more than R15,000 crore from the Centre. Before Deve Gowda became CM, what was the progress in Upper Krishna project? After he took over as CM, look at the progress. We are fully committed to northern Karnataka and other parts of the state.

You broke down recently in public, are you unhappy being CM?

I was unhappy not because of any problem created by the Congress or due to any opposition – in fact all ministers and legislators are with me. I broke down in front of my party workers who are like my family as some sections of media and society are consistently working against my government. Look at the kind of things they show from morning to evening. All I want is a little appreciation for all the hard work I do.

How would you respond to Arun Jaitley’s blog which said Karnataka is an example of what happens when a disparate coalition comes to power and thus in 2019 a strong BJP-led government should come to power at Centre?

What has Arun Jaitley and the stable government been doing for the last four years now, anybody can assess. What is their achievement? His argument that coalition government will weaken the developmental story of India is not true. If you go by past records, the achievements of coalition governments have been marvellous. Not just Deve Gowda’s, even Manmohan Singh’s. Whatever UPA (Unted Progressive Alliance) implemented, Modi government is just copying and continuing. For example, GST was a brainchild of the UPA. The BJP was critical when Aadhar was introduced, but when they came to power, they are following the same system. We should look at track record of what coalition governments have achieved in terms of development work. Even (PV) Narasimha Rao ran a coalition government -- look at what it did.

What is your assessment of 2019?

It is not easy for the BJP to come back with a clear majority. 2014 was different and now things are different.

As a part of the UPA coalition now, is your goal to make Rahul Gandhi the next PM?

Congress is the major partner in the opposition alliance. So naturally, according to me, Rahul-ji is the number one key contender for the PM’s post. For that to happen, the coalition will have to bring minimum 20-25 seats to parliament from Karnataka. For that we are working hard. We are supporting and will stand-by Rahul-ji.

Should Rahul be the Opposition candidate for PM?

In several states, there are different kinds of political situations. We will try to convince all the leaders that the Opposition should face elections against the BJP unitedly. Otherwise there is no way. For that, from our side, we have tried to convince (several other regional opposition) parties.

But your other ally in Karnataka, the Bahujan Samaj Party…

(interrupts) I know… I know what is happening. In this country anything may happen. Nobody can predict. In Karnataka, did anybody predict this kind of result or that Congress and JD(S) will come together? But we hope that Rahul-ji will become PM.

So your advice to other anti-BJP regional leaders is to support the Congress to defeat the Narendra Modi government?

After elections and results, they have to sit and decide, but my personal opinion to achieve that goal is that they must come together. So irrespective of personal issues and to save the country, please come together and fight against the BJP. We must come together before the elections and have a leader to fight against government. We have to tell the country, we are here and we will provide a stable government to the country. For that I appeal to all leaders be generous and have an open mind so that we can win the confidence of voters.

Does Deve Gowda have any ambition to become PM?

No, no such ambition. He is not in the race. Neither do I have any aspirations in national politics. I have bigger developmental challenges in my state. I am concentrating on Karnataka and want to give good governance.

The Congress general secretary in charge of Karnataka KC Venugopal said sharing of power would be 2/3rd to 1/3rd in favour of the Congress. Former Union minister Veerappa Moily said in the upcoming parliamentary polls, of the 28 LS seats, 18 for Congress and 10 for JD(S). Has that been agreed upon?

Sharing of seats is not a big issue. We will divide the number of seats with mutual understanding. Our intention is to ensure that the coalition gets more seats in the polls. We (coalition) will get minimum 20-25 seats from Karnataka. If Congress and JD(S) come together, even if you extrapolate the assembly results, we will win more than 22 seats. Our alliance is formidable.

Siddaramaiah is believed to have said that after parliamentary polls, there might be polls in the state?

I am not going to be suspicious about such statements. Political analysis could be made… too much should not be read into it.

Are you keeping channels open to BJP?

No, no. I am comfortably running the government. Why should I keep channels open with my BJP friends?. Personally I have several good friends in BJP and all other parties.

First Published: Jul 19, 2018 08:15 IST