In an exclusive interview to The Lede, the former chief minister of Karnataka opened up on a wide variety of issues, including why the Congress needs the Gandhi family
Siddaramaiah is a relaxed and confident man. Despite the Congress-JDS coalition government giving way to the BJP led by BS Yediyurappa not so long ago, the political veteran is certain of making a comeback, and very soon at that.
In a wide ranging interview with The Lede at his official residence Cauvery in Bengaluru, Siddaramaiah, surprisingly, took a stand that was at odds with his party’s official stand – when asked about his views on abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, he stated that he agreed with it, although he faulted the Centre on how it was implemented.
He also cautiously echoed the sentiments of his colleagues Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh who had publicly stated that good work done by Prime Minister Modi must be appreciated, instead of the Congress party constantly criticising him. Siddaramaiah was instead quick to state that Modi has not done anything worth praising!
Siddaramaiah also admitted that while there are a number of good leaders who were capable of heading the Congress, it was only the Nehru family who could unite the party and take everyone along.
Here is the full interview with the veteran politician who is full of chuckles as he awaits the byelections for 17 seats vacated by dissident MLAs.
1) How did you let go of power? One would not have expected such a senior politician such as yourself to have fallen prey to such political tricks.
Siddaramaiah: The government fell because 14 of our MLAs and 3 MLAs from JDS resigned. They have been purchased by BJP with the ambition to become ministers there in the BJP government. So our strength reduced to less than BJP’s strength. That is how BJP came to power and it is not on the mandate of the people that they have come to power. From back door, with horse trading they have come to power. That is how the government has been formed.
2) There has been talk that you wanted to topple Mr HD Kumaraswamy?
Siddaramaiah: Totally false. I was the chairman of the coordination committee and I was the CLP leader. Can anybody think like that? We only supported JDS which had only 37 MLAs but we had 80 MLAs. On instructions from the high command we have supported and made Mr Kumaraswamy as the chief minister and we have cooperated. Our intention was that we should support the government and BJP should not come to power. With this intention the coalition government was formed.
3) Did you want to become Chief Minister?
Siddaramaiah: No. We have obeyed the directions of the high command, we agreed to form government with the JDS, we made Kumaraswamy as the chief minister. 100% of our leaders have agreed.
4) What happens next in Karnataka politically?
Siddaramaiah: According to my assessment, this government is to survive with the help of the defecting MLAs. I don’t think this government will survive for long. This government will survive for 6 months to 1 year. After that it will not survive. After that there will be an election - that is my assessment.
5) Do you expect the MLAs who have defected to come back to the Congress?
Siddaramaiah: No, we will not take them back – those who have left our party. I made a vocal statement on the floor of the House.
6) Mr Yediyurappa has begun undoing your Bhagya schemes. How do you view this?
Siddaramaiah: It is political vendetta. Mr Yediyurappa made a statement the first day on the floor of the House that he is not going to do vengeance politics. Now he is doing vengeance politics. That is not good in a democracy.
7) What are your views on the proposed ‘anti-cow-slaughter’ Bill?
Siddaramaiah: See there is already an Act which was passed in 1964. There is no necessity to pass a fresh Act. There is a BJP government in Goa. Is there any cow slaughter law? No. In some north eastern states BJP is there. Why they did not bring such a law? This is totally a political move. It is not in the interests of the people or the state. It is only in the interests of a particular community, particular religion that they are doing this.
8) Coming to DK Shivakumar, protests took place for a day and then suddenly went silent? Why?
Siddaramaiah: No. Protests are going on at all district headquarters, in the state, in talukas also protests are going on.
9) Many feel that you have not supported DK Shivakumar as much as you could have. Your comments?
Siddaramaiah: These are all… See, he is our party man. The arrest of Mr DK Shivakumar is again a political vendetta. There was no need to arrest him. I am an advocate. See there is a law when to be arrested and when not to be arrested. His guilt is not proved. Unless guilt is proved, he is presumed to be innocent. He obeyed the summons issued by the ED. He went and gave statement, answered the questions for four days. Where was the necessity to arrest him? See it was totally a political vendetta.
10) There is speculation about DK Shivakumar being elevated to president of Karnataka State Congress or as Leader of Opposition. How do you view this?
Siddaramaiah: That I do not know. I don’t know because no such proposal came before the high command. Only rumours. No such proposal before high command, nor high command discussed with us.
11) Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh have said that Congress party must not criticise Modi all the time and must appreciate his good work too. Do you agree with this?
Siddaramaiah: If Narendra Modi’s government does good work, certainly we have to appreciate. But he is not doing good work (laughs). That is the problem. That is why we are criticising.
You know the economy of the country today – GDP has come down to 5% but in real terms it is less than 5%.
All small scale industries are closing, generation of employment is not there, farmer distress is continuing. In Karnataka this year we have faced unprecedented flood. And we have faced drought also. In 22 districts there was flood and in 7 districts there was drought. Never in the history of Karnataka has this happened. I have not seen this in my lifetime. Narendra Modi did not come to Karnataka, he did not conduct aerial survey and he has not committed a single pie to Karnataka till today.
Karnataka has sent 25 MPs to Lok Sabha, 3 ministers are there. Even after one month of the flood, not a single pie has been given by the Centre.
In 2005 there was a flood in Karnataka. At that time, Mr Manmohan Singh was there. We requested Mr Manmohan Singh to have an aerial survey. Immediately he came, did the survey, on the spot he has announced Rs 1600 crores. That flood was not unprecedented like this one.
Narendra Modi did not come. On the 6th or 7th he came here (for ISRO’s Chandrayaan launch) but not uttered a single word about the floods or drought.
12) If Modi were here, right now in front of you, what would you tell him?
Siddaramaiah: I don’t know, according to me he has no concern or commitment for all these things. He is not for the poor, not for the farmers, not at all for the persons really suffering.
13) There has been a lot of tip-toeing around reservations by the BJP and the introduction of economic reservations within reservations. How do you view this?
Siddaramaiah: One has to go by the Constitution. Article 15 and 16 say that those who are socially and educationally backward are deserving of reservation. The word economic reservation is not used in the Constitution, only socially and educationally backward. If you attach the economic criteria for reservation, it is against the Constitution. That is why it is pending before the Supreme Court. I don’t know whether it will stand the scrutiny of the court.
14) Has Modi taken the sting out of Pakistan’s claims by abrogating Article 370?
Siddaramaiah: I am not against it. The question is the people of J&K should have been taken into confidence. That they have not done. There is President’s Rule in J&K, there is no elected government. After the elected government came into power they should have consulted legislators, leaders, political parties. They have not done that. That shows this is authoritarian rule. This is a dictatorial attitude.
15) Do you believe the BJP is on a witch hunt - in terms of cases against Shashi Tharoor, P Chidambaram, Kamal Nath and others?
Siddaramaiah: The BJP wanted to finish off the Congress party. They are targeting Congress leaders like Chidambaram, DK Shivakumar, Tharoor, Kamal Nath and others. This is very bad in democracy.
16) On one hand there is a ‘witch hunt’, on the other, the BJP appears to be indulging in horse trading and buying out Congress leaders. How do you view this?
Ans: See it is going on because they are offering money, power. Naturally those who do not have conviction or commitment they will go to BJP. This is not the first time it is happening. That is why 10th Schedule came into existence. It has been going on since Independence.
17) You are a CWC member yourself. When Rahul Gandhi refused the president’s post, you brought back Sonia Gandhi as interim president. Can the Congress not survive without one or the other Gandhi as president?
Siddaramaiah: What is democracy? Democracy is majority opinion. Across the country, workers and leaders of the Congress party, they wanted Rahul Gandhi to continue as president of the AICC. But he has declined to accept because after the defeat of the Parliamentary election, he has taken moral responsibility. That is why he is not agreeing to continue as the president of the AICC.
CWC leaders asked him to continue. This is the opinion of all workers and the leaders. No one is ready to accept. In the given circumstances, it is very difficult to take all the workers, leaders together. It is only Nehru family which can do that. That is the history.
18) Do you see a strong regional leader heading the Congress in the future, like PV Narasimha Rao for instance?
Siddaramaiah: Sitaram Kesari was there, PV Narasimha Rao was there. It is not that there is nobody to head the party. There are. But under the given circumstances, nobody is ready to carry the responsibility. (Qn: Why is that?) Because everybody feels that it is only Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi who can take the party together and inspire all the workers and leaders.
19) South India is the last bastion in some sense for the Congress but even in southern states Congress is riding on the tails of regional parties. Has Congress lost the edge?
Siddaramaiah: Congress party is quite strong in Karnataka, in Kerala, in Tamil Nadu. We are the alternative in Telangana. In Tamil Nadu we are with the DMK, we are the alternative to AIADMK. In Kerala, Congress is very strong. In the next Assembly election in Karnataka, we will come back. I am quite confident. I am not saying 6 months but whenever there is an election next, we will come back.
This government will last maximum for one year. After that there will be elections. 100% we will come back then. 17 byelections are coming within 2-3 months. We will win majority of the seats.
Afterwards the government will fall on its own.