Never in any election in the past has the focus been so much on the third political force in the state — the Janata Dal(S) — as this one. The party started gaining importance amid feverish talks of a hung verdict in the May 12 Assembly polls.
Most pre-poll predictions have given the JD(S) 30-40 seats and that is all that the party, led by former PM, H.D. Deve Gowda, needs to play the role of kingmaker and secure its pound of flesh. But what is intriguing is that both the BJP and the Congress have taken an inconsistent stance vis-a-vis the JD(S) — PM Modi praised Deve Gowda to the sky a couple of days ago and then dumped him unceremoniously remarking that his party would be a distant third in the polls. No less confusing is the approach of the Congress with party president Rahul Gandhi initially coming out with all guns blazing against the JD(S) describing it as the B-team of the BJP and then mellowing down while asking it to make its stand clear on its secular credentials.
Unfazed over the attacks by the two mainstream parties, JD(S) state president H.D. Kumaraswamy, in an interview with Deccan Chronicle, said both the Congress and the BJP had lost the plot on how to win people’s support and wondered why they were so keen on the JD(S) if they were so sure of winning the polls hands down. Having realised their shortcomings, these parties were attacking the JD(S) in desperation, he told VINAY MADHAV. Excerpts from the interview:
With most pre-poll surveys predicting a hung Assembly in Karnataka, where do you think your party stands in such a situation? Do you agree that you will be kingmaker or you will emerge as the king yourself?
I never asked for any pre-poll survey. Those who wanted such surveys and conducted them, may go by the findings of these surveys but I have my own assessment on the poll results. For the last four days, I have been extensively travelling in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, where the surveys have given us three-four seats. When I look at the people’s response, I am confident of exceeding 30 seats, which will take the JD(S) very near to a simple majority in the Assembly.
The Congress and the BJP do not have faith in their own claims and use statistics extensively to confuse people. I don’t think the JD(S) has to be bothered about survey reports.
Is there any change in the JD(S) stand vis-a-vis the Congress? Mr Rahul Gandhi first attacked your party and later asked you to clarify your secular credentials.
I don’t think there will be any understanding between the Congress and JD(S). Mr Gandhi should have been prudent while making such statements. He seems to have been influenced by the desire of one leader (read Siddaramaiah) to have his vendetta against the JD(S).
Rahul Gandhi called us the B-team of the BJP saying we had joined hands with communal forces. If he is concerned about secular forces, why did he allow the Karnataka Congress to repeatedly poach on leaders from JD(S), which is also a secular party? Secondly, he should be aware of the treatment meted out to minority community leaders like Qamar-Ul-Islam in his own party. After humiliating various community leaders, including dalit leader V. Srinivasprasad and Kuruba leader A.H. Vishwanath, they now talk about secularism.
I would like to tell Mr Gandhi that I am neither with the Congress, nor with the BJP. I am not standing here with an application, seeking an alliance with any political party. I am with the six crore people of Karnataka and have a proper agenda for them for the next five years.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his campaign in Karnataka, he praised Mr Deve Gowda. Later, he came down heavily on the JD(S) saying it would come a distant third in the polls. What is the reason for this U-turn?
That may be his or his party’s political strategy. I feel that they wanted to swing the Vokkaliga votes away from the Congress and so praised Mr Gowda. The next day, they raked up the dalit chief minister issue to woo dalit votes and also brought up the issue of the Congress “humiliating” great personalities like Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa and General Thimmaiah. After praising Mr Gowda, I think the PM must have realised that by creating an impression that a pact between the BJP and the JD(S) was on the cards, he would only be helping the Congress gain votes of the minority community who are anti-BJP. So he must have decided to direct his firepower at the JD(S) too. Such remarks reflect each party’s political strategy. At the moment, we (JD-S) are in a war-like situation, fighting enemies from two sides. In such a state, instead of reacting to each and every strategy of our two enemies, we should concentrate on the battles that we can win. That is exactly what I am doing.
What is the main agenda on which this election is being fought?
I don’t think either the Congress or the BJP has any specific agenda. If they had any, they would have come out with it by now. Look at the issues they are raising in their election campaigns. Both accuse each other of large-scale corruption. If they had any documents to prove the charges against each other, what were they doing for the last five years? The Congress could have ensured jail for at least a dozen BJP leaders and the BJP could have made sure at least half-a-dozen ministers in the Congress government resign. This is all for media consumption.
Secondly, they are talking about communities all the time. There are barbs like anti-minority, anti-dalit, anti-Kuruba, anti-Vokkaliga and anti-Lingayat flying between the two parties. They are trying to get votes on caste and community lines. This is why I said I am not bothered about their strategies, as they lack a plot. I am talking to people about a road map for the next five years. I feel only a regional party can deliver it.
Do you feel a regional party can get a proper foothold in Karnataka? Even if it does, what purpose will it serve if there are governments run by different parties in the state and at the Centre?
We have to convince people about the relevance of regional parties and we are doing that. Take the examples of our neighbouring states, which are ruled by regional parties. They have a strong say in Delhi and are getting their work done. During the last one decade, national parties ruled the state and every time there was a crisis, all they did was to point fingers at the Centre.
Karnataka has given everything to the country — it provides huge revenue too. And yet, why are we facing so many challenges? We suffer because state leaders of these national parties have to look to their Delhi bosses for a nod for everything. Moreover, they have to financially support their party. This is where large scale corruption is taking place. Everyone wants to come to Bengaluru and establish an empire. In the process, the most neglected people are Kannadigas, who are losing their land and identity. To protect our people, we need a regional party and not for anything else.