With just three weeks to go for the bellwether Karnataka Assembly polls, the Janata Dal (Secular), pitted against two national parties — the Congress and the BJP — is expected to anoint its nominee for chief minister’s post if the other parties fall short of the required majority.
On Karnataka pivots the BJP’s hope of launching the southern leg of its Congress-Mukt Bharat operation.
In an interview, former Prime Minister and canny JD(S) patriarch H.D. DEVE GOWDA refused to be drawn on which political force he will back in such a post-poll scenario, pointing instead at the coming together of many regional parties that could form a powerful, nationwide third force — a “People’s Front” that could emerge as a viable alternative to both the Congress and the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Many, however, say that his main aim is to settle scores, and ensure the defeat of his former protégé, present Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. The running battle between JD(S) and the Congress leader has already led to an acrimonious campaign with the Congress dubbing the JD(S) as the BJP’s “B team”, alluding to Mr Deve Gowda’s son H.D. Kumaraswamy’s short-lived alliance government with the BJP in 2006.
Mr Deve Gowda, asserted confidently, and somewhat ambiguously, to VINAY MADHAV, that “everything will change from now to polling day on May 12.”
Mr Gowda will leave no stone unturned to ensure his party wins big. Else he risks becoming irrelevant not just in his home state, but also nationally.
Excerpts from the interview:
How important is this election for JD(S)?
If we cannot save a regional party today, when and where are we going to save it? There are a lot of issues haunting the state. The Cauvery dispute is a major issue. We have not benefited from the Supreme Court judgment. If the Cauvery Water Management Board is constituted today, we will be the losers yet again. Then, there is the Mahadayi water dispute. And we are also in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis the Finance Commission. We have been neglected by the Union government all along. Just look at the parallel in AP, how Mr Chandrababu Naidu has walked out of the NDA.
Look at Telangana, and at Tamil Nadu. It is the same.
So, what do we have to do in Karnataka? First, we have to survive as a regional party. How do we survive? How many times have they (national parties) ditched us? I wanted to elect Mr Siddaramaiah as chief minister (in 2004 following a fractured mandate). Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh did not agree and spoke of re-elections. We had no resources and we were compelled. Then, they (Congress leaders) took away people like Mr Siddaramaiah and Mr M.P. Prakash from my party. Meanwhile, Mr H.D. Kumaraswamy (his son), without even caring for me, joined hands with the BJP (2006). What did he achieve? In two months, allegations of him seeking `150 crores bribe were levelled against him. Mr Sriramulu filed a case that the Chief Minister was conspiring to murder him.
When Justice Rama Jois gave his opinion on the takeover of NICE company, BJP ministers boycotted the Cabinet meeting for six hours. Even now, the House Committee unanimously recommends the takeover of NICE. Yet, the Congress has inducted Mr Ashok Kheny into their party and given him a ticket. As a regional party, we can’t even offer protection to the people. Every leader, over the last 10 years has become wealthier, every one, worth over hundreds of crores.
Poll predictions are hinting at a hung Assembly in Karnataka. What do you see happening?
A lot of things will change from today to May 12. We are doing our best. Otherwise, why should I struggle so much at this age? I am not even contesting the next elections to Parliament in 2019.
Today, Mr Kumaraswamy has some image. Along with that, I am contributing some amount of my experience. We have a tie-up with BSP leader Mayawati and we have to wait and watch as to how much polarisation she can effect. Mr Owaisi is also supporting us. Telangana chief minister Mr K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) was here. There is significant presence of Telugu speaking people in Karnataka. KCR has promised to send his deputy for campaigning in Karnataka and also promised to come for campaigning on certain days. We are doing other things as well. Just wait and watch.
You mean, on the possibility of an alternative forum of regional parties?
I have told them that I will not be active in electoral politics. I can take up an advisory role and would extend moral support.
However, where JD(S) would be placed in the “People’s Front” depends on mandate of the people. That is why we are working so hard to come to power on our own.
Where would the Congress and BJP land, once the People’s Front takes shape?
We have remained equidistant from both the Congress and the BJP during these elections to the state Assembly. When it comes to Lok Sabha elections, we have to take stock of developments across the nation during 2019 elections. All regional parties with a common agenda will come under one platform. There is a view that both the Congress and the BJP have to be kept out of it. I have not yet arrived at that point. I have told them that I would be part of that exercise only after the Karnataka polls. We don’t know what circumstances would arise on that day. The Congress is not totally destroyed in the country. In some places like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it has its own strength, though not in power. In Uttar Pradesh, if SP and BSP join hands, the case is over. There is no space for Congress at all.
What about the Congress in Karnataka?
Here, the Congress is suffering due to Mr Siddaramaiah’s onslaught particularly when he claims to be invincible. He is doing all sorts of things. So, I am not sure whether the Congress will retain the first place or land in second or third spot. The people are not fools and they know it all. How much money was looted in each project? What happened to BBMP scam involving about Rs 2000 crores? The government gave more prominence to announcements on “Bhagyas” to get votes at the cost of the exchequer. The entire administration has collapsed and police officers are complaining to the chief secretary. The DCs and SPs are transferred every three to six months. Who is there to ask?
What are the options available for JD(S) in the event of a fractured mandate?
I don’t see such a situation arising, and I am working hard to prevent getting into such a situation. We have so many problems with Congress ruled state governments. And it was the same with the previous BJP government. They (BJP leaders) talk about a “Modi tsunami” but I don’t see anything like that. Even in New Delhi there are so many problems. The judiciary, executive and Parliament have lost their charm. The failure of both the NDA and Congress are the cause for such a sorry state of affairs in the country.
The People’s Front will start taking shape after Karnataka elections, and it is very important in the interest of the nation. In a small way, the results of Karnataka Assembly polls could be the precursor of political developments in future in the country.