A major political party with experienced leaders cannot remain outside the government.
“Reciprocal symbiosis” is how veteran Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad described the post-poll alliance between JD(S) and his party. He acknowledged the initial hiccups in this coalition and teething problems when governor Vajubhai Vala invites the largest combine of JD(S)-Congress (37+78) to form the government, but also highlighted the fact that the arrangement has been knit together keeping in mind the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 and beyond, to stymie BJP’s plans to build a base south of the Vindhyas, he tells B. R. Srikanth. Excerpts:
To start with, what gave the Congress the confidence that legislators will remain united given the reports about some of them missing or wooed to support the BJP during the trust vote?
First, I would like to thank the honourable Supreme Court for reducing the time given by governor Vajubhai Vala to Mr Yeddyurappa from 15 days to two days to prove that his party has the support of majority of MLAs.
But we are disappointed that Mr Vala appointed Mr K.G. Bopaiah as Pro tem Speaker though he is not the seniormost legislator, and is a person who was reprimanded by the Supreme Court for wrong-doing as Speaker during a no-confidence motion against Mr Yeddyurappa in 2010. Mr Kamal Nath was appointed the Pro tem Speaker, on his seniority, to administer the oath to the newly-elected Members of Parliament though the BJP-led NDA with Mr Narendra Modi as Prime Minister has almost a strength of 350 in the House.
We know that our MLAs were offered money, positions, scaring them with action by central authorities, but this is not the first time that they faced threats.
During the campaign and a day before polling, 31 ministers and legislators faced raids by various central agencies. But our MLAs remained with us despite attempts to lure them or harass them with threats of more raids. Mr Yeddyurappa was confident about his theft, on the assumption that his party and he himself will be able to steal legislators of other parties. It was unconstitutional because the anti-defection law says if you break two-thirds of a party, then it is legally valid. If one or two MLAs cross over, then it is illegal and illegitimate method of forming the government. How can he derive pleasure by adopting illegitimate methods. We did not break any party but we have got the support of two independent MLAs.
The call for single largest party to be invited to form the government in Goa and Manipur is gaining ground? Will the party ask for an opportunity to form the government?
We are only saying there can be one rule for one game, and not two rules for the same game. Till two years ago, the single largest party was given the opportunity to form the government as tradition. Then came elections in Goa and Manipur. In Goa, we were single largest party. In Manipur, too, we were single largest party. Then the BJP-appointed governors said single largest party system does not hold good and they did not allow us to form the government.
Subsequently, in Puducherry, the Congress had a strength of 20 of 40, the BJP had two MLAs, but forged an alliance with five parties and formed the government. We went to Supreme Court against this decision, but the court said that single largest party need not be invited if number two, number three or number four join together and stake claim to form the government. So we went by the formula adopted by the BJP and the court that the single largest party cannot be invited to form the government.
Now, how can the governor of Karnataka, change the rules all over again and say the single largest party is the best option because earlier rule does not suit the BJP? In that case, the Congress should be sworn-in in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya.
This double standards of BJP cannot work. They want to have two rules in one game. Therefore, there’s a cry that we should be given an opportunity to form the government in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya. This is a trap laid by the BJP, and they will be caught in their own trap across the country.
Why did the Congress show desperation by offering the chief minister’s post to JD(S) leader Mr Kumaraswamy?
We thought that since we did not get the majority in the Assembly polls, we don’t have the moral authority to form the government. They (JD(S)) has fared well despite contesting against two national parties. The fight between two strong parties should have resulted in complete decimation of JD(S), but they won 37 seats. So I think they have better claim than the Congress and the BJP to form the government. They deserve to form the government on merit.
Unlike the BJP which does not respect the mandate of other parties, we do respect the mandate of JD(S). Our vote percentage has improved but we did not get the required number of seats.
Why do you think the Congress lost power though, as you said, the vote percentage increased during the Assembly polls in 2018?
We have not had the time to introspect because we have been busy with post-poll issues. We will introspect about our faults and where we went wrong with the script. I spent 12 days campaigning but I did not have the time to ask about the strategy and how we could do better. The government, under the leadership of Mr Siddaramaiah, did extraordinary work and the benefits flowed to all sections of society, but unfortunately the party failed to convey this message through publicity and failed to put across the benefits extended to voters effectively. Of course, the malicious propaganda unleashed by the BJP, is the other cause.
This is not the BJP of Atal Behari Vajpayee or of Mr Advani or of Mr Murli Manohar Joshi. They used to play fair. This BJP plays only unfair games and uses religion, money and muscle power and scamsters to gain power.
Mr Siddaramaiah has been elected leader of the Congress legislature party (CLP). What role do you foresee for him?
He will essay the role of leader of the party with second highest strength and help the government and face the Opposition. I don’t think anybody can counter the BJP more effectively than him in the Assembly.
He will not join the government but like Mrs Sonia Gandhi who was not part of the UPA government, he will get all the responsibility and respect he deserves. Every minister and legislator will consult him on what to speak and what not speak in the House.
Mr Kumaraswamy and he have to manage affairs on the floor of the House and coordinate the activities well. He will be a great asset for the chief minister given his experience. Of course, they had differences of opinion during the elections, but that’s normal in politics. And during elections, lots of allegations and counter-allegations are hurled, but that’s part f the game.
But the Congress endured a bad experience with Mr Kumaraswamy earlier as he brought down the government headed by late Mr Dharam Singh and joined hands with the BJP in 2006?
Let’s not look at the past but look to the future in politics. I think Mr Deve Gowda, Mr Kumaraswamy and Mr Siddaramaiah have forgotten the past and decided to unitedly face the challenge of BJP, that of leaders like Mr Amit Shah and Mr Narendra Modi, and the might of the government of India together. I know about politics in Karnataka and, therefore, it was my job to bring the Congress and JD(S) to join hands and work together for development of the state
What about the clash of interest of these two parties across the state? Rumblings have already surfaced in both parties as leaders and grassroot workers are not happy with this new arrangement between the Congress and JD (S)?
It could take some time, perhaps, a few months or even a year for everybody to accept this arrangement, but they will realise “reciprocal symbiosis”, and they will become inter-dependent on each other. Just like how the creepers give oxygen to tree and take water from the tree, they will discover how one is strong in one area while the other is weak in another, and how they could be mutually helpful for growth as they go forward.
Yesterday, I had Mr Deve Gowda, Mr Kumaraswamy and Mr Siddaramaiah sitting with me and talking about the good old days, about their families, and other issues.
Mr Deve Gowda told Mr Siddaramaiah that you should share his burden, and Mr Kumaraswamy asked Mr Siddaramaiah for guidance. They are already “gelling” but when their colleagues complain, they should be pulled up and asked whether the government should function smoothly or not.
Will the Congress-JD (S) combine be able to handle the backlash of Lingayats given Mr Yeddyurappa’s ability to whip up emotions among voters of this community, just like he did when Mr Kumaraswamy did not hand over power in 2007?
I don’t think this is the brainchild of Mr Yeddyurappa but of the leaders in Delhi who play one caste against another or one religion against the other. They do it at the cost of unity of the country. Political parties are not formed on the basis of religion but on basis of principles and policies.
Dalits and Muslims are present in all Assembly and Parliament constituencies, so they will say put together we are 40 per cent, and we should get the top posts. The votes should be on the basis of policies and programmes and not playing the caste or community card. Whoever plays this card should be rejected outright in the interest of the country and the nation. We took Lingayats in our party.
We have 17 out of 78 legislators who are Lingayats. The Congress represents Lingayats as well, but our party respects all castes and communities. Lingayats are as much part of our family as Vokkaligas and dalits. Our family is cosmopolitan. We are a multi-caste and multi-religion party.
So will the Congress take this partnership with JD(S) forward to 2019 when the nation faces Lok Sabha polls?
Definitely, we will carry it forward to 2019 and beyond. We would like this arrangement to last long, not as a patch work. If Mr Kumaraswamy performs well, who can stop him from completing his five-year term in office as chief minister?
Will the Congress join the government or support the JD(S) from outside?
Yes! We will join the government. This is the only thing which we have decided, but not the number of posts in the ministry or the portfolios. A major political party with experienced leaders cannot remain outside the government. We are looking beyond five years. It will be a long-term partnership with JD(S).